The swimming pool at Metafort, a Provence bed-and-breakfast inn located in the Vaucluse village of Méthamis, France.

Where to Stay in Western Provence’s Countryside

The South of France Offers Limitless Natural Wonders Beyond Wine. These Hotels Bring It All Together.

10 min read

Pretty early on in our European explorations, my wife and I figured out an itinerary-planning tip that has served us so well, it has turned into gospel: Plan like you are going to go back. If you try to see it all, you will drive yourself into the ground with exhaustion. Save some for next time, and you’ll have a more rewarding experience.

We figured out an itinerary-planning tip that has served us so well, it has turned into gospel: Plan like you are going to go back.

To celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary this past fall, we decided to see Provence without an emphasis on the cities. The appeal of Avignon, Orange, Arles and Aix-en-Provence is justifiably strong: in their shops, restaurants, and art, the Provençal are masters of making simple sophistication look effortless. But this time, we would have to save the cities for another day. We wanted to focus on the relaxing countryside and the underrated natural wonders of Provence. We wanted to decompress, for once.

In Western Provence, you can easily make a 10-day loop of the marshes, mountains, canyons and fjords and feel like you understand the place very differently than the average tourist. We devised a loop that took us to the Camargue, the Alpilles, the Nesque River Gorge and the Calanques National Park, and along the way discovered another thing the Provençal do so well: hospitality. The hotels we enjoyed were among the best we’ve encountered. In fact, this is what separated this trip for us. “Luxury hotels” are often so lavish and comfortable they have the unintended effect of making everything feel further away. Fortunately for us, we hit the jackpot with the four places we picked.

So as you relax for the holidays and possibly consider a 2024 trip to France, here are my recommendations for where to stay in Western Provence. If you are wondering how wine tourism fits into all of this (after all, one half of this marriage is wine obsessed), fear not: we’ll be covering the South of France and its wines in February’s class and in a few articles coming in the New Year. I’ve also included a selection of standout local wines I tasted while staying at each hotel.

Where to Stay to See the Camargue

Mas de la Fouque • Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

The swimming pool at Mas de la Fouque in the Camargue region of Provence, France.

Mas de la Fouque is truly one of the finest hotels we’ve ever stayed in. However, if you are arriving at night, you have to put your faith in GPS to find it. At night, it is very dark in the Camargue, and the sign to the property off the D38 is understated to say the least. But once you arrive at this small luxury hotel on a marshy lake — where umbrella pines and a long walking bridge over the water frame the scene — all the stresses of the road (and the flight into Marseilles) melt away.

The 26 rooms and west-facing spa are arrayed around the water, with walking paths leading through the diverse grasslands of the Camargue to a viewing platform. This is one of the most biodiverse places in Europe, especially for birds and plant life. Of course, this also means the Camargue can be plagued with mosquitos at certain times of year and certain times of day. For us, visiting in September, they were not bad at all until after sunset, making the nature trails in early morning a most-pleasant amenity.

The entrance and bungalows of the Camargue-based hotel Mas de la Fouque
The entrance to Mas de la Fouque (left); bungalows are nicely incorporated into the marshland to minimize impact. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

For 20 Euros per person, you can claim the entire spa to yourself, soaking in its indoor pool or outdoor hot tub, sweating it out in the sauna, or noshing on the treats provided. Le Table de Marius is an exceptional restaurant with a nice wine list.

Flamingos at Parc Ornithologique Pont Gau
A year-round population of greater flamingos at Parc Ornithologique du Pont de Gau swells in summer when more flamingos join them from Africa. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

Diversion: A short, eight-minute drive away is Parc Ornithologique du Pont de Gau, a thoughtfully managed and expansive nature park where you can get up close to the native species of the Camargue for just a few Euros. The briny wetlands of the Camargue is one of the few habitats in Europe for the greater flamingo, which can be seen up close from the park’s various blinds.

Wine to order: 2021 Domaine de l’Hortus “Bergerie de L’Hortus” Pic Saint-Loup Rouge, which I profiled earlier.

Room: ★★★★
Location & View: ★★★★★
Amenities: ★★★★★
Service: ★★★★
Value: ★★★★

What we paid: 310 Euros/night

Where to Stay to See the Alpilles Mountains

Le Mas d’Aigret • Les Baux-de-Provence

The view from Le Mas d'Aigret hotel looking up at the fortress of Les Baux-de-Provence

Our desire to see Les Baux-de-Provence was purely driven by a passion for photography and videography. With its medieval fortress crowning a rocky spur in the ancient Alpilles mountains, the town naturally draws more than 1 million tourists every year — this despite an upper village that is only home to about 20 permanent residents. Although, stroll the narrow streets of Les Baux after 6pm, and the mood shifts enormously. You could hear a cat’s pawn on the cobbles its so quiet.

Sunrise at Mas l'Aigret hotel in Les Baux-de-Provence, France
Sunrises at Mas l’Aigret are not to be missed. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

Staying as close as possible to this atmospheric village was our top priority, and Le Mas d’Aigret is indeed a short but steep walk away. However, once we settled into our room, I’ll admit our ambitions evaporated. Built into the ancient rocks and cliffs of the Apilles, the hotel feels as in situ as possible, but without sacrificing modern standards of comfort.

The wild and sprawling garden has a path that leads you to the foot of Les Baux-de-Provence, and the troglodyte restaurant for breakfast is highly atmospheric. If you are fascinated by troglodyte dwellings, spring for the Cave Room whose walls are partially made of the Apilles stone of the mountain — the room has a private patio looking up at Les Baux’s fortress, with a jacuzzi tub and massive walk-in shower right around the bend from the bed.

Queen bedroom in the Cave Room at Mas l'Aigret, Provence, France.
We stayed in the Cave Room at Mas l’Aigret … it is absolutely worth the upgrade. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

Diversion: Les Baux Jus, a small vegan restaurant that this disinterested-in-vegan-ways foodie still managed to adore.

Wine to order: Celebrate the local appellation for red wines with a 2020 Mas de Gourgonnier Les Baux de Provence.

Room: ★★★★★
Location & View: ★★★★★
Amenities: ★★★★
Service: ★★★★
Value: ★★★★

What we paid: 308 Euros/night

Where to Stay to See the Nesque River Gorge

Metafort • Méthamis

The swimming pool at Metafort, a small bed-and-breakfast in the remote Provence village of Méthamis, France

The tiny hamlet of Méthamis seems to only be on the radar of gonzo cyclists, who see the hilltop village as an attractive climb-and-descent on their way to Mont Ventoux. But the real appeal of this village is anything but “gonzo.”

Tucked away in a hidden pocket of the Vaucluse, Méthamis lacks a bustling Provençal market, has no Michelin-starred bistro, and there are certainly no ancient relics from a Roman past. Instead, it offers the Nesque River Gorge, one of Western Europe’s wildest and least explored canyons, which comes to an end after winding its way around the village’s northern flanks. The gorge is an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a designation that was awarded because it provides habitat for a rare salamander, as well as chamois, golden eagle, peregrine falcons and numerous indigenous plant species. At night, you can actually see hundreds of stars from Méthamis. This is France? I kept asking myself.

The village of Méthamis (Vaucluse) Provence, France.
The village of Méthamis is isolated, lacking in a tourist draw, and (as a result) perfect for a true Provençal escape. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

However, we didn’t find Méthamis in a guide book or hear about it from a friend. We stumbled upon a photograph on Instagram of the swimming pool at Metafort, and decided to pull on the thread. This small, family-run bed-and-breakfast is so special. It is the kind of home you expect to see on the pages of a magazine. Elsa and Arnaud are the hosts, and they have lovingly restored this five-story home and its property to exceedingly high modern standards. High standards are fine, but its the creativity of this couple that makes the whole place so memorable. On the top floor, they boast a room with a patio that features a track for the bed. If the weather allows, guests can simply open the patio doors and push their bed outside to sleep under the stars. Our room — L’Annesque — was a stand-alone room perched on the gorge lip with an exceedingly private patio. And that swimming pool? Ingenius.

In the morning, we practiced our French with Arnaud while he made oeufs brouillés for our breakfast. That kitchen is open to guests if you want to cook a meal for yourself, which we did three times. In fact, the whole set up is designed for patio creatures like us: there is a wide selection of local wines that you can choose from (just write down what you take in the ledger nearby). Elsa and Arnaud offer a weekly dinner on Saturday nights if they have a minimum of eight willing guests.

Scenes from Metafort a bed-and-breakfast inn located in the Vaucluse's Méthamis, Provence France.
Nature is all around at Metafort. After leaving the window shades open to the gorge so we could see the full moon as we dozed off, we awoke to this stunning sunrise. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle
Metafort design bed and breakfast in Vaucluse, France.
Metafort’s owner, Elsa and the family dog, Lambeau (who is a real sweetheart); L’Annesque bedroom overlooking the gorge. ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

For us, the decompression of Metafort was the highlight of our wedding anniversary trip. To lie in bed and see all the details of the gorge under a silvery full moon, or to hear the bellowing call of a Eurasian Eagle Owl as we finished a bottle of Côtes du Rhône post-sunset … these are the magical things that no amount of planning can conjure.

Diversion: During the day, Méthamis is fairly sleepy, so if you are not hiking in the gorge, you are likely driving over the mountains to Gordes or Roussillon (30 and 45 minutes away, respectively). Our first day was spent heading northwest to Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape for wine, then on to Avignon for dinner (which proved to be overly ambitious … See? Even we don’t follow our own advice all the time!).

Wine to order: Grab a bottle of a local and likely-not-imported wine from Arnaud and Elsa’s curated wines. I particularly liked sitting on that patio sipping a 2022 Domaine de la Verrière Ventoux Rosé as well as a 2022 Ventoux Rosé from Château Unang, which is just down the road.

Room: ★★★★★
Location & View: ★★★★
Amenities: ★★★★★
Service: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★★

What we paid: 254 Euros/night

Where to Stay to See the Calanques

Maison 9 • Cassis

The coastline of Calanques National Park near Cassis

Depending on how you look at it, this port town is either the first or the last significant destination along the French Riviera. Between here and Marseille to the west is a rugged, largely undeveloped headland dominated by the Parc National des Calanques. Beyond Marseille, its the Rhône delta and the Languedoc.

Within Cassis you’ll find a charming and colorful little city with a superb Friday market and little pockets of bucolic vineyards which supply grapes to the Cassis AOC wine. Looming over the whole scene is the ochre-tinged Cap Canaille, which — at 1,293 feet — is the tallest sea cliff in Europe. Needless to say, we had plenty of reason to add Cassis to the tail-end of our itinerary.

The village and port of Cassis plus breakfast at Maison 9, an inn nearby. Provence, France.
The port of Cassis (left) and breakfast at Maison 9 (right). ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

Maison 9 is set back from the town — a quiet but luxurious little place to gaze out over the vineyards with a French breakfast, plan your day’s activities, and then do none of them because you’re too comfortable. Our room featured a small coffee bar and lounge downstairs, with a cozy bed upstairs. There is a swimming pool, but by the end of September when we stayed there it was too cold to enjoy beyond a simple dip of the toes while sipping a Cassis wine.

Maison 9 and swimming pool, Cassis, Provence, France.
Maison 9 seen from the vineyard road (left) and Hailey dipping her toes in the icy cold pool at Maison 9 (right). ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

Diversion: One look at the azure waters and chalky cliffs of the Parc National des Calanques was all it took for us to add the port town of Cassis to our itinerary. But coming from the American West — where natural grandeur is sort of our thing — even we were astonished at the size and scale of these Mediterranean fjords. Given that we only had one full day in the area, kayaking the Calanques was too ambitious for us, so we opted for one of the boat tours which leaves the port regularly. Allow three hours to see all nine of the primary Calanques.

Wine to order: 2022 Domaine du Partenel Cassis, a winery located just down the road and one of the top producers of the region’s celebrated white wines.

Room: ★★★★
Location & View: ★★★
Amenities: ★★★
Service: ★★★★
Value: ★★★

What we paid: 380 Euros/night

Key to Our Wine Icons

– Practicing Organic
 – Certified Organic
 – Practicing Biodynamic
 – Certified Biodynamic
– Biodiversity
– Polyculture
– Old Vines
– Heroic Viticulture
– Volcanic Soil
– Traditional Winemaking
– Clay Vessel Winemaking
– Family-Operated Winery
– Historic Winery
– Co-operative Winery
– Négociant
– Stay at Winery
– Age-Worthy Wine
– Expensive Wine (+$100)
– Requires Some Searching

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