THE PLAYGROUND OF VINCENT CAN GOGH & PRINCESS CAROLINE
France’s Provence region has long been a playground for everyone from the ultra-wealthy to creatives like van Gogh, and even chefs like Julia Childs and James Beard. It exudes a certain charm and romance, all of which make it the perfect setting for Hotel de Tourrel, a very discreet and cool shelter in Saint-Remy-de-Provence.
The hotel, ironically enough, makes its home in a former palace, so when we say “palatial rooms,” we aren’t exaggerating. Owned and re-designed by architect Margot Stängle, the structure proved to be a wealth of treasures for the intrepid creator. Stängle with the help of her partner, Ralph Hüsgen, wanted to create a modern space that still evoked the mystique of the building’s former life.
Throughout history art world giants, culinary pioneers, and enigmatic personalities have all been lured to the hilltop villages of Provence. Home to lavender-scented breezes and the idyllic Mediterranean sun, it’s also a region with contrasting narratives. In the Côte d’Azur, Julia Child and James Beard reinvented American cuisine in the summer of 1970; now it’s a playground for the A-list, with a glamorous film festival and mega yachts plying the French Riviera. On the western side of Les Alpilles, near Avignon, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is the antithesis of flashy. Not only the birthplace of French seer Nostradamus, it’s also where Van Gogh found inspiration for his 1889 painting “The Starry Night.” Situated among home-décor shops and boutiques is the new Hotel de Tourrel, a 17th-century palais in the heart of the old village. It, too, has a storied past, home to an aristocratic family whose patriarch was a cavalier in service of the king. “You can feel a cool, timeless, and noble elegance in every corner of the house and its facade,” says architect owner Margot Stängle, who scoured the country for two years with partner Ralph Hüsgen before discovering the property. She found some of the spaces in rough condition, including the floors, which had to be restored with locally sourced sandstone. “It was customary in that time to ride a horse to the first floor,” Stängle says, which helps explain the spacious dimensions of the grand staircase. She tripped over other tidbits along the way, for instance, discovering that Charles Gounod’s opera Mireille was first performed in the building’s salon in 1864—providing inspiration for the hotel’s chandelier crafted from organ pipes.
How do you speak a modern design language with old materials? Stängle grappled with that question while reimagining the main stone manor. “It was important to me that if you go through the building, you have smooth transitions between old and new,” Stängle says. She chose ClassiCon to outfit each of the airy, individually designed rooms. In the five restored suites, she discovered stucco underneath the chipped-paint walls, so she hired plasterers from Breslau, Poland, to rehabilitate it using traditional methods. Next she took to reviving original décor elements such as French herringbone parquet floors, Carrera marble bathrooms, and Renaissance-era beamed ceilings. The custom midcentury furnishings—Roquebrune chairs, Lota sofas, Menton tables—are by Eileen Gray. The two modern suites, located in the adjacent house, are bedecked with pieces by Konstantin Grcic and Jader Almeida.
Restaurant, Wine Bar, and Rooftop Pool
Artificially aged brass was chosen for the nouveau Mediterranean restaurant (crab cannelloni; crispy lamb shoulder with tomato confit and local dates), helmed by chef Benoit Fauci of the Michelin-starred Les Chênes Verts in Tourtour. The space’s streamlined color scheme alludes subtly to its location: Pea-hued sofas recall the region’s famous olive oil while grayish navy tones resemble Van Gogh’s paintings. (The artist composed over 100 works in Saint Rémy.) For the bar, she tapped a local carpenter to create a zinc surface using old techniques, then hired an artist to varnish it with varying shades of blue that change in the light. Serge Mouille lamps sit under fruit tree paintings on loan from a local artist; look closely, and “you can see women’s faces in them,” she says. The wine cellar, housed in a Roman barrel vault, is stocked with over 350 biodynamic varietals chosen by Hüsgen. The theme of old and new oscillates throughout the hotel’s interiors. “With its wonderful basis, the building gave us the possibility to combine historical architecture with uncompromisingly modern architecture in an unagitated way,” Stängle says. What better illustration than the sleek rooftop pool—the only one in town—surrounded by the ancient walls and historic towers of Saint Rémy.
A boutique bolthole housed in a 17th-century palais complete with rooftop pool and gourmet restaurant
When I think of the sun-soaked village of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, images of Van Gogh, fields of lavender and sweet calissons – the local nougatine treats – all spring to mind.
Design-led hotels that are as chic as anything one might find in Paris haven’t always been synonymous with these historic streets, and so I was delighted to discover the Hôtel de Tourrel housed in a 17th-century palais on a recent visit to the area.
We took refuge from the midday heat in the restaurant (first picture), where the Mediterranean-inspired menu is overseen by chef Benoit Fauci (formerly of the Michelin-starred Les Chênes Verts in Tourtour) and changes weekly in accordance with market finds. Chef Fauci works exclusively with village suppliers to create three-course meals at lunch (€48, with cheese or dessert) and dinner (€58), only offering two options for each course, each one executed deftly.
Our meal began with a charcuterie plate for sharing, followed by a soup of onions and green vegetables topped with an egg parfait. Slices of tender cabillaud (cod) with brightly coloured piperade was another standout dish. The garnishes were as beautiful as they were tasty, with delicate tempura-battered blossoms and fennel slaw adding an unexpected edge to more traditional dishes such as duck. The fruitcake with homemade glacé and wild strawberries was outstanding.
After our meal, owners Margot Stangle and Ralph Husgen – an architect and advertising executive who have lovingly restored the exquisite property – let me peek into a few of the seven suites (from €350-€690, July and August, example second picture). Light and airy, original features – such as Strecco – have been kept, but whitewashed walls, parquet floors and a midcentury aesthetic lend a hip, streamlined vibe. Atop the building sits a rooftop pool that’s temptingly plungeworthy.
Had I known about this boutique bolthole sooner, I most certainly would have booked a stay, but as it is, the Hôtel de Tourrel gives me reason to return.
SAINT RÉMY DE PROVENCE IS A TOWN FULL OF SURPRISES.
It is a town small enough to feel like a village but large enough to have everything and more.
My first visit in 1995 set in motion a whole new life. Simply, I fell in love.
I fell in love with this quaint town, with the plane tree avenues leading to and fro and I fell deeply in love with Provence and the lifestyle.
Provence changed me in ways I never would have foreseen. So many years on and the same attractions resonate, even more so. I never feel like a local yet nor am I an outsider. An expat in a foreign country is a strange place to sit; a large mix of excitement, wonder and unfamiliarity ensures life is never dull.
When you are familiar with a place it is difficult to decipher the best or the most interesting or even the “not to be missed“. The answers depend on the length of a visit, specific tastes and individual interests. Saint Rémy has been a part-time home for many years and as new ventures come and go many of the original places I first discovered are still my favourites.
If you asked me, off the cuff, the where to’s, this is what I would say.
There are two ways to visit Saint Rémy de Provence; stay in your own village house or stay in a hotel.
Chateau des Alpilles is the most beautiful “baby” chateau five minutes from the centre of town. The decor is superb with a quirky mix of traditional French and contemporary style. Dining outside on the gravel courtyard looking back at the plane tree driveway on one side and the imposing Chateau on the other is close to perfection.
Le Petit Bijou, is our home-away-from-home village house in the centre of town and buying, restoring and operating Le Petit Bijou has been a labour of love. I think it is the perfect compromise between hotel accommodation and doing your own thing. Christiane looks after the guests, welcoming them and making everything possible.
The “where to shop” is a little harder. Where to start?
Saint Rémy de Provence is a town with many small boutiques offering so much delight and temptation. If vintage is your dream the new Les Boutiquiers du Midi is a must visit and for all things spectacle, the eyeglasses at La Grand Magasin are the best.
Prefer homewares? The linens at Les Comptoirs des Alpilles are gorgeous and the glass and tableware at NM Deco totally covetable.
And as for French lingerie, de Douceur et de Soie is every woman’s temptation.
If one attraction is it and you can forgo the Roman ruins and the views of Van Gogh’s wheat fields, Carrierès de Lumierès is your destination; dramatic, spectacular and not to be missed.
There is the market on a Wednesday morning.
If there is one take-away in the market it is the soap; the fleur d’oranger and the almond scented bars are my very favourites followed by the jasmin and the verveine fragrances.
Then I would need a basket to hold them all. xv
Where to STAY
Le Petit Bijou
6 rue du Parage,
13210 Saint Rémy de Provence
Le Chateau des Alpilles
Route du Rougadou,
+33 (0) 4 90 92 03 33
Hotel Sous les Figiuers
3 Avenue Gabriel Saint-René Taillandier,
+33 (0) 4 32 60 15 40
Hotel de Tourell
5 Rue Carnot,
+33 (0) 4 84 35 07 20
18 Place de la République,
+33 (0) 90 92 06 14
La Maison du Village
10 Rue du Huit Mai 1945,
+33 (0) 4 32 60 68 20