I was looking for interesting places to bring my teenagers in the south of France. Flipping through a "hip hotels" book, I found Hotel Mas de Peint in La Camargue, Arles -- set in a national park/reserve amongst organic rice fields -- with flocks of flamingos, herds of native bulls, and a stable of white Camargian (is that a word?) horses -- it is a place of stark natural beauty and peacefulness. It is a short drive to the Mediterranean Sea (where giant mounds of harvested sea salt welcome you to a nearly deserted, wide expanse of beach with essentially no services), but the real attraction is the wildlife -- we saw flamingos (of course), but we also saw storks, egrets, and great blue herons. At Hotel Mas de Peint, they have herds of gorgeous bulls as well as the distinctive white horses of Camargue. Some of the bulls are reared to participate in the traditional bull games of Camargue (no killing of the bulls; this is a sport where the "gardians" try to remove ribbons from the bulls' horns), others for eating. We went horseback riding across the fields and took a jeep trip to see other sites including the newborn cattle. It is buggy -- the Camargue is a gigantic wetlands -- so bring a little bug spray and prepare to relax.
The hotel itself is gorgeous -- a 17th century farmhouse that is still a working farm. It is covered with ivy and wisteria, with a thatched roof barn structure and a lovely pool area. My kids stayed in the main house, in an adorable room set under the eaves, with two twin beds and an antique daybed (fainting couch?) in the corner. My husband and I stayed in the new wing; our room had a kitchenette and a comfortable sitting area with a couch and fireplace; there was a small patio with a chair for soaking in the sun. The beds have sheets made of actual linen, which I have never had the privilege to sleep on before. The bathrooms were elegant and sleek, with natural stone and modern fixtures.
Oh, and the food! We ate in the dining room for every breakfast and dinner. The kitchen also prepared us a "pique nique" for our beach day. The dining room is in two parts -- one directly adjacent to the working kitchen and the other that has the feeling of being also the reception area for hors d'oeuvres or cocktails -- both are lovely and comfortable. When seated in the room adjacent to the working kitchen, you are treated to watching the chef prepare your meals. Everyone in my family enjoyed the meals all the more watching the chef prepare each plate with such care and flourish. Over the course of several days, we had monkfish, salmon, and "taureau" -- each meal is several courses, delicately flavored, and absolutely delicious.
The staff was wonderful, friendly, welcoming, and helpful. Madame Bon made us welcome within moments of our arrival, and chatted with us every day of our stay. We had concocted a plan to ride bikes to the sea (about 45 km, roundtrip), which worried her because of the speed of the drivers on the highway. So, she suggested an alternate plan where we drove and the kitchen prepared us a picnic (sandwiches of smoked salmon or ham/cheese, pasta salad, bounteous fresh fruit -- enough for a family of 10, let alone 4!). They also helped us to research local opportunities to see the Camargue bull games and arranged our horseback riding and jeep ride. Just about everyone spoke English (as well as other languages), and they were very patient with my merciless, hacking attempts to practice my dusty high school french (thank you, Saveur!).
I found myself wanting to stay longer, and looking forward to planning a return trip -- this would be a very special place for a visit with extended family. It felt authentically french, not touristy, and deeply attached to tradition and the beauty of nature. It is not a place to go if you are looking for nightlife or lots of shopping (although Arles is only about a 20 minute drive away). But, if you want peace, quiet, beauty, nature, and delicious food -- I highly recommend it!
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- Also Known As:
- Mas De Peint Hotel
- Mas De Peint Arles