Perfect Provence: A Family Holiday at Domaine de Manville

Domaine de Manville’s Villas are furnished with tables, chairs and lounge seating on the exterior for dining or just hanging around.

Provence — the name itself conjures colorful images of fields of sunflowers and lavender, romantic hand-in-hand strolls through sun-dappled villages, and quiet nights over wine and cheese. Could this also be the setting for an epic — and luxurious — family holiday? Domaine de Manville, which opened in 2015, has crafted a rare experience — an intimate five-star resort that caters to families with well-thought-out accommodations, a Kid’s Club, family outings and fine dining where kids are actually welcome.

The boutique property, which has 30 rooms and nine villas, a golf course designed by Thierry Sprecher and Anne-Laure Ricci, and a full-service spa, was created from a former sheep farm on 250 acres in the stunning Alpilles Regional Park. Well located between Arles and Avignon, near the picturesque St. Remy and within walking distance of the medieval hilltop village of Les Baux, which is home to the 10th-century fortified castle of Château de Baux, Domaine de Manville could not be better positioned for exploring Provence. Surrounding the property are 12 wine estates and mills producing olive oil with the Vallée des Baux de Provence AOC designation.

From a distance, the hotel appears to be the farm it once was, as all the facilities are housed in charming sandstone color farmhouse-style buildings with the iconic blue shutters of Provence. Upon closer inspection, the hotel reveals itself: The buildings overlook a central courtyard with pretty fountains, a cafe and lounge seating around an outdoor pool. On one side of the courtyard are the guestrooms and on the other side are the spa, indoor pool and a glass-enclosed Winter Garden, one of the hotel’s three restaurants.

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Domaine de Manville’s fine-dining restaurant lays emphasis on local meat and produce, and prepares food with a French flair.

Top accommodations for families are the nine villas, which are located a short walk along the golf course from the main hotel. (But why walk when they give you a golf cart? Having a golf cart was definitely a highlight for our kids). At 2,300 square feet, the villas are spacious and spread over two floors; they comprise a living room, dining room and full kitchen on the ground floor and three large bedrooms all with en-suite bathrooms on the upper floor. The décor is modern, sleek in gray tones and extremely comfortable, with excellent air conditioning (not common in this part of France). Outside each villa are tables, chairs and lounge seating for dining or just hanging around. All villas share a private pool. Top Tip: The best villas are No. 1 and No. 9 because they offer a bit more privacy being on either end of the row of homes; Villa No. 9, the Prestige Villa, has a fourth bedroom. 

The main hotel also has a good selection of rooms for families, including Family Duplex and Family Loft suites. We saw suite No. 33, which is about 900 square feet and has two bedrooms and two bathrooms on two levels. We also liked the two-floor Suite Family Duplex No. 30, which, at 600 square feet, is a bit smaller but still generous, and comes with a bath and a separate toilet, and affords views of the courtyard and pool. Note: These rooms are open “loft style,” so if noise is an issue for sleeping, connecting rooms would be a better choice. The décor, which is French-Provincial in style, but in the most contemporary way, also impressed us. Another option is the 600-square-foot Suite Prestige, No. 43, with a large terrace overlooking the pool, and a king bedroom with a pullout sofa for kids.

For advice on booking rooms, the best contact for luxury travel advisors is Rozenn Le Goff ([email protected]; 011-049-054-8630), director of sales and marketing.

At Domaine de Manville, equal care has been given to food under the stewardship of Head Chef Matthieu Dupuis-Baumal, who has a Michelin-star pedigree working for the likes of Michel Roux at The Waterside Inn just outside London (three Michelin stars) and many high-end eateries in France — from L’Hotel du Palais à Biarritz to the Le George in Paris — as well as the famed La Maison Troisgros near Lyon. For such a small hotel, guests are spoiled for choice, as there’s fine dining in La Table for dinner or more casual eats on the terrace in Le Bistrot. Our favorite setting was the Bar & Winter Garden, where breakfast is served daily. With the hotel’s agricultural history and Provencal setting, there is a focus on local meat and produce, all done with French flair, yet unfussy, and children are catered to everywhere. 

Domaine de Manville has nine 2,300-square-foot villas, which  are spread over two floors

The hotel sits in the heart of Provence, so depending on ages and interests, guests have lots of choice. We started each morning with tooling around on the hotel’s electric bikes or going on a 1.5-mile hike on the hotel’s grounds, which offers stunning views of the valley and is hilly enough to get the heart pumping. We would then set off to visit picturesque market towns or historical sights. Our most unforgettable outing was to Carrières de Lumières, a former limestone quarry with 66-foot-high walls, whose space has been converted into a multimedia show where thousands of images are projected on the walls and set to music. This experience can be easily combined with a visit to the nearby Les Baux-de-Provence, a medieval village and UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Château des Baux de Provence from the 10th century, with replicas of ancient armor and weapons, including the biggest trebuchet (think giant sling shot) in Europe, plus fun demonstrations by actors in historical costume — we even got to try our hand at archery.

Back at the hotel, kids can enjoy crafts and games in the Kid’s Club, an adorable former gypsy caravan fully staffed with English-speaking counselors, while grown-ups relax by the pool or in the spa, a proper 6,000-square-foot, five-star operation under the guidance of Manager Julie Mauro ([email protected]), who has been with the hotel since opening, having worked earlier in chichi spas around the world, including the Four Seasons Washington, DC, Four Seasons Hotel Georges V, Paris and Hotel Eden Roc. There are five treatment rooms, an indoor pool, sauna, steam and hammam. The spa has its own line of “Baume” products, developed with the Swiss laboratory Naturalps, made from ingredients grown on the property like extracts of almonds, verbena, jasmine and maritime pines, as well as locally produced olive oil and honey. The signature treatment utilizing these is The Grand Manville, a 90-minute massage and facial that Mauro says is the best for relieving tension and congestion. 

Overseeing the whole operation is General Manager Jérémie Picot ([email protected]), who was constantly popping in and around the property making sure all his guests were content. 

Timing Tip: Summer is high season in Provence, so book several months ahead to avoid disappointment. Alternatively, the area is equally beautiful and less crowded in springtime and would make for a stunning Easter holiday for families. 

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