Home at the Château
One of the sitting rooms where guests can mingle or have a quiet drink.
The Villa Saint Victor, a hilltop château-hotel in Provence, is not the ancestral residence of Geoffroy and Stéphane Vieljeux’s family, but the two brothers, together with Stéphane’s wife, Marie-Aude, have turned it into what feels like a real home.
Located in the village of Saint Victor, a short drive from Uzès, one of Provence’s most beautiful cities, the 18th-century château had already served as a bed and breakfast before the brothers bought it in 2004, but it needed serious refreshing. Within just a few months, the Vieljeux, with the help of family and friends, redecorated it from top to bottom in the elegant style of the best French stately homes, bringing in great quantities of the family’s antiques and paintings. Now each of the 16 bedrooms, all of them named after a family member, is decorated in a completely different style, some more masculine and others more feminine, with handsome fabrics, antique furnishings, paintings and etchings.
While Geoffroy already had experience in the business, having owned a bed and breakfast on the other side of Uzès, Stéphane, who had been working as a banker in Geneva, made a total change of lifestyle, seeing the hotel as a chance to realize his dream of learning to cook. He and Marie-Aude moved their five children to Uzès, and while Stéphane cooks dinner for guests on most evenings and the traditional lunch on Sunday, with mostly fine results, Geoffroy and Marie-Aude run the hotel.
Together, they have mastered the art of making people feel at home without intruding on their privacy, a delicate balance that is hard to achieve (ever been to one of those bed and breakfasts where you are expected to have a drink or even dine with the owners and/or the other guests – an experience that can range from highly charming to deadly boring?). The comfy, handsomely decorated common rooms on the ground floor, for example, offer a variety of different-sized spaces and nooks where guests can choose to mingle or find a private corner to chat or have a drink.
Adding to the feeling of a family home are the presence of two dogs, the gregarious and affectionate Octave, a white Lab I defy anyone not to fall in love with, and the more aloof and aristocratic Titus, a dachshund.
Aside from the 16 rooms in the château, the hotel has two small houses suitable for families on the grounds of its small park (whose non-native palm trees add an exotic touch) and a wheelchair-accessible room with a separate entrance. Their decor is not as grand as the rooms in the château, but even the latter are works in progress. The bathrooms, while perfectly functional and fitted with large bathtubs, are not up to the high standards of the rooms, and some details still await attention – a lamp’s electrical wires running across a tabletop, for example, or bolts sticking out of the wall in one of the WCs. These little imperfections may add to the feeling of being at home, but they should be taken care of in a hotel.
The Villa Saint Victor can accommodate groups, seminars, parties and events. A tent-like structure in the garden can hold up to 100 people. Geoffroy can also organize themed excursions – focusing on food, tourism or music, for example – according to guests’ interests. A swimming pool on the grounds is welcome in the hot Provençal summers, and tennis courts are available in the village.
Tourism opportunities in the area abound. Uzès, of course, is a must. While popular with foreign visitors, it is not a tourist trap like Saint Paul de Vence, for example, but a vibrant small city with plenty of restaurants. A huge outdoor market is held on its ancient winding streets on Saturday mornings and a smaller one on Wednesday mornings. Nîmes and Avignon are about a half-hour’s drive from Uzès. Or you might just want to drive along the plane-tree-lined country roads, stopping at the picturesque villages in the environs, many of which host flea markets on the weekends in good weather.
On nights when Stéphane doesn’t cook dinner at the château, I highly recommend that you drive to the nearby village of Flaux and eat at a new restaurant, Tout Simplement, run by three of the most charming young people you’ll ever meet. And they can really cook – the reasonably priced meal we had there was more original and delicious than many I’ve had in Paris, at a much lower price. The owners – a young couple and a friend of theirs from cooking school – have restored an 18th-century building in the center of the village that had been abandoned for half a century. They rent out four pretty, individually decorated guestrooms upstairs from the vaulted stone dining room. The only drawback to the restaurant was the high noise level (without having to ask, we learned all about the botox treatments of a trendy young Englishman at a nearby table), a problem that could easily be solved with the addition of sound-absorbing tablecloths, curtains or rugs.
Villa Saint Victor: Place du Château, 30700 Saint Victor des Oules. Tel.: 04 66 81 90 47. Fax: 04 66 81 93 30. firstname.lastname@example.org Rates: €70-€230 per night. Closed in January and February. www.villasaintvictor.com/
Tout Simplement: 1, Impasse du Château, 30700 Flaux. Tel.: 04 66 58 42 09. email@example.com. Fixed-price menus: €12 (lunch only, Mon.-Fri.), €21 (lunch or dinner), €26 (dinner only). Closed all day Wednesday and at lunchtime on Thursday. www.toutsimplementflaux.com/
© 2007 Paris Update
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