In farmland, just ten minutes below Gordesí narrow hilly streets, Dominique and Christophe Rambaud now operate Auberge de Carcarille, the hotel-restaurant begun by their parents. Both the senior Rambaudís continue active participation in the enterprise.
Giant conically shaped blue cypress trees line the entry drive to an understated exterior. I wondered what I might find here at Auberge de Carcarille. As I entered my room, the breathtaking sight of Gordes, back lighted by the late afternoon sun, greeted me. The next morningís sun provided sparkling reflections from the windows of Gordes.
Increasing numbers of visitors from Paris and the cities of the world have found the Luberon to their liking. Some I spoke with observed that the people of the area are content to welcome them without making a fuss. The charm is undeniable. One German couple has returned to the Auberge for twenty-nine consecutive years. Other repeat visitors come from Britain (14 years) and Holland (10 years). The guest list includes entries from Luxembourg, France, Belgium, Italy and the United States.
Why do they choose to come back to Auberge de Carcarille? Two reasons.
The contrast with impersonal institutional hotels is dramatic. More noteworthy for the exterior views than for the interior decor, the rooms are comfortable. Each of the Aubergeís 11 rooms and suites has a terrace or balcony open to fields, gardens and countryside. Plans call for adding several more rooms in the coming year. Since guests continue to return, general manager Dominique Rambaudís policy of keeping room rates consistent through high and low season has proved effective.
Observing guests relaxing on patios in front of their rooms, lounging beside the pool, playing table tennis and billiards, or walking among the gardens, I began to realize the considerable charm, simplicity and appeal of the Auberge.
Driving through the Luberon to settle into the comfort of Auberge de Carcarille, I found an array of easily accessible historic, scenic and recreational sites. Nearby is the 12th century Notre-Dame de Senaque Abbey with its fields of lavender. Even closer is Gordes and its sixteenth century house known as the "Palais Saint Firmin" with underground rooms attesting to life in earlier times. Hot-air ballooning, bicycling and hiking are being enjoyed. Half an hour to the east is Roussillon, a photographerís dream with its winding lanes and stairs. Less than an hour away are Iílse sur-la-Sorgue and Cavaillon with their weekly outdoor markets.
At dinner I discover the Aubergeís second great appeal. Far larger than needed to accommodate guests of the hotel, the dining room has large windows on three sides dressed in the blue and yellow fabrics typical of Provence. A local artist used brilliant pigments in his appealing oil paintings that ring the room and are found throughout the hotel. Quality tone on tone white linens adorn the tables and set the stage for a special culinary experience.
Over Kir I took time to review the surprisingly extensive menu offered by Chef Christophe Rambaud, a menu scandalous with variety. Local game and fowl are joined by seafood from the nearby Mediterranean. The Aubergeís own gardens produced my dinner vegetables. A wild variety of cheeses and scrumptious baked goods are "to die for." The extensive wine list boggled my mind.
As I enjoyed my meal, the room gradually filled with diners. It appeared that this is "the" place to dine when in the Gordes-Roussillon area. Many Parisians who prefer to stay in trendy Gordes accommodations repeatedly choose Auberge de Carcarille for lunch and dinner. Even the water seems special. It comes from a 230 centimeters deep well that Dominique calls his "water from the source."
The name of this Luberon retreat holds a startling contradiction. From a 1545 religious war came "carcarille" meaning "carcass" or "body." This setting and experience, so soothing to my body as well as my psyche, brought me to a peaceful state eager to add my name to those of other returning guests. Auberge de Carcarille welcomed me with gentleness, care and charm.
Business people come to leave cell phone and lap-top behind. Internet connection is available, but most want to relax. "In Provence even the famous are left alone," says Dominique. He tells of actors, politicians, writers and artists, glad that in this calm retreat they can get away from the public. The formula is simple. Provide exceptional service. Be attentive to the needs of guests without being intrusive. As Dominique Rambaud put it, "We donít care about the stars. We welcome the people and cook for them."
By George Carter April 2005
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