A side street in Baux de Provence. Picture: SantiMB.Photos, flickr.com

Paris - None of the bunkers on the 18-hole golf course at Domaine de Manville is circular or even oval.

So strict are the planning rules in this part of Provence that the authorities can give full vent to their pedantic tendencies, down to the last tee.

This explains why Monsieur and Madame Saut had to wait eight years before permission was granted to transform what was a small farm and bistro near Arles into a resort hotel that is ideally suited tofamilies who appreciate luxurious surroundings.

It opened for business about 18 months ago, just down the hill from Les Baux de Provence, “prettiest village in France”, and is coming into its own as the gardens begin to take off and a British general manager whips the place into shape.

In addition to the golf course, there is a spa (inside and outdoor pools), cinema, children’s club, sculpture park, walking trails, tennis courts and opportunities for cookery lessons, as well as wonderful places to visit, especially if you avoid hot and bothered July and August.

Two other huge selling points. First, you can catch the Eurostar all the way from London’s St Pancras to nearby Avignon and then it’s a mere 30 minutes by car.

Oh, the bliss of looking up at the sky and reminding yourself you are not 35 000 feet up, having endured the stresses of queuing at Gatwick airport. And Provence is so far to the south that you know it will still be warm and sunny in September, October and much of November.

Domaine de Manville has 30 rooms and nine family villas. The rooms look on to a leafy square occupied by outside tables and a large swimming pool.

There are various choices for eating, including the main restaurant, where rugby player turned chef Matthieu Dupuis-Baumal has customers (including us) nodding their heads in admiration.



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We gather that Matthieu is aiming for two Michelin stars without acquiring a first one.

What impresses us is how, after sampling five or six of his creations, we are still able to skip out of the restaurant rather than feeling weighed down by gluttony.

Les Baux de Provence is pretty and the views from the ruins of the castle are sensational. It’s as if all of Provence is stretched out before you: a glorious confection of creamy stone and weathered shutters, rambling vines and sturdy olive trees.

We borrow electric bikes from the hotel to make it up the hill, but still feel we have had a workout.

A celebrated attraction is the caves in the village of Carrieres de Lumieres. As we line up to buy tickets, we can hear classical music coming from behind stone walls.

Then we push open a door and step inside a vast quarry where towering walls provide a canvas for projected works byChagall.

As multimedia shows go, this takes some beating as you become immersed in a changing palette of colours. It will run until January.

As much as we like Les Baux de Provence, the place we come to adore is Maussane Les Alpilles, which is a 10-minute walk from Domaine de Manville. There are fewer tourists, better restaurants and some exquisite houses.



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At one point, I slip into a wine shop and when I come out, my wife has gone. She might be in the cheese shop or the fishmongers but, no, it’s far more worrying than that.

She’s in the estate agents sitting opposite a handsome young man who seems to have lots of properties on his books.

“We’ll be late for our spa,” I proffer, feebly.

That evening we return to Maussane because I’d spotted a restaurant called Ou Ravi (launched in 1964) offering four courses, plus a bottle of wine, for £42 (about R750) per person.

Housed in a charming old family house, this is classic French cooking, where our waitress does not speak a word of English and all the other tables are occupied by locals.

We eat tripe and drink large quantities of wine from a nearby vineyard called Mas de la Dame.



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We like the wine so much that, next morning, we turn up at the winery (which Van Gogh painted in 1889) to buy several bottles of red, white, rose and even olive oil, safe in the knowledge that we can take as much back home on the train to the UK as we can carry.

All in all, a long weekend in Provence is just the ticket.

l Domaine de Manville hotel, domainedemanville.fr

033 0490 54 4020.