A frustrating hotel mystery solved in the Luberon: Travel Weekly

Richard Turen

Richard Turen

You can spend a lifetime searching for that unique air, that special thing, that aura, that certainty of perfection. True beauty is often incomprehensible.

To say that I finally found my favorite hotel in Europe last June would be a simple statement of the truth. There are hotels we all love, and if we’re lucky and the travel gods smile at us, there are a few hotels we really love. From this particular hotel, I am absolutely convinced that if I were to spend the rest of my life in one place and in one property, it would be La Bastide de Gordes, perched in the heart of a 16th-century medieval village. Luberon in the south of France.

The hotel has recently undergone a nearly $20 million renovation and emerged with 40 rooms and suites, four swimming pools, three restaurants, and seven terraced gardens. But that doesn’t tell you anything. Many hotels are renovating (but not many spend $20 million on a 40-room property).

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This is a hotel located on a cliff near a 12th century castle. To get there, you climb steep, rounded bends, pass forests and the famous lavender fields of the Cavaillon plain, and then ascend into the mountains.

In the distance is a collection of beautiful old stone buildings, as if a movie set has been created for those who sip their aperitif on one of the terraces. A miniature fantasy at your feet.

Gordes has unfortunately been voted one of the most beautiful villages in France by numerous publications, mostly from France. This resulted in a decent number of daytrippers. But tourists walking the narrow streets aren’t really bothered when you approach the simple main street entrance of the hotel just at the end of the village and the management rushes out the front door to greet you.

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Our stay began with a warm and personal introduction to the property. And then the magic started. Everyone at this hotel seemed to be the best at what they did. Every staff member spoke English, but what was really impressive was the way they interacted with guests.

The private dinner we held on the larger terrace was one of my all time favorite meals. What I remember most was observing how well the staff carried out the training, which was clearly excellent: Every move was perfect, a warm, authentic smile after every note of service.

But on the second day, I was disappointed. I felt like a lousy reporter. I knew I couldn’t tell you the full story. I wondered, do they employ such talented and temperamental young people in an old hotel in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere in the French?

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Finally, the other morning, one of the waiters, a young woman from India, asked how I had enjoyed my stay. I explained my dilemma. Why are you all working here? What’s the secret, I wondered out loud?

He smiled and asked me to go out with him to the large terrace. As he stood overlooking the valley and the beautiful stone village below, he explained that the gentleman who bought the hotel building also bought the stone village so that the staff could live in a wonderful setting while off duty. Every young person who graduated from the best hotel schools in France would like to work in this facility.

He smiled at me and gently took my hand to say goodbye. “So now, Mr. Turen, you know our secret.”

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