Chef Alain Ducasse’s empire is impressive: 21 restaurants the world over, 24 cookbooks at last count, a cooking school, and a posh chocolaterie in the heart of Paris. Few are aware, however, that this famed French chef also owns two Provençal country-style hotels: L’Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle in La Celle, and La Bastide de Moustiers, located in the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. The properties are about an hour and a half’s drive from each other, with Abbaye located in the Var and La Bastide in the more mountainous region of the Haut-Var, farther north. These hotels are small, elegant, and subdued. No surprise, they also feature superb restaurants.
The drive, from any direction, to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is half the pleasure of arriving at La Bastide, a 17th-century stone house. Built on terraces up the side of limestone cliffs, the village has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. It was once home away from home for Ducasse—his country home before he decided to open it to visitors.
It has just 13 rooms, all designed by Tonia Peyrot in chic Provençal style with antiques culled from Ducasse’s vast collection. Surrounding the main building are lavender bushes and olive trees, an enticing pool, and a magnificent terrace that overlooks rolling hills. The ambience is relaxed, and when guests aren’t climbing the village’s steep steps in search of its famed white faience (made from the local clay and decorated with arabesques), they’re exploring the hotel grounds.
But ultimately, people come to La Bastide de Moustiers to eat.
Guided by Ducasse, chef Christophe Martin’s cuisine is strictly locavore, yet because this part of Provence is not a farming region, they rely almost entirely on the organic kitchen garden behind the hotel from mid-June to late fall. “Our cuisine is product driven,” says Martin, “with no more than two or three ingredients on the plate. It looks simple, but we take hours to achieve that simplicity. My jus de rôti takes an entire day to make.”
The seasonal menu features dishes such as squid with fava beans and little gem lettuce, wood-roasted saddle of rabbit with fennel, and leg of lamb with garlic and rosemary. The cheese selection consists solely of goat varieties, as they are the only ones made locally. This is not rocket science cooking, but a study in ingredients that are beyond reproach.
Chic rusticity might best describe the style of cuisine at La Bastide de Moustiers, and Martin wouldn’t have it any other way. “There’s no coquilles St. Jacques or Kobe beef on our plate. Those perfect vegetables imported from around the world scare me,” he says. “We receive our carrots from a local farmer. They are crooked and muddy, but they taste great. Our aim is to keep our feet on the ground and use the products around us. It’s always more complicated to keep things simple.”
La Bastide is a little world unto itself, a world of profuse gardens, meandering paths, and dramatic views.
La Bastide de Moustiers, Chemin de Quinson, 04360 Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, France.
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