BY CHERYL ANDERSON
As you walk away from La Bastide de Moustiers, having just had a sumptuous meal or an overnight stay, “memorable” may be the adjective that comes to your mind. The small boutique hotel and restaurant is owned by the internationally famed chef Alain Ducasse. I’ve had the pleasure to dine at many of his restaurants over the years, but La Bastide is my favorite by far. It mattered not whether I was sitting on the sunny terrace on a beautiful day, inside in the well appointed dining room, or upstairs in a turreted alcove, as each venue has its own La Bastide charm.
Tucked away in the Gorges du Verdon, just outside the town of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, La Bastide du Moustiers sits in a charming rural setting. Driving up the shaded winding road leading to the restaurant and hotel, you begin to relax; the quiet begins to surround you. You will announce your arrival in the speaker by the gate to the property. The gate slowly and quietly begins to open. C’est une bonne idée de faire une réservation.
Do take the time for a stroll around the charming garden area in the back. Paths go to the left and to the right of an allée; metal arches over the allée add to its charm. In the center is a well with an old-fashioned red hand-pump. Breathe in the delicious aroma of the aromatic herbs and flora growing all around you. Climb up the stone steps to the right of the garden area and visit the small gift shop at the top of the hill filled with books, pottery, and this-and-that.
Begin your memorable dining experience with an apéritif. Soon to follow, an amuse bouche will be brought to the table, always a small creative surprise from the chef. After that tasty bite, you must decide what to have to make your four-course meal perfect. Choose from the prix fixe menu or from the a la carte menu, selecting exactly what you desire, what you fancy, or are in the mood to eat. What should it be? Finally, indulge and enjoy a delectable dessert. Pour moi, I end the meal with a café espresso.
The staff is helpful, extremely professional (as you would expect), and makes the entire experience delightful. Once, when the waitress brought the dessert menu to our table, she overheard me say, “I just don’t think I can take one more bite”. Her words to me, with a great deal of certainty, were, “Oh, yes.” Of course, I did have dessert. I would not want to disappoint!
Alain Ducasse’s sleeved, very large, and heavy coffee table book, J’aime Monaco, is a wonderful pictorial romp through the Cote d’Azur and Provence. I never tire thumbing through the pages, recognizing many of the places photographed and making a plan to visit some of the places pictured I’ve yet to explore. They will gladly ship it to you upon request and signed by Ducasse, if you wish.
Perhaps Paris interests you. If that’s the case, he has compiled a much smaller book with equally rich photography of the city one can’t help but love. Both are available in the hotel lobby of La Bastide de Moustiers.
Before you leave the immediate area, on the same road as La Bastide, stop in the small faience factory, Atelier Soleil, where some of the pottery and dishes for the restaurant are manufactured. Purchasing one small piece (or more) will be a pretty little reminder of a most pleasant day. However, once inside the factory showroom, trust me, it’s hard to resist buying vases, plates, bowls, soap dishes, terrines, or table settings with their whimsical or very traditional, albeit stylized, designs.
The artist/owner is very friendly and glad to show you around or just let you browse. If asked, he will create a design to your own specifications on as many pieces you want and will ship purchases to your home. They also have a boutique in the town of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, which has many pottery (faience) shops. Pottery making is a major, centuries-old, quite famous, local industry and draws thousands of tourists every year.
There is a star hanging on a 225m-long chain “suspended” between two cliffs above the town—a very curious sight. It’s not known exactly how it was hung but legend says it was first hung during the Crusades.
I have visited Moustiers-Sainte-Marie only a couple of times because, for me, Atelier Soleil satisfies my pottery interest and La Bastide de Moustiers satisfies my French cuisine hunger. It is considered one of the most beautiful towns in France and well worth a stop.
Chemin de Quinson (the workshop)
04360 Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, France
Telephone: +33 (0)4 92 74 61 62
La Bastide de Moustiers
Chemin de Quinson
04360 Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, France
Telephone: +33 (0)4 92 70 47 47