Escape : La Mirande in Avignon, a rich history revived
Hidden down a small cobbled street under
the imposing walls of the Palais des Papes in Avignon, the hotel La Mirande could easily be overshadowed by its majestic neighbour. Yet one look at its regal façade, its carefully restored interior and its decor which simply oozes sophistication dispels any notion of inferiority.
Although ruins of the original building date back to Roman times, documented history of La Mirande starts in 1309 when the Popes ﬁrst established themselves in Avignon. Pope Clément V arrived with his accompanying cardinals, one of which was his nephew, Cardinal de Pellegrue, for whom he decided to build a cardinal’s palace. Here the cardinal held receptions for hundreds of guests with copious banquets and ﬂowing wine. Inspired by this joie de vivre, the recent name ‘La Mirande’ was taken from the banqueting hall in the Palais des Papes where the pope received his guests in opulent style.
With the departure of the popes from Avignon the cardinal’s palace, having fallen into ruins, was bought by a cloth merchant who gradually restored the building to its former glory. It then passed into the hands of the lawyer, Claude de Vévins whose son, the Marquis de Bédouin built the typically classical façade of the building which can still be admired today. In 1796 and for the next two centuries, the property belonged to the prominent Avignon family, the Bénézet-Pamards and we can only imagine the kind of life they led in their bourgeois society which became closely linked to Napoleon III; the 19th century paintings, the heavy drapes and neo-gothic decor.
When the German born Stein family bought the property in 1987 it was in this spirit that they seeked to recreate this ‘grace of living’. The renovation work took three years and with the owners’ scrupulous eye for detail and love of French history the results are truly wonderful. Each room has been carefully designed using regional materials, local craftsmen and carefully chosen antiques in order to perfectly capture the essence of a bygone era. There is a tasteful use of chinoiserie, some of it original, which gives the hotel both colour and character. Stepping from the busy streets of Avignon across the threshold of the hotel immediately transports you into a haven of peace and beauty.
Not satisﬁed with its well earned four stars, the hotel works hard to create an atmosphere of conviviality and welcomes passerbys to come in to experience the place for themselves. Every Tuesday and Wednesday evening a table d’hôtes is organised where guests eat in around a big wooden table in the kitchen whilst the residing chef cooks in front of his audience. The hotel also organises cooking classes with guest chefs who share their own specialities and methods with the participants.
Whether you are looking for a touch of luxury or a slice of history, the Hotel La Mirande provides the perfect place to step out of your busy 21st century life and experience for a while the luxuries of the 18th century bourgeoisie.
Hotel La Mirande 4 Place de L’Amirande 84000 Avignon Tel. 04 90 14 20 20 www.la-mirande.fr
The hotel organises a Christmas fair on the 16th and 17th December where members of the public can visit the hotel, taste local products and buy local arts and crafts.
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The sun is out, bank holidays are in, we all want to go and explore, although this can sometimes be ruined by the dreaded mistral (p14). But let’s not spoil things. How about a visit to St Jean du Fos (p20) or if you’re feeling more urban, a nice shopping day in Avignon with a healthy tea break (p23) or a visit to an art gallery in Nîmes? (p17) If you’re feeling extra energetic like me, how about entering the Pont du Gard race on 30 June to raise money for a fantastic local charity? Also in this issue, the remarkable story of a simulated space mission by Claire (p18) and a very funny article by Bernice on her pathological inability (or so she says) to learn languages (p22).