Avignon is a magical place. Known as the gateway to Provence, it served as the seat of the papacy in the 14th century. Its historic center is a UNESCO world heritage site. Besides the soaring architecture of the Palais des Papes, the city today is known for its renowned Avignon Festival which takes place every summer. Where to stay in Avignon, that encapsulates the city’s culture, history and love of arts? Hôtel La Mirande Avignon, located in the heart of city, at the foot of the Palais des Papes. It is one of the most special of all French hotels – and perhaps the world.
Art de vivre and Luxury
La Mirande is the epitome of French art de vivre. This elegant setting, famous for its historic Age of Enlightenment interiors was lovingly restored and reconstructed. It discreetly incorporates all the modern amenities expected in a luxury 5-star hotel while maintaining its noble character.
The building was the Cardinal’s Palace, and held banquets for guests. In 1653 Claude de Vervins bought La Mirande. His son Pierre called upon the Avignon architect Pierre II Mignard to add the beautiful baroque façade in the 17th century. Over the centuries, the rooms inside were gradually changed. By the time the current owners, the Stein family, had taken possession of it in 1987, hardly any of the original decoration remained. Their hope was to bring it back to life.
If restoration is an art rather than science, then the artist in this case was Martin Stein, one of the owners of the hotel. He abandoned a career in medicine to devote his life to restoring La Mirande Avignon.
The work was done along with the renowned designer François-Joseph Graf (who also worked on the interior design at the Palace of Versailles). Stein took the initial designs and turned them into technical drafts for local craftsman. The restoration took around 3 years to complete.
Each room is individually and stunningly decorated in historic French print fabrics. The details and decorative items are astonishing: wallpaper from the 1750’s, made in China for export in line with European tastes, sourced from an antiques dealer in Paris. Antique furniture, silk-lined curtains, toile de Jouy and vintage parquet.
The respect for the importance of symmetry in the 18h century – to the extent of creating fake doors, typical of the time. The height of the paintings, the use of historic glass from the 18th century, the art in every tiny corner – these are just some of the plethora of details that Stein has lovingly tended to. Nearly every antique window, and the garden, has a breathtaking view of the Palais des Papes.
Collectively these details create a timeless refuge at the heart of La Mirande’s spirit. Guests are transported to another epoch.
A Gourmet Paradise
In addition to stewarding this historical oasis, in La Mirande Stein expresses a philosophy of life through championing artists, artisans and artisanal products within its walls. Its restaurants have become a destination themselves.
With the great Florent Pietravalle at the helm, the gourmet restaurant at La Mirande has won countless accolades and attracted the likes of Barack Obama to its tables. The cozy atmosphere of the hotel’s restaurant is in no small part due to the character of the Cardinalice room – a remnant of the cardinal’s residence, with a magnificent ceiling dating from the Renaissance, that serves as the dining room.
In the summer, the terrace and garden offer breathtaking views from the foot of the Palais des Papes. Retaining it’s one Michelin star as well as a Green Star for sustainable gastronomy, the main restaurant has tasting menus (2, 3, or 4 sequences) focused on local, artisanal Vaucluse ingredients and producers.
La Table Haute and Le Mirage
For a more intimate experience, in the medieval part of La Mirande (the only part dating back to the time of the papacy in Avignon) you’ll find the former servants’ quarters and old kitchen. Here you can enjoy an amazing 3-course meal prepared on the wood-burning stove in the convivial setting of the large chef’s table. On certain days, the chef and team will prepare dishes in front of you, invented upon their return from the Marché les halles d’Avignon with the freshest ingredients and local produce of the day.
In July and August, The restaurant Le Mirage offers a daily menu of mostly organic and local products including wine, at affordable prices.
Also at La Table Haute are cooking classes and pastry courses run by the region’s greatest chefs. The cooking school, Le Marmiton, runs year-round. It is a wonderful opportunity for novice chefs to have cooking lessons from some of the greatest chefs in Provence. There are also classes for children to make tasty treats like meringue lollipops, tarts and more.
Chamber Music and Classical Concerts
If the art and history of La Mirande are a feast for the eyes and imagination, its restaurants a delight for the palate, if you happen upon La Mirande at the right time, you can indulge your auditory senses with the finest classical music, performed in the intimacy of its own salon.
Renowned artists like Gustav Leonhardt and Véronique Gens have left unforgettable memories on a number of visits. Most recently the renowned photographer Nicolas Bruant as been instrumental in introducing a number of musicians to the Stein family including the French violinist Philippe Graffin. Graffin has curated a series of intimate concerts for the La Mirande, with each evening culminating in a meal shared with the artists at La Table Haute.
According to Graffin “La Mirande is really the masterpiece of an artist, Martin Stein and his family. Staying there is an experience that changes your perception of life and time. I always felt that it would not be surprising if Gustav Mahler passed through the door of the breakfast room. Or Marcel Proust might be trying their unforgettable hot chocolate, somewhere in the garden. That music is shared within this atmosphere makes one feel that the world is finally right for a few precious hours. It’s a privilege to be there.”
4 place de l’Amirande
84000 Avignon, France
+33 (0)4 90 14 20 20
- free wi-fi access
- family and non-smoking rooms available
- facilities for disabled guests
- air conditioning
- gift shop
- bar and tea room
- 24 hour reception
- room service
- Private parking with a valet service
- Train travel: Avignon TVG station
- Nearest Airport – Avignon Airport is approximately 20 minutes away. Marseille Provence Airport and Montpellier International Airport are about an hour’s drive.
Photos courtesy of La Mirande
- Looking for nearby villages to visit? Here are our picks for the best hidden hill top villages in Provence.
- Another historic French city to visit? Try spending 48 hours in Lyon.
- To find out more about La Mirande and its history, check out this excellent video from The Chateau Diaries.
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