La Divine Comédie, in the gorgeous, rich heartland of Avignon, is not so much somewhere to rest a weary head as a big gay love story, one that you can be part of. It might also just be the most beautiful place to stay in the whole of Provence, which is saying quite a lot.
Tucked away down some medieval streets just a bar of Marseilles soap’s throw away from downtown Avignon, with its Pope’s Palace and bridge going nowhere, is the place they call a guest house, though it’s like nothing you’ll ever see on Four In A Bed. Actually, they call it a demeure privée.
Through a huge gate, to keep up the mystery and keep out the gawpers, you’ll find a huge two-hundred-year-old mansion that, in its time, has been everything from a rich man’s house to a language school. Now, apart from being set in the biggest private garden in town, with storeys-high ancient plane trees throwing shade on the koi in the reflecting pool, it’s a five-suite hideaway, packed with a whole museum’s worth of lovely things.
The love story is that of its owners, one an antiques seller, the other an antiques buyer. They met over a papier-mâché elephant that was in the window of the Paris antiques shop owned by Gilles. Love ensued and when they found this place and decided to make it their home, the elephant followed. He’s still standing in one of the grand salons amid the art and the modern furniture.
And that is what this place is full of: art and modern furniture, some of it design classic, some of it quirky and fun, like the tables with animal legs. From the ancient parquet floors to the ceilings so ornate they look like upturned wedding cakes, every room is picture perfect with colours Farrow & Ball could only dream of. Gilt mirrors, Louis XIV chairs, a sweeping staircase lined with original 18th century prints found in the attic, huge religious artefacts sacked from churches… everything is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
Up those winding stairs, you’ll find the five suites. Ours is Anatole, named after the intrepid traveller of an uncle who brought back many of the objets scattered across a room so big you could probably ride a moped around it. From the toy boats on the mantelpiece to the 18th century canopy over the bed, the space is eclectic and quirky – a huge metal tub, sinks made out of shell sculptures taken from antique fountains – with views out over that garden.
Back downstairs, you have the run of the place. Read your book in one of the grand salons, sit out by the long skinny pool obscured from view by foliage, or have a sauna or a hammam or a massage in The Wellness Centre. Or just have a glass of wine amidst the designer garden furniture while tickling Simone or Gaston, the colour-coordinated pedigree pussycats, or Théodule, the lumbering, perfectly-styled dog.
With staff that are barely there – except when you want them to be – you really do get the feeling that this is your home, albeit a home you could never afford without marrying a tech billionaire, one with great taste (well, he chose you, didn’t he?) Meanwhile, out there, if you can ever tear yourself away, is a fantastically fun little town crammed with restaurants (they’ll direct you to the best and have arrangements for them to deliver seeing as the only meal they provide is a simple but lovely breakfast, in your room or in the garden) and history and beauty and, come summer, a festival of light that’ll have someone’s eye out one of these days.
The only thing you need to beware of is the fact that when you get back to yours, you’re never going to be happy again. It’s the risk you take when you check in at La Divine Comédie. Nothing we can do about that.