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Upon visiting Château La Coste, the first thing visitors see is Louise Bourgeois’ striking Crouching Spider (2007), a monumental feat in bronze with protruding arachnoid legs that appear to float serenely on water. From the very beginning it’s clear that this luxury hotel in the south of France (a short distance from Aix-en-Provence) perfectly fuses nature and culture.
Spanning 600 acres, the estate boasts 28 villa suites with bespoke designer furniture and is set among ancient vineyards of vermentino grapes overlooking the Provençal hills. It’s a simply astounding oasis of art, sculpture, refined gastronomy and biodynamic wine. Visitors can meander through gardens of cypress trees and olive groves, punctuated by innovative sculptural and architectural interventions, by figures including Daniel Buren, James Turrell, Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Serra, Lee Ufan, Ai Weiwei and Tracey Emin.
Patrick ‘Paddy’ McKillen is a Belfast-born businessman, hotelier and art collector and co-owner of the Maybourne Hotel Group which includes some of London’s most luxurious hotels (think Claridge’s and The Berkeley). An aficionado of wine and art, McKillen decided to buy Château La Coste on first sight in 2001, telling GQ “I didn’t even drive 20 metres. I decided to buy it right there, because it had a magical feel.”
In the years since, McKillen has invited starchitects Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Tadao Ando to add their ambitious contributions to Château La Coste. Following a philosophy of respecting the natural landscape, McKillen and his team regularly invite artists to work at the estate on the basis that they consider the surrounding environment and don’t touch the trees or the ‘restanques’: ancient drystone walls.
Situated close to the hilly Luberon region of Provence, Château La Coste is a short drive from the Côte d’Azur and popular tourist cities like Avignon and Marseille. It’s 15km north of Aix-en-Provence, the native city of the Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, where visitors today can visit his former studio: Atelier de Cézanne.
Visitors can meander through verdant gardens of cypress trees and olive groves, punctuated by innovative sculptural and architectural interventions
The surrounding countryside and coastal region is famed for inspiring numerous other artists, in particular Matisse and Picasso. Other highlights include the city of Arles, where Van Gogh arrived in 1888 and painted some of his masterpieces before and after being committed to the neighbouring psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Nearby is also the hilltop ruined castle Château de Lacoste, once the home of the notorious 18th-century philosopher and provocateur Marquis de Sade, and later bought by the fashion designer Pierre Cardin in 2001.
A delight to the senses, Château La Coste is a unique and exquisite paradise for art and culinary lovers, or anyone else who wants a rural retreat in the south of France. Highlights include the modernist pavilion by the revered Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, one of the final projects before his death in 2012; Tadao Ando’s modernist art centre and chapel; Kengo Kuma’s floating wooden pavilion Komorebi (2017); and Ai Weiwei’s Ruyi Path (2017) a meandering stone path connecting an ancient Roman road with other routes across the site.
There are daily walking tours around the sculpture park and can visit the impressive art centre, before dining at Francis Mallmann’s state-of-the-art Argentine restaurant. One of the latest additions to the site is a monumental iron installation called Rail Car by Bob Dylan, which was unveiled in 2022 alongside 24 previously unseen paintings by the musician. If you’re ever lucky enough to actually spend a night at the hotel (it’s not exactly cheap – suites start at £600 per night), see if you can book the Jean Prouvé luxe cabin in the woods. Imagine getting to literally eat and sleep inside a work of art…
Lydia Figes is an arts writer and editor. She is also the co-founder of radicalwomenshistory