Sara Pierdonà checks-in to an historic Provençal gem, a beautiful hotel where everything - from the colors of the rooms to the teacups - has a story to tell, and could belong to a scene from a James Ivory film.




La Mirande was founded around 30 years ago, but seems centuries old. It's not just the decoration and furniture. Here, the polite, attentive courtesy seems almost nostalgic, as if directed at guests who travelled with their Baedekers and trunks, rather than the modern, transient traveller. From the colors of the rooms, and the chatter - muffled by the sumptuous upholstery - to the teacups, everything could belong to a scene from a James Ivory film. La Mirande wants to be an antidote to the bland uniformity of the mainstream luxury hotel industry.

The building's past traces the history of France in a whirlwind. Placed on the remains of ancient Roman baths, it became, after the papal settlement in Avignon, a 'livrée', which is what the palaces of cardinals in a privileged position were called. In fact, it is located immediately behind the Palais des Papes, whose high and superb walls can be seen from many of the hotel rooms (to make it clearer: where the shadow cast by the Palais des Papes is interrupted, stands La Mirande).


Thanks to a manuscript preserved in Florence, a fleeting but captivating image of the sumptuous receptions that took place in the livrée has come down to us: mention is made of hundreds of guests and pyramids of food announced by trumpet blasts, delicacies, rivers of wine, revelry. However, over the centuries the estate fell into disuse and finally into ruin.

It then passed to civilians, first to a textile merchant and then, in 1653, to a law maker, whose son, the Marquis de Bédouin, worked to obtain the classical-style façade we see today. The proportions and decoration scrupulously observe the rules of the 'aristocratic city residence' of the time and were designed by Pierre Mignard, a descendant of King Louis XIV's court painters. In 1796 (with relentless timing) the palace was sold to a sanitary officer: a sign of the times and La Mirande would never again belong to the aristocracy.



Two centuries followed, during which the palace was inhabited by a prominent Avignonese family, who felt close to Napoleon III, observed the norms of behaviour of the haute-bourgeoisie and, generation after generation, added layers of furnishings. The 20th-century arrived, ending the society in which the great families lived, together with their servants, in majestic stately homes; suddenly the damask drapes on the windows, the neo-Gothic furnishings inspired by Viollet-le-Duc, and the conventional oil paintings must have seemed unacceptably âgé.

In the decades of the last century, therefore, La Mirande experienced its second moment of decadence, redeemed only briefly when, in 1966, it was used as the location for 'La Réligieuse', a scandalous Nouvelle Vague film.

When, in 1987, the Stein family bought the building, it seemed like the happy ending of a long fairytale. Although, it was only the beginning of something new. 
The Steins had an excellent collaborator, François Joseph Graf - who would later work on Valentino Garavani's Holland Park house and, recently, London's At Sloane hotel. Graf had already accumulated experience at the Palace of Versailles with Pierre Verlet and knew exactly what to do with the extraordinary collection of furniture and paintings that the Stein family, great collectors, had amassed.



The whimsicality of this collection was perhaps the true fortune of La Mirande: already possessing a tasteful but not historically rigorous assortment, the owners could simply ignore the insidious question that often bedevils many renovations of old buildings - which era to choose? In their rooms, the 18th and 19th centuries had to coexist harmoniously from the very beginning... and also India and China, Italy and England, sumptuous elegance and homely warmth.

In 2001, La Mirande, to celebrate its 10th anniversary, published a book with beautiful photos by Nicolas Bruant. Leafing through the pages, one is left with the conclusion that, contrary to expectation, great modesty has been used in the transcription: glossing over details, when it would have been possible to dwell on, and thoroughly indulge in, every picture hung, every object exhibited, every piece of food plated - because everything contains a story worth telling.



For instance, the ochre sitting room: the wallpaper is original 18th-century Chinese; a Harold Knight painting (a woman reading) has been superimposed on it and is flanked by rich Braquenié fabrics. Or fabric lanterns, with a wrought-iron core, which are lit by hand every evening in the garden (and can be purchased on pre-order): these are travelling lanterns, reminiscent of carriage rides.

And as for the grey cat who lives in the living room: yes, he has his own armchair that it would be rude to occupy (upholstered in Le Manach fabric). What's his name? Obviously Mirande (alteration of 'admirable').

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