24-Hour Room Service: Hôtel Cloître Saint Louis, Avignon
Saturday 21 February 2004
A 16th-century cloistered Jesuit noviciate dominated by soaring plane trees may not sound like the most obvious setting for a 21st-century temple to minimalism, but that's exactly what Avignon's Hôtel Cloître Saint Louis has become. It was taken over by the current French-Danish owners in the late 1980s, and they hired the French architect du jour, Jean Nouvel (he of the striking Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris), to design a new wing. With the help of various other architects, he set about revamping the old part of the building, too.
Today, the hotel is minimalist throughout, yet it has an appealing softness to it, partly because, a decade on, everything is looking more lived-in, but also because requests from regulars led to the owners adding a collection of Moroccan rugs and wall-hangings to the rooms.
There is a small bar, a sophisticated restaurant overlooking the cloisters, and even a small 17th-century chapel on-site (access is from the road outside), but the hotel's best feature is probably the rooftop swimming-pool, added during the revamp and offering a fabulous view across Avignon's ancient rooftops.
Hôtel Cloître Saint Louis, 20 rue du Portail Boquier, Avignon, France (00 33 4 90 27 55 55; www.cloitre-saint-louis.com).Within the old town walls, the hotel is about 10 minutes' walk from the two main sights - the Papal Palace and the Pont St-Bénézet - and just across the road from the tourist information office.
Transport: the hotel is about two minutes' walk from Avignon Centre railway station, the arrival point of Eurostar trains from London Waterloo, every Saturday from 10 July to 11 September this summer. The bus stop for shuttle services to the TGV station, on the edge of town (€2.10, or £1.50, by bus, or around €15, or £10, by taxi) is nearby.
Time from international airport: Nîmes airport, with Ryanair flights from Stansted, is about 30 minutes away by road or rail. Marseilles is better appointed but access is tougher; a bus every half-hour to Aix-en-Provence, from which you can connect by bus or train.
The hotel's 80 rooms are spread across the two different parts of the building. In the new wing, they're a minimalist haven of black leather, white tiles and glass panels, with balconies overlooking the garden; in the rest of the building, they have the same style as those in the modern wing, but without the balconies and with stripped-back stonework. However, the variety of the available space means that they all have quite a different feel. Take a look at a few to decide which you like best (don't go by the pictures on the website, which give the rooms a much softer look than the stark blacks, whites and reds that actually dominate). Some of the suites can be a bit dark and, although the superior rooms have lovely high ceilings, the smaller standard doubles, tucked under the rafters with skylights above and windows to the side, are rather more enticing.
All the rooms have very James Bond-style bathrooms, with big, glamorous sheets of mirrored glass rather than tiles around the baths, and either shiny steel or sleek white sinks.
Freebies: a good, though rather bland, stash of own-brand toiletries, and a generous slice of the local nougat.
Keeping in touch: facilities, like the decor, are pared down - rooms come only with phones and televisions.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Standard rooms start at €100 (£70), and suites from €220 (£150), single or double, without breakfast, although there are lots of special deals available during the winter season.
I'm not paying that: you could try the posh B&B La Banasterie (00 33 432 763078). Run by two ex-Parisians who "practise the art of living", it has oodles of charm, and doubles from €90 (£60), including breakfast.
Still too much? The Hotel Acacia in nearby Le Pontet (00 33 490 033535) has imaginative, if slightly Ikea-ish, en-suite rooms from €55 (£40).
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