Running a chambres d’hôtes on a wine estate in Luberon

Thomas and Rudolph with their dog Vlek

Thomas and Rudolph with their dog Vlek - Credit: Archant

For Thomas Boots and Rudolph Rood, owning a holiday home in Provence gave them a flavour for life in France that led to a permanent move

Domaine les Roulettes in Luberon, Provence

Domaine les Roulettes in Luberon, Provence - Credit: Archant

With the summer season at Domaine les Roullets well under way, Thomas Boots and Rudolph Rood are busy welcoming guests to their restored chambres d’hôtes and wine estate in the Luberon.

Sharing their little corner of Provence with guests was something the Dutch couple planned to do as soon as they laid eyes on the run-down domaine in Vaucluse in 2005, and saw its potential as a bed and breakfast. “We thought the property was too big for just the two of us, and we very much wanted to have people here to enjoy and share it with us,” remembers Thomas.

It was more than a decade ago that Thomas and Rudolph first decided to relocate permanently to France. The couple had owned a holiday home near Cannes on the French Riviera since the year 2000. This planted the seed for a permanent move from Amsterdam to France that flourished the more they spent time in this idyllic part of the world. And with the sun, sea, sand, and not forgetting the glorious food and drink that the Côte d’Azur offers, it’s not surprising that Thomas and Rudolph fell for the French way of life.

After growing tired of their careers in Holland – Thomas worked in tourism and Rudolph was a lawyer – they decided to take the plunge and move to France permanently. While they loved spending holidays on the Riviera, they knew it wasn’t where they wanted to put down their French roots. “From 2003, we made plans to relocate to France. We knew that we didn’t want to live on the Côte d’Azur because it’s too busy, so we went to have a look at different areas of France. When we came to the Luberon, we just fell in love with this part of Provence and we knew that’s where we wanted to live.”

With the couple settled on the department of Vaucluse, they began their property search in earnest and viewed between 20 and 30 properties before finding Domaine les Roullets, a neglected wine estate in need of a new lease of life.

“When we came here for the first time, it was raining, so we saw it in the most negative circumstances, but we just fell in love with it,” remembers Thomas, who says space was one of the main criteria during their property hunt. And with six hectares of land, Thomas and Rudolph certainly got the expanse of land that they so desired with their house purchase.

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It’s not only the scope of land that sets Domaine les Roullets apart from the 17th-century canal house they sold in Amsterdam. It also benefits from a stunning rural location with 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside and hilltop villages. Located in the middle of a triangle of the villages of Oppède-le-Vieux, Gordes and Ménerbes, known locally as the golden triangle of the Luberon National Park, it’s easy to understand why the property and the area charmed Thomas and Rudolph even on a rare rainy day. The beauty of the Luberon has enchanted many expats before; the most famous being author Peter Mayle who immortalised this area of France in his iconic bestseller A Year in Provence, which was based on his life in Ménerbes.

The property was derelict when they bought it, but Thomas says they relished the challenge of the renovation project. “It had been in the hands of a French family from the nearby village of Cavaillon for 40 years, and they only used it as a holiday home, so it was in a neglected state. The vineyard had been let out to a winemaker in Oppède who didn’t do a lot with it. We really had to do everything to the house and the estate. We didn’t mind though, because we preferred to build up something from scratch rather than take over things you don’t want from previous owners. It allowed us to personalise it.”

Domaine les Roullets was built as a winemaker’s property and, according to Thomas, the oldest part of the building dates back to the 18th century, with one of the gable stones bearing the inscription “1782”. And it’s not just this date that they found carved in stone. At the entrance, there’s an engraving of the property’s name, Les Roullets, which according to locals means ‘green oak’ in old Provençal. There are two very large oaks, thought to be 500 years old, on the land, so Thomas and Rudolph wanted to keep the name when they took over the domaine to retain the links to the estate’s history.

Thomas and Rudolph wanted to be sure that they sympathetically restored the property and preserved the period features, so they spent time finding an architect who mirrored their vision to assist them with the project. “We took about six months to make the plans. We used a local architect from Aix-en-Provence who made up the drawings, and then we liaised with the contractors,” says Thomas.

The work started in 2006 and it took about a year and a half to complete the main house, which initially encompassed four guest bedrooms plus Thomas and Rudolph’s private living area. Two additional guest rooms were added a year later when they also built garages, a cave and an apartment for their caretaker.

“I think we were very lucky because there was good chemistry between us and the architect. I think you should leave the building work to the professionals, but we did the interior design ourselves because we consider it a hobby. We had decorated houses before in Amsterdam, so it’s something that we really enjoy doing,” enthuses Thomas, who says they had a clear idea of the look they wanted to create. “It’s a combination of art, antiques and modern design, and it works very well with the typical architectural style of Provence. Inside there are exposed brick and natural stone walls, and wooden beams that are a good combination with modern design and antiques. We wanted to keep away from the traditional Provençal style of yellow and purple as we feel that you see that too often.”

They combined furniture they brought with them from their house in Amsterdam with antique pieces picked up in nearby l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, one of France’s main antique villages. “It was quite exciting to see how it would work with the things we already had, and we’re happy with the result, which is different again from the style we had in Amsterdam,” adds Thomas.

The gardens and vineyards also needed a substantial amount of work, and for Thomas and Rudolph, who were used to their small city garden, it was a bit of a shock to realise just how much needed to be done to transform the outside space and pool area. Neither of them had any experience of running a vineyard or making wine, so it was a completely new discovery for them, but a welcome one that has now become their hobby. “We studied and bought books to learn how to do it. The people here are very friendly, so we got to know what to do through the locals who used to work in the wine industry and who gave us their advice,” says Thomas.

Since taking on the vines at Domaine les Roullets, they have transformed it into an organic vineyard, and for the past few years they have worked with Christian Ruffinatto, a young winemaker from Ménerbes, who makes the AOC red and rosé wines for them. Bringing back winemaking to the estate was a satisfying moment for the couple. “I remember the first time we got our own bottle of wine with our own label on it and we felt very proud,” enthuses Thomas, who says they don’t trade the wine. Instead guests get to sample and purchase it if they wish, and of course Thomas and Rudolph enjoy drinking the fruits of their labour.

The food and wine available in Provence is something the couple very much enjoy. “It’s one of the most important reasons to live in France. If you go to the market, you will be able to buy products from the region and it all tastes fantastic.”

While Thomas and Rudolph are very busy with guests during spring and summer, they are only open for business from May to September; giving them time to appreciate living in Vaucluse and of course discovering the rest of France. “During the season, we quite often don’t have the time to explore, but off-season we do a lot of walking or we go to places like Cassis, on the coast, or to the Drôme Provençale. It’s nice because that way we can advise guests on what to do when they are staying here,” says Thomas.

After a decade in Provence, it’s clear that Thomas and Rudolph are still as enraptured as ever with this picturesque part of France. They have has developed a work/life balance that suits them and allows them to enjoy life; a sure sign that moving to the Luberon was absolutely the right decision. LF

www.lesroullets.com