Richard Turen
Richard Turen

You can spend a lifetime seeking that unique vibe, that special something, that aura, that certainty of excellence. True beauty is often elusive.

To say that, at last, I found my favorite hotel in Europe this past June would be a simple statement of fact. We all have hotels we like and, if we're lucky and the travel gods have smiled on us, a few that we truly love. I left this particular hotel absolutely convinced that if I had to spend the rest of my life ensconced in one place and one property, it would be La Bastide de Gordes, perched at the edge of a 16th-century, medieval village in the heart of Luberon in the south of France. 

The hotel recently went through a nearly $20 million renovation and emerged with 40 rooms and suites, four swimming pools, three restaurants and gardens on seven separate terraces. But that tells you nothing. Lots of hotels do renovations (though not many spend $20 million on a 40-room property).

This is a hotel located on a cliff near a 12th-century castle. You go up steep, rounded curves to get there, passing forests and the famed lavender fields of the Cavaillon plain, and then up into the mountains.

Off in the distance below us -- as if a movie set had been created for those who sip an aperitif on one of the terraces -- is an ancient and beautiful collection of stone buildings. A miniature fantasy that lies at one's feet.

Gordes has, unfortunately, been named one of France's prettiest villages by numerous publications, including many within France. This has resulted in a fair number of daytrippers. But when you pull up to the simple main street entrance of the hotel just at the edge of the village and management briskly walks out the front door to greet you, the tourists walking the narrow streets are really not a bother.

Our stay began with a warm and personal introduction to the property. And then the magic began. Everyone at this hotel seemed to be the very best at what they did. Every staff member spoke English, but what was truly impressive was the way they interacted with guests.

The private dinner we arranged on the larger terrace was one of my favorite meals of all time. What I most remember was observing how well the staff carried out what was obviously excellent training: Every move was perfect, every service note followed by a warm, authentic smile.

But by the second day I was getting frustrated. I was feeling like a lousy reporter. I knew I couldn't accurately tell you this story. How, I wondered, do they get young people of such talent and temperament to work in an ancient hotel in a tiny village in the middle of French nowhere?

Finally, on the last morning, one of the waitresses, a young woman from India, asked me how I had enjoyed my stay. I explained my dilemma. Why do you all work here? What is the secret, I wondered out loud?

She smiled and asked me to step outside with her on the large terrace. As we stood overlooking the valley below and the beautiful stone village, she explained that the gentleman who had purchased the hotel building also purchased the stone village so staff could have a wonderful environment to live when they were off duty. Every young graduate of the best hotel schools in France wants to work at this property.

She smiled at me and gently took my hand to say goodbye. "So now, Mr. Turen, you know our secret." 

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