Inspirations

The Promise of Rest: A New Rural Retreat in the Cévennes

L’Heure Vide (The Empty Hour) is a new collection of secluded retreats burrowed into the Cévennes National Park in the south of France. Even reading the name evokes a sense of longing—the promise of rest.

The first property to open its doors is Mas Les Vignes, an authentic Cévenol farmhouse dating back to 1757. Tucked away in a UNESCO world heritage site, it’s a few kilometers from the medieval village of Génolhac. The property is made up of two houses that are connected by an inner courtyard overlooking the garden, which comprise a series of stone-walled terraces leading down to a natural swimming pool. Beyond that is nothing but forested valleys, threaded with meandering streams and waterfalls. We take a tour:

mas les vignes, in the heart of the sunbaked cévennes. 9
Above: Mas Les Vignes, in the heart of the sunbaked Cévennes.

the natural swimming pool, which has been built into the existing terraces. 10
Above: The natural swimming pool, which has been built into the existing terraces.

Michel Mulder and Sofie Sleumer are the creative couple behind the concept. (Sharp-eyed readers will recognize them as the former owners of D’Une Ile, which first featured on these pages in 2013.) “In 2012 we moved from Amsterdam to France to create D’une Ile, which took us several years,” explains Michel. “The result was a quirky, elegant, hotel-restaurant in the middle of the Normandy countryside. In 2018 we sold it to the Parisian restaurant, Septime, and went for a trip around the world in our Defender for two years.”

“the dry stone construction of the house and the surrounding terraces co 11
Above: “The dry stone construction of the house and the surrounding terraces continue for hundreds and hundreds of meters into the first,” says Michel. “It’s been the work of several generations.”

Over the course of that trip, the couple came up with the slow-growing idea for L’Heure Vide. “Our approach is hotel-like,” explains Michel. “But instead of rooms in a building we offer a collection of houses in nature. There will be a stock of the finest natural wines and delicatessen in every house, a central concierge service, even daily cleaning, if desired.”

“the beauty of it is that you have the valley to yourself, there are no  12
Above: “The beauty of it is that you have the valley to yourself, there are no neighbors,” says Michel. “The way the buildings are positioned makes it feel like a nest, with the mighty Mont Lozère to the right, and the meandering valley  to the left.”

In the 1700s, Mas Les Vignes was the only vineyard in the area. “It’s history, the buildings, and the surrounding terrains have largely been preserved,” Michel explains. When they purchased the property, the farmhouse was structurally sound, but not to their taste, so the interiors were sensitively remade in a way that “would do more justice to the building.”

Adjacent to the farmhouse was a second building: a stable and cellar that has been converted into additional accommodation (the property sleeps eight). This was much less straightforward. “Unfortunately, the south-east exterior wall and the south gable wall were in bad shape and had to be reconstructed,” says Michel. “All the floors had to come out, and we wanted to turn the cellar into a bathroom, so we had to dig down into the rocks to lay a foundation. And of course we had to take the roof off as well.” They were left with just three dry-stone walls standing.

the dining table is set before a 300 year old inglenook fireplace. 13
Above: The dining table is set before a 300-year-old inglenook fireplace.
  the kitchen is stocked with natural wines and local produce. guests will 14
Above:  The kitchen is stocked with natural wines and local produce. Guests will also find Gardelli coffee, homemade elderflower syrup, and herbal teas made from plants found in the garden.Mas Les Vignes L’Heure Vide kitchen

The stable was rebuilt entirely using only local and natural materials and local artisans who specialize in specific building techniques. “The woodwork is from local chestnut trees, the window frames were cut by hand using wood from the neighboring Mont Lozere. Even the slates on the roof were cut by hand from slate found on our own terrain,” Michel explains.

The pared-back interiors have been sparsely populated with pieces from their favorite designers (Autoban, Wouter Scheublin, Constantin Grcic, Ilmari Topiavaara, and Matthew Hilton)—”and, of course, gems from brocantes and vide-greniers” says Michel. There are handmade ceramics in the kitchen, “cotton cashmere” sheets in the bedrooms, and Malin + Goetz products in the bathrooms.

items from the épicerie at mas les vignes. 15
Above: Items from the épicerie at Mas Les Vignes.
another view of the kitchen. 16
Above: Another view of the kitchen.
handmade ceramics and vintage oddities on display at mas les vignes. 17
Above: Handmade ceramics and vintage oddities on display at Mas Les Vignes.
maisons de lheur vide dining room
Above: One of the living areas.
maisons de lheur vide dbedroom
Above: A glimpse of the hallway between bedrooms. .
a simple bedroom featuring “cotton cashmere” bedlinen  20
Above: A simple bedroom featuring “cotton cashmere” bedlinen from Khasto.
a double shower in the outdoor cellar of the former stable. 21
Above: A double shower in the outdoor cellar of the former stable.

With their first project complete, Sofie and Michel are already focused on the next property, which they hope to open in November this year. “We’re not aiming for big,” says Michel. “We want to create to be a story, a poem, or trail. Something you can come back to. Something to continue.”

Mas Les Vignes can only be rented in full, from Saturday-Saturday; visit L’Heure Vide for availability.