A Sense of Theatre
A private paradise. A secret world. A hidden kingdom. Cloistered glory. The very essence of exclusivity. If luxury could be bottled… heavenly scent. A multiple epiphanic realisation of complete beauty and tranquillity. Not even a Gallic Frances Hodgson Burnett could dream up the discreet walled splendour of La Divine Comédie. Although Colette comes pretty close in Gigi: “Such a beautiful garden… such a beautiful garden.” Its only outward expression, an enigmatic public face, is an ivied arched wooden gate at the end of a laneway off Rue Sainte Catherine or is it Rue des Bains or Rue Saluces? Such is the labyrinth that is old town Avignon. Corrugations of sunshine ripple across the lawn and climb over a card table. Gigi again, “What about a game of piquet?”
“We called it La Divine Comédie after the many theatrical connections of Avignon,” explains co owner Amaury de Villoutreys, a former financier. There are two theatres – Théâtre Golovine and Théâtre du Chêne Noir – within Galilean binoculars view of the house. A diorama of a stage in the dining room reinforces the theme. Distinguished architectural historian Dr Roderick O’Donnell reckons, “As Chaucer is to English, so Dante is the father of spoken Italian. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, referenced Dante when he quipped there is a ‘special place in hell’ for certain politicians.” This could well be the beginning of always.
Five guest suites breathe and stretch and spread and sprawl across three uncrowded bedroom floors, louvred shutters flung open to the birds tweeting leaves rustling church bells peeling. The Cat by Colette, “Above the withered stump draped with climbing plants, a flight of bees over the ivy flowers gave out a solemn cymbal note, the identical note of so many summers.” Last used as a school, the stone house – dating from the 18th and 19th centuries – is so tall yet not as tall as its smothering of ancient plane trees. Remnants of the 14th century palace of Cardinal Amédée de Saluces, ghostly tracery of the past, are imprinted on the garden wall. A 15 metre swimming pool lies hidden behind dense bamboo woodland. The perfumed aroma of musk and civet intensifies with the heat of a lost summer afternoon. Piquet time.
La Divine Comédie is the outcome of a revelatory seven year conversion and restoration programme. The interiors radiate confident good taste: the other co owner Gilles Jauffret is a leading decorator. Antique pieces, vintage finds and contemporary artworks are mixed with bravura under rococo’d ceilings. There’s an elephant in the (sitting) room. Pictures in the staircase hall are hung as close as stamps in the style beloved by Min Hogg, Founding Editor of The World of Interiors. Light selectively permeates the spaces through internal French doors and rooflights. The Cat once more: “The zone of shadow… the zone of shadow…” Persian siblings Gaston and Simone curl playfully on matching grey chairs. Thédule the Weinheimer blends in with the suede cover of a garden seat while alfresco quail’s eggs breakfast is served. Such pedigree.