Divine Hospitality: La Divine Comédie

Within the hotel’s private garden are 100 varieties of trees and plants, some seen here in the allée. 
La Divine Comédie, parts of which date from the 1700s, is situated on land important to the papacy since the 14th century.

There are hosts, and then there are HOSTS – en majuscule or “capital letters,” as the French say. And the moment you arrive at La Divine Comédie, a one-of-a-kind hotel in historic Avignon, France, open barely a year, you immediately sense that owners Gilles Jauffret and Amaury de Villoutreys are among the latter.

The two men – Jauffret, an interior designer, de Villoutreys, once in wealth management, now sharing his knowledge of art and history with the hotel’s guests – shared highlights of their adventure as first-time hoteliers with ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME as they were preparing for summer. Our conversation was condensed and edited for clarity.The floor of the entrance hall is made of large slabs of Burgundy stone. The chair is Louis XV.Furnished with 18th- and 19th-century antiques, the Naples Suite features a brass-and-fabric “suspension” by Nimes artist Maïna Cozannet. The Consul Suite conjures memories of the Orient with blackened wood, gilded metal and Jauffret’s customized headboard.

Q: How did you come to this amazing property, parts of which date to the 18th century and situated on land integral to the papacy since the 14th century?
A: We purchased it in 2009 and camped out in the annex for six months to determine what our goal for it should be. It soon became obvious: keeping it to ourselves did not make sense. We wanted to share our French history, passion for art and l’art de vivre with others. Ergo, a hotel was the answer. In addition, however, it would be our home.

Q: What was its condition when you first saw it?
A: Very bad. Among many things, only one bathroom, a greatly damaged roof, walled-up windows. We completely redesigned the interior space with only one rule in mind: to give the impression that it has always been as you see it now.

Q: Why only five suites?
A: Being small, we can focus on our guests. The real luxury is being able to receive them as friends, and to have time for each one on an individual basis. We present our house more as a family home than a hotel.

Q: Each suite is different from another, and huge, 538 square feet. How did you choose the themes?
A: They were inspired by various paintings we have in our art collection spanning the 17th to 20th centuries, along with a notable group of images of Avignon previously belonging to the Papal Palace.

In the Venice Suite for example, there are 42 watercolors of the city in the early 1800s, while the Anatole Suite honors one of Amaury’s ancestors and the Naples Suite is hung with Neapolitan gouaches.

The furnishings come from many places: antiques dealers; designers like Paola Navone who did the dining room chairs; textile shop Rue Herold in Paris; Gilles himself, who made the beds’ headboards among other pieces and even our own families’ homes. We also converted items, like a 19th-century church font into a bathroom sink, and searched art galleries for such objects as the iconic Gufram “Cactus” sculpture from the I Multipli Collection featured in many of the world’s top museums.

An Aubusson tapestry from the 18th century adorns a wall in a private room of the hotel.  Found on a trip to Italy, the 19th-century Italian chandeliers add sparkle to the Salon d’Hiver.Adding a fanciful note to the library corridor is a resin Gufram sculpture from 1970s Italy depicting a cactus.

Q: What else do you offer besides the beautiful suites?
A: First, the largest private garden in Avignon with over 100 varieties of trees and plants; a magnificent pool hidden from the public eye; a spa and wellness center and the delightful Le Complot bar. We can also arrange such activities as visits to legendary, private properties; overflights of the region in four-seater planes and, of course, secure reservations at the area’s best restaurants for such local specialties as daube Provençal with wild boar and eggplant papet with tomato coulis.

Q: Tell us more about the food.
A: We serve only breakfast but can organize private dinners and cocktails with one of the talented caterers or chefs we work with, both for those staying at the hotel and those who are not, meals tailor-made to fulfill their culinary dreams.

Guests can choose where they eat, inside or out, and cooking and enology (wine making) lessons can be arranged, as well. With advance notice, anything is possible!

The bottom line is: we want everyone’s visit to be magical and memorable.

Photography Courtesy of La Divine Comédie.

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