Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Hotel Jules Cesar redesigned by Christian Lacroix - Arles

I have a long-standing love of fine hotels. In my early 20's, I saw first hand how hoteliers such as Ian Schrager transformed properties like the Paramount or the Royalton into spaces that were not only complete aesthetic worlds for their guests but also hot-spots that attracted and served the local community. Conversely, in my travels, I also experienced the fact that even some of the most elegant resorts in the world miss out on that spark, leaving behind an after taste of champagne gone flat.

So it was with great anticipation when I first heard that the designer Christian Lacroix had agreed to redesign the Hotel Jules Cesar, one of Arles' most well-known luxury hotels that had sadly morphed into something of a sleeping dinosaur in recent years. Christian Lacroix is not only from Arles, he is one of its prodigal sons. He understands the tricky juxtapositions of this ancient town innately. In the introduction to the excellent guidebook, "Arles, ville d'art et d'histoire," he proclaims that, "Arles is at once working-class and imperial, rustic and aristocratic, Christian and pagan, modest and proud, classical and traditional, stark and baroque, austere and unbridled. Apollo and Dionysus. In colour and black and white."

How would all of that translate into a hotel design? Christian Lacroix had found an apt partner in architect Olivier Sabran but how much could they do?

I pushed open the old rotating doors, happily still in place, took one look around...

...and gasped with delight.

It was all here. From the proud toréador presiding over the bar, to the 18th century scenes depicting Arles as it was (including an insider's wink from when the Arena had been transformed into a village of its own), to the vibrant colors so present in the light, the air - those that inspired Van Gogh and Picasso - to the hum of the future that Arles is building towards with swift momentum. For as I have already said, "It is not sleeping."

And neither is the hotel. It is a lot to take in.

There are so many details to discover, such as the combination of Provençal calade and Roman mosaics woven into the carpet...

...a light-filled breakfast room perfect for charging up for the day...

...and so many corners for a tête à tête

I was delighted to see that the design was not a tabula rasa, for that would not be Arlésien du tout but rather a mixing of old and new. Some of the fauteils that I recognized from the hotels previous incarnation had been given a new zip of upholstery...

And the panelling in the restaurant was topped with a parade of L'Arlésiennes in their finest...

...as well as a few of the wild bulls from the Camargue that are no doubt being served up on plate too. As I visited in the afternoon, the restaurant, Lou Marquès, was closed but I have heard, as was always the case, nothing but good things regarding the chefs Pascal Renaud and Joseph Kriz who have upped the ante of their regional cooking by bringing in a new pastry chef, Anne Beyl.

For you see, the hotel's team was not shelved during its acquisition by the Maranatha Group, something of a rarity. As part of the contract, it was agreed upon that the former owner, Monsieur Albagnac, now in his nineties, would be permitted to continue living in his private quarters onsite.

And while I was poking around the delightfully Alice in Wonderland like hallways, some of which had been scrawled upon with quotes from another prodigal son of Provence, the Nobel Prize winning poet Frederic Mistral, I met one of the hotels top managers who had been with the company for 26 years. Anyone who has worked in the industry knows how demanding it is and I was really pleased to know that such dedication had been correctly rewarded.

The gentleman very kindly offered to show me a standard double room...

...where the interplay of materials and prints that Lacroix had already used to such acclaim in his designs for such Parisian hotels as the Hôtel Petit Moulin or Le Bellechasse is in evidence...

...as is the presence of a fine antique armoire for which the artisans of the area became well-known in the 19th century.

Brazilian tiles meet ones that are a funky sun-splashed mix in the bath...

...an echo of the light that pours in through the former cloister on the lower level of this historic building. 

In the 17th century, the building was created as a convent for the Carmelite nuns, who were expulsed during the French Revolution, when the building served as the Hôpital de la Charité until it was closed in 1903. Afterwards, a petition was put forward to convert the space into a luxury hotel, in which purpose it has served since 1928, save during World War II when it became the Kommandatur of the German Occupation. As Arles is protected as a World Heritage Site, all of the historic aspects of the property were renovated by the règles du métier under the strict supervision of the Bâtiments de France.

It is fun to imagine what the nuns would have thought of the extravagant Lacroix suite!

It is a modern cocoon and yes, the bright red is comforting...

...and a welcome change from the quiet Zen styles that have reigned over hotel design for far too long.

As someone who claims - a tad boastfully even! - to know Arles very, very well...

...it was wonderful to discover a charming garden courtyard that I had no idea existed...

...as well as to be surprised by the splashes of the pool where tanned twenty somethings lounged languidly in the sun.

Such is the spirit of the new Hotel Jules Cesar, now a five-star property, it is an invitation to have a seat...

...and open the door to the best of the essence of all that Arles is, has been and hopefully will become. I know that I will certainly look forward to going back as a guest or as a local. In 2001, Christian Lacroix also wrote from the result of his living here, "What I see, I keep; but I grow because I give in return. The key here is not so much the idea of an eloquent past as that of a present whose voice is always in the background." May that voice keep humming for a very long time.

Hotel Jules Cesar
9 Boulevard des Lices
13200 Arles
Tel.: +33 (0)4 52 52 52

Special re-opening rates can be booked on the website starting from 125€ for a Chambre Classique, the Suite Lacroix from 382€


  1. Hi Heather!! What an amazing looking place. I love that lobby - and that bed looks super-comfy!

    1. Thanks Keith - and yes, I was ready to dive in to take a nap. :)

  2. I love! I treasure my black cow-hide lace punch pattern Lacroix bag -that I haven't used in ages...it's getting taken out of the closet. A toast to such a great master of design and style.
    Would love to get there one day!

    1. That makes me super happy that you are getting out your bag, sometimes we just need to remember that they are there!

  3. He did a good job, but I admit it is not my favourite style. It is too modern for my "old soul". Anyway He is certainly a great master of design and style.

  4. Hello Heather, We will see you there in a few weeks. Thanks for the preview. What a change from the last time we stayed at the Jules Cesar. Can't wait to see it in person. Gina

    1. I hope you don't mind that I let the cat out of the bag before your arrival. Perhaps it was best to prepare you?

    2. I knew what we were getting into. I had seen a few photographs of the renovation. We are looking forward to our visit. Gina

  5. This design job is way out of place with its surroundings. It's very tacky. Generally the French sense of design is very well developed and inspiring, but this is remeniscient of the tacky car design that always crops up in France....think of the Citroen. Thanks for sharing this, I certainly won't be staying there. There are many wonderful places to stay in Arles

  6. I always think I could live in a hotel instead of an own home...would be easy living...really? But that hotel wouldn't
    make me feel comfy. C.L. might be good in fashion but hands off from interior design...to bright too funky (espec.
    for a former cloister) . I know his own flat in Paris (from INterior books only) ...similar style ...too much colour

  7. Book me a room now! Or a broom closet just to be enveloped in this glorious, playful, energized-by-contradictions design.


  8. It is perhaps a bit jarring in places, although I have warmed over the last few years to the very old juxtaposed with the very new (or is that "to" the very new)? I must admit a fondness for LaCroix ever since he redesigned Air France's cabin crew uniforms, although I don't know if they're still wearing his design. Thank you for the lovely peek into the place...worth a visit sometime!

    1. I am a big fan of mixing old and new - I really prefer it now to all one or the other...

  9. Excellent! Goodbye Dust .. Hello Life. Certain to stimulate happiness, vibrance, and positive energy for a new generation of Travelers. Thanks for sharing.

    Bill Facker

  10. This is Provence. I think his designs should have been softer and paler. His designs assault my senses. I will have to check the hotel out when I get back to the area. Thanks for the photos.

    1. It is definitely worth a visit, Judy. And you know, if the hotel were in say...Saint Remy I might agree with you but I understood some years ago that Arles is not Provence, Arles is Arles. It can be tough, it is often forceful, there is little of the soft and pale about it - not even in the old stones of the monuments!

    2. Agree, Arles is so Arles ! Van Gogh knew that.

  11. Such a variety of opinions! We stayed there in cool, wet and calm December of 2010 before Xmas during the filming of our International House Hunters episode.....well it would have been one of the best episodes if true. It was a great deal and was antiquishly appealing and comfortable and probably more conforming to the expectations of soft and pale Provence. I came to see the lobby, halls and restaurant during a visit to the Chapel during the Rencontres. The chapel had been closed prior to my knowledge and is amazing and the Arlesienne exhibit was fascinating, (still there a few more weeks I think). Heather thank you for getting into the rooms. I would say the place rocks and the contrasts in town are made stronger and more vibrant with this renovation...and so much more to come. Have you done blogs on Hotel Particulier or Hotel du Cloitre? We saw a bartender who recognized us as as we recognized him who was an excellent and class waiter at the old Cilantro in La Hauteur. This was a great distraction for me while at work...I didn't read the texts until just now in fact.
    I snapped a photo using the ipad of the google earth screen; if you aren't able to find it i can attach it to an email if I had an address to send it to for you....Not sure how to do it from the blog

  12. Mike, I am going to do a post on the Arlesienne exhibit! Hopefully later in the week. :) I loved it. And yep, I totally agree with you about the energy but maybe it is something that you have to have lived in Arles to get? Although, when I talked to the manager he said that of all of their regular, long-standing customers, only one so far hasn't liked it, so I do think it goes with the building as well.
    No, I haven't done posts on either of those fine hotels but would like to one day - again, it is just getting over being shy and presenting myself. And that makes me happy to hear that one of the staff from Le Cilantro is working there! Good peeps.
    Ok, off to look for myself on Google Earth...I don't know why I find that so funny but I do...

  13. Extraordinary! The colours of the espadrilles splashed through a hotel; very refreshing.

  14. Hmmm - I see there are many naysayers, but I like it! I do love the mix of old and new and all of the color! But, of course, I guess it's not for everyone. So glad that you got "full access" (or mostly full?) so that we could see the rooms, the courtyard, etc. Beautifully shot and written, as always!!

  15. I have seen some images alredy chez Manon so my eyes and mind already could adjust to this whirlwind of style and history through the centuries. There is a lot to say about this. And it is for sure too much to digest for someone who is seeking for a mere ambiance of relaxation.
    Alltogether an Artpiece. An incredible mix of style quotation (architecture, furniture) well done eclecticism ( I love that) and postmodern stage design. ( I studied two semesters of stage design and worked at the Opera when I was a student.(:

    And there is a lot of fashion too: cloth, colours, textures. I bet he had so much fun doing that and letting go! These three sentences won't really do the ouevre justice!
    And he's from Arles like Francois Halard!

    Heather, I like the photograph of the breakfast room for its levels of narration: A room through a doorwindow with a printed stage setting.

    See, you polarize without talking about politics. (; Surprenante mais vivante!

    (cheering that you "took"/had access to the hotel)

    1. Silke, you are so awesome - if you can let me speak "Californian" for a bit! ;) And I found the rooms really peaceful, somehow! I did!

  16. Almost like walking inside a gallery of modern and old art and surprising mix of colors. From hallways to the guest rooms are offerings of wonderful discoveries.

  17. I'm surprised by all that intense, unapologetic color! Unexpected.

    Did I miss the post where you aired pics of your new home?

    1. Nope, Sweets. That will most likely be on Sept. 16th for a series post on "sharing." Not easy to do with one's personal space as you know...
      Hugs to you.

  18. Very bold and although it is not my preferred style I can appreciate the vibrant colors and styles juxtaposed with the classic surroundings. I'm afraid I would prefer a more soothing décor in the rooms. We come to Arles on Monday and we will be sure to pop in and check it out in person whilst having a pastis in the bar!

    1. Sharon, if you get a chance when you get back, would you let me know if your opinion changed once you had been there? Just curious! And have a great time in my old stomping grounds...For a casual lunch: Le Cuisine du Comptoir, for lunch or dinner under a trellis: Le Galoubet, for Michelin cuisine: L'Autruche and as always, don't eat on the Place du Forum save for Chez Caro!

  19. I am so happy to see this hotel back to life again. Vibrant life X10 isn't it?
    The pool area is wonderful, and the cloister. Not at all certain about all the colors but I do so love his flowers. Especially the simple arrangement on the front desk.

  20. I loved it ! Among many aspects, I loved all the stories and vignettes worked into the designs and the, his, fabrics.

  21. J'ai vraiment aimé ce lieu,ton post est très beau .

    Bonne journée



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