Chateau La Coste winery and art trailChâteau La Coste is a winery combined with an outstanding art and architecture trail and has earned a star in the Michelin travel guide. It sits in gently rolling hills north of Aix en Provence.

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Its vines nestle in a huge 250 hectare /620 acre site among oak, almond and pine trees; there are also olive groves, fruit orchards, a kitchen garden and even a small truffle wood.

The grounds are lightly landscaped with bridges, walls, steps, a complex irrigation system that originally dates back to Roman times and the occasional stone bench.

They're well-tended while being allowed to remain a little wild, and so a long ramble around them is already a pleasure in its own right.

Named for the provençal word for hills, Château La Coste produces respected wines: click here to read about the winery tour. But what makes it extraordinary is the stunning collection of modern art and architecture assembled there.

This includes important pieces by Tadao Ando, Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry, Norman Foster and Renzo Piano, all winners of the Pritzker Prize, one of the highest awards in world architecture. A large tapestry by Le Corbusier hangs casually in the corner of the café.

Elsewhere, dotted all around the estate, you will find work by Louise Bourgeois, Andy Goldworthy, Ai Weiwei, Tracey Emin, Alexander Calder, Richard Serra and many more. There are two indoor exhibition spaces too, a converted chai (former wine storehouse) and a new sunken structure designed by Piano and set into the hillside.

Here is a gallery of some of our favourite pieces, photographed on a peaceful, mild spring day. Scroll down to read more about them.

Château La Coste and Jean Nouvel's two futuristic, barrel-shaped, metallic winery buildings

News for Chateau La Coste near AixThe acclaimed and provocative Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has a new installation at Château La Coste. Near the highest point of the vineyards, it's a zig-zag trail using cobblestones retrieved from Marseille’s Old Port when this was renovated in 2013.

Blending harmoniously into the landscape, it now connects an ancient Roman road that runs through the estate and a more modern one above it. It's called Ruyi Path, after the ceremonial sceptre that symbolises power and good fortune in Chinese history.

In some cases, the works at Château La Coste are the only examples of the artists' work in France. Most of them have been created in situ especially for this location (a notable exception is Gehry's music pavilion which started life in 2008 at the Serpentine in London before being transported here).

The collection reads like a roll-call of the cream of contemporary artists and architects. But there is space here for new talent too. We take a closer look at some of the pieces below.

The man behind it is Paddy McKillen, a property tycoon from Belfast in Northern Ireland, whose portfolio also includes office blocks, shopping centres and luxury hotels.

McKillen bought Château La Coste in 2002 and had been busily embellishing it ever since, adding up to five major new artworks a year.

Publicity-shy, he kept Château La Coste closed to the public for the first few years. It quietly opened its doors in 2011 and the atmosphere remains low-key and casual. There are entrance charges to visit both the grounds and the winery and it's hoped these will cover the running costs but the project remains a colossal investment.

Bronze Foxes by Michael Stipe at Chateau La CosteYou can either go on a guided visit of the art and architecture in the grounds or walk around on your own (the entrance charge is the same for both). The guided visit at present takes two hours and the self-guided one takes... well, as long as it takes.

We're intentionally vague here because this is not one of those sculpture parks where the art is neatly signposted and labelled and lined up in a row. Each artist was allowed to pick his or her own location, and the creations are scattered all over the grounds at wide intervals.

Some are tucked away and blend in with the landscape to the point where they're not obvious to find, even with the help of the little map supplied at the ticket desk. Few have plaques, though they are named on this map with helpful mini-icons to help you identify them. Pictured above: Foxes (2008) by Michael Stipe, formerly of R.E.M.

The idea is to wander around in a spirit of discovery. However, you can also carefully follow the suggested route if you're keen to see everything. The full circuit as marked on the map is about 3.5 km / 2 miles.

Several pieces are interactive and some visitors, especially those with children, might want to linger and play with them. This is encouraged, though dad will probably have to help move such weighty pieces as Paul Matisse's Meditation Bell (2012), part booming bell, part muscle training device.

Drop by Tom Shannon at Chateau La Coste winery and art trailThe same goes for Tom Shannon's shining, spinning Drop (2009), pictured. which swivels and tilts on its axis to reflect the countryside in a distorting mirror.

If you have small kids with you, bear in mind that there are no toilets on the route! Dogs (on a leash) are allowed on the estate too, if you want to take the family pet for a walk.

The circuit is constantly expanding. Each time we've come here, we passed a number of construction sites. There are around two dozen completed sculptures, installations and buildings, but these are being added to each year.

You could easily spend a whole day at Château La Coste - including the winery tour - though you can also get a quick sense of the place in a couple of hours if your time is more limited.

Tracey Emin Cat in a Barrel at Chateau La CosteThere are gravel paths throughout, so wear comfortable shoes. Some of the route involves a gentle climb and several places are accessed by steps.

If you have restricted mobility or time, or if you are just feeling lazy, you might consider the three-seater electric buggy with a guide.

It's available at reception, though it won't be able to take you to the more tucked-away spots.

The art is enormously varied. Some pieces have a vinous theme, such as Nouvel's metallic winery, shaped like a barrel, or Guggi's giant wine chalice, Calix Meus Inebrians (2009), pictured top left, (the name is a quote from the 22nd Psalm and Latin for "my cup makes me drunk", or "runneth over"!)

Pictured above, Emin's Self Portrait: Cat Inside A Barrel (2013) is perched on a high platform at the end of a wooden gantry overlooking the estate; you have to squat and peer through a hole into the darkness to see a tiny ceramic kitten. Did it somehow get trapped there?

 

We also liked Andy Goldsworthy's Oak Room (2009), a sort of dark underground igloo lined with woven oak tree branches, and the trademark giant Crouching Spider (2003) by Louise Bougeois.

Crouching Spider by Louise Bourgeois at Chateau La CostePictured, the spider squats in the infinity pool by the entrance to the estate above its own perfect reflection and its nubbly legs evoke the gnarled vines all around.

A highlight is the serene chapel (2011) perched at the top of the hill on the edge of the estate and absolutely worth the climb.

Tadao Ando erected a protective framework embracing - or imprisoning - an existing ancient stone structure and created some transfiguring effects inside with the help of natural light.

Be sure to close the door behind you after you enter to experience these. And watch out for Jean-Michel Othoniel's dramatic blood-red cross of Murano glass (2007-8) standing guard just outside the chapel.

Ando is one of the most enthusiastic collaborators to Château La Coste: he also designed the angular, luminous Art Centre and several other installations.

Practical Information

Château La Coste is open all year round and has a lively programme of events, from open-air screenings and concerts in summer to mulled wine, mince pies and a Christmas market in winter.

It would be beautiful in any season. In early spring, for instance, the vines aren't yet in leaf, but you can enjoy almond and cherry blossom and banks of wild violets and daffodils instead.

But do try to avoid days of high winds and in summer take that uphill art trail in the early morning or evening rather than in the middle of the day.

The Art Centre contains a little bookstand with upmarket art books, posters and souvenirs and Château wine is on sale in the winery shop.

Where to eat and where to stay: The most convenient restaurant is Le Café de Tadao Ando. Named after the architect rather than the chef, it offers salads, pasta, simple dishes, home-made pastries and, of course, wine. There's a set menu at lunchtime.

The setting is delightful, though prices are on the high side. In fine weather the more informal outdoor La Terrasse is a cheaper option. And there's plenty of space out in the grounds for you to bring your own picnic.

If you wanted something more substantial and felt like driving a short distance to Le Puy Sainte Réparade, L'Auberge des Savoyants has been recommended by visitors. It's open for lunch only and you'll need to book.

The Villa La Coste, an exclusive and super-pricey boutique hotel and spa, recently opened on the edge of the Château grounds.

The architects, Tangram, have been involved in many projects in Marseille, including the pedestrianisation of the Old Port and the restoration of the InterContinental Hôtel Dieu.

The hotel complex contains yet another place to eat. It's called Louison, apparently the childhood nickname of Louise Bourgeois, whose art can be seen on the La Coste estate. This one is a top-of-the-range job overseen by Gérard Passedat, the holder of three Michelin stars for his restaurant in Marseille, Le petit Nice.

A small nearby B&B, La Cride, also offers rooms and cottages but you'll need to reserve well ahead in the high season. Book a room at La Cride in Le Puy Sainte Réparade

How to get to Château La Coste: The estate is located 15.5 km / 9.5 miles north of Aix en Provence and 45 km / 28 miles north of Marseille at 2750 route de la Cride, 13610 Le Puy Sainte Réparade. Website for Château La Coste

Note: Château La Coste should not be confused with the village of Lacoste further north in Vaucluse.

By car: From Aix en Provence, take the motorway, leaving at the exit marked Puyricard. From here follow the D14 towards Le Puy Sainte Réparade. Shortly after Puyricard, the road forks: continue on the D14 and the entrance to Château La Coste is on your left at the bottom of a hill.

The Château has a free underground car-park with 90 spaces and an open-air parking lot for overspill.

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By bus: From Aix en Provence bus station, take line 260 to Le Puy Sainte Réparade and get off at bus-stop Coopérative (before you enter Le Puy). This part of the journey takes 35 minutes and you can consult the timetable here (type Le Puy Saint Réparade in the right-hand search box).

From this bus-stop a navette (a shuttle mini-bus, included in the ticket price) will take you right to the Château. The total journey time is one hour.

The only snag is that you do have to order the shuttle bus at least one hour ahead. Telephone 0800 944 040 (a freephone number). The helpful staff at the Château will do this for you if you don't speak French. The Château's telephone number is (+33) 4 42 61 89 98

If you forget, a taxi service is available in Le Puy. Tel (+33) 4 42 50 02 32. Alternatively, you can pre-book a holiday taxi here.

 

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