History and philosophy of the Couvent des Minimes in Provence
History and passion
The Couvent des Minimes was founded in 1613, in Mane in the modern-day French department of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, by the Marquis Melchior de Forbin Janson for the Minimes order of mendicant monks established by Saint Vincent de Paul.
Growing and studying plants was an important part of life at the Couvent at the time. Louis Feuillée, Louis XIV’s botanist, studied and wrote botanical treaties there.
During his expeditions to South America, he studied new species of plants, such as nasturtiums and fuchsias, which he brought back to France.
After the French Revolution, the Couvent des Minimes remained uninhabited until 1862, when Canon Terrasson, archpriest of Forcalquier, undertook its transformation into a hospice.
Several years later, a community of Franciscan Missionaries of Mary came to live there to look after the hospice and its residents.
Between two missions abroad, the Missionaries took care of the gardens, turning them into Provençal raised terraces where they planted fruit trees and vines. These cultures allowed them to cater for the hospice’s residents and help missionaries coming back from tropical countries to get back on their feet.
In 1999, the Missionaries left the Couvent, which was left unoccupied until its reopening as a hotel and spa in June 2008. Far from its original vocation, this residence dedicated to relaxation continues to cultivate the same welcoming spirit that has dwelled there for the last few centuries.
The Relais & Châteaux Le Couvent des Minimes Hotel & L’Occitane Spa was awarded the “Best Boutique Hotel in Europe” award at the 2009 Prix Villégiature Awards on 19 October.
Mr Saint Vincent, who is working on the Couvent's restoration, cannot hide his enthusiasm:
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The Minimes! Who could imagine such a marvellous site, surrounded and protected by the Alps? The Minimes are separated from the mountains by a wide plain, which, in the spring, is covered in the most beautiful flowers. White and pink almond trees make sumptuous embellishments. Narcissuses, different coloured anemones, and white daisies peek out of the greenery, with perfumed hawthorn bushes all around.
Everything here is heavenly scented and a feast for the eyes.