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In the Garden with Sothys

Posted: January 17, 2008
At the end of a roller coaster-ride stretch of road in the French countryside, in the small town of Auriac, sits a complex of gardens and buildings clearly designed to be one with the natural beauty of its surroundings. Les Jardins Sothys is, quite literally, the living legacy of Bernard Mas, founder and chairman of professional skin care manufacturer Sothys International, whose motivation in creating the site was to build a place where nature would be revered and protected for future generations. To a jet-lagged editor and a U.K.-based associate, the garden was a soothing break in a hectic travel schedule and an opportunity to learn more about this professional products company.

The gardens are home to a wide variety of local plants, artfully displayed in beds shaped like drops of water and in topiary recalling constellations in the sky—a real star in the extraordinary setting. The site also offers hiking trails with comfortable walks, winding through gardens, meadow and forest. Mas’ idea is to value nature “to keep it for the next generation.” He believes this to be the raison d’etre of this, “the most advanced culture in history,” as he regards the present era.

In addition to the gardens, the site includes a long, low building housing a shop and restaurant. The crumbling wooden structure of an existing barn was rebuilt using wood pegs and chestnut beams. Complimented by floors of oak, the effect is both elegant and soothing in a way that only the truly natural and indigenous can be. Mas’ concept was to build a place to relax, like a lodge, plus a place to offer locally produced specialty foods and crafts. The effect on a weary traveler is rejuvenating, a surprise considering the spa—part of Mas’ vision for the site—is barely a blueprint at this point.

Indeed, Mas hopes to expand the concept to include a hotel and spa, a project that could get underway in the next five years or so. The spa would be open to the public but also would be a place to train the Sothys method. He envisions a place where Sothys customers can come for a week to train on the latest products and methods while enjoying the site in comfortable surroundings. But, first things first: He wants to finish the garden and there is quite a bit of work to do there. In addition, Mas will soon begin to renovate the nearby family farmhouse into a small hotel.

The garden and spa project is growing up in the place where Mas himself grew up. And while much of his family now lives in Monaco, they still gather in Auriac whenever possible. Mas’ son Christian, managing director of Sothys’ Bernard Cassiere line, said his father purposely built the garden in the village where he grew up and the garden is now becoming a core part of the Sothys story.