Bonjour my friends, If you fancy being somewhere else from where you are right now, an inspirational change of pace will welcome you in a village in Provence beyond the French Riviera. This place has always been a throbbing hub and perfect hideaway for great artists and imaginative creatures. Like bees to the honey pot, artists such as Matisse, Braque, Miro, Picasso, Mogdigliani and my favourite painter Chagall, as well as writers, (Aldous Huxley), beautifull bohemians (Johnnie Depp) and even an ex Rolling Stoner, all seem to have grown like spicy radishes in gloriously warm weather and a good watering hole. The village you ask? It’s Saint Paul de Vence. Saint Paul de Vence is securely nestled between the villages of La Colle sur Loup and Vence and it’s seven kilometres inland from the Mediterranean which you can see from the cemetery at its peak. Being relatively close to the sea, Saint Paul de Vence has long been easily accessed since the year 1000 but these days the No 400 bus will do nicely. Or, if you’re going by car, you’re looking at about 45 minutes depending on today’s traffic from Nice.
Take a look at what lies ahead. You’ll get your first inkling that this village is going to be really good and colourful when standing right here beholding Chagall’s work with his Saint Paul de Vence in the background. Keep walking closer and you’ll reach the boules area (Place de Joue de Boules). It’s easy to escape here with friendly locals where you can spend hours swinging low on crunchy gravel outside the rampart walls. Or maybe boules is not your thing and if you haven’t yet shaken that competitive spirit off you from home, you may fancy a game of chess instead under these ancient plane trees… However, there’s a strong possibility that the warmth of the place simply lulls you and your tongue becomes a divining rod looking for a water hole. I know the perfect cafe and bar to have a cold beer and watch the game as Picasso did- it’s just the thing…
From your table you’re likely to spot a celebrity outside the famous La Colombe D’Or across the road, who have come for the very reason as you. It happens. Bono, Richard Attenborough, Michael Caine, Roger Moore, X Stones rock artist Bill Wyman (who has a house nearby) and many more, have all eaten here.
Artists use to pay their drink and board bills to the entrepreneurial Roux family owners with paintings, sculptures and drawings and so over time, La Colombe D’Or has built up an outstanding collection of twentieth century art which now decorate the dining rooms and back garden courtyard. My french awakening to La Colombe D’Or and her history came about by reading Martine’s Buchet’s book. In fact, it made me pay a visit. Being an art museum, guesthouse and restaurant all in one, the glamorous and the beautiful-on-the-insiders fill its space in a palette of colour and expectation.
I read that the guestbook reveals the presence of Edward VIII (then the Prince of Wales) and Wallace Simpson, David Niven, Orson Welles, Cary Grant, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Marlene Dietrich, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, Charlie Chaplin. Zelda and F.Scott Fitzgerald and many more- which makes me wonder who warmed my chair as I lunch with Matisse.
The ambience inside its walls is exactly what I like-disarmingly simple and very relaxed- serving regional foods like sardines, saucisson, hams, cheeses, figs, couscous, red cabbage, fruit tarts and aubergines etc. I can taste why it’s so popular. After lunch, you can take a dip in the pool and degrease yourself of south-of-France sleepiness while swimming with Calder- if you’re a guest of course. The perfect setting for a french affair! Sleeping with Bonnieu as a guest proves me right.
What to do next? Explore of course. Walk upwards along any of the meandering cobblestone lanes…
and listen to the sound in the artistry of a local’s world…
Let it be said that there must be something in the clean, clear air here and the high altitude breeze brings with it inspiration. The light from a provincial sun soothes and warms and makes colours sparkle with poetry. You can see it in Chagall’s paintings and mosaics when he lived right here with a new found feeling of hope and freedom.
His canvases fill with swooping lovers and circus performers and a passion for living. I like that. Smiling goats and joy oozing from canvases- it doesn’t get better than that. He lived until he was 97 in his beloved Saint Paul. Perhaps Chagall drank from this fountain of youth here… and always found respite among the shadows, and a growing clarity of thought and peace.
As for me, as I dawdled across the road here in the early morning, I turned around to give a wave of thanks to the kind driver who had stopped
so abruptly to let me cross. It was at that instant that I too became like Chagall and all the others mesmerized by Saint Paul de Vence, those who never want to leave this place- for the driver behind the wheel …was Johnnie Depp.
AuRevoir and Best wishes (and thankyou Johnnie for stopping)
copyright@ 2013Therese Waddell