The home of the Little Sparrow is as extraordinary as her voice, says Vicky Leigh
It seems somewhat of an understatement to describe Les Parettes as picturesque. Situated in the Proven�al hamlet of Plascassier, midway between Valbonne and Grasse, this magnificent stone bastide is the former home of France’s greatest chanteuse. With its striking bougainvillea-clad exterior and charming rustic stonework, it’s not difficult to see why �dith Piaf fell so deeply under its spell. And that’s before you’ve even ventured inside. Les Parettes is a rather extraordinary property, but then the Little Sparrow’s life was rather extraordinary too, so they must have been the perfect match.
A star is born
Born �dith Giovanna Gassion in Paris on 19 December 1915, Piaf was abandoned by her mother and raised by her grandmother, who ran a brothel in Normandy. Between the ages of three and seven she lost her sight, but legend has it that she overcame her blindness after her grandmother’s prostitutes made a pilgrimage to St Th�r�se de Lisieux. She later lived for a short time with her alcoholic father, before leaving at the age of 15 to become a street singer. Her life was certainly one of stark contrasts: her fragile small figure compared with the strength of her voice, and the range of her fame compared with her tragic personal life.
In 1935 she was discovered in the Pigalle area of Paris by nightclub-owner Louis Lepl�e, who convinced her to perform on stage. Her extreme nervousness, combined with her height of just 4ft 8in, led Lepl�e to give her the nickname that would stay with her for the rest of her life: La M�me Piaf (The Little Sparrow). This unknown street singer proved an immediate hit with chic Paris audiences and her first record was produced in the same year.
While her diminutive stature and nerves may have given the impression of fragility, her audiences were transfixed by the incredible power of her voice as she performed her poignant ballads. She became popular with German officers during the Occupation, and in doing so became a heroine of the French Resistance. Singing for high-ranking German officers earned Piaf the right to pose for photographs with French prisoners of war from the Second World War, ostensibly as a morale-boosting exercise. However, once in possession of their celebrity photos, prisoners were able to cut out their own images and use them in forged papers as part of escape plans.
Much of Piaf’s life was shrouded in mystery, including where exactly she was born and the precise date she died, which is said to be 11 October 1963. Her funeral procession drew tens of thousands of mourners onto the streets of Paris, and the ceremony at the cemetery was attended by more than 100,000 fans. Her grave at P�re Lachaise is one of the most visited in the cemetery.
A countryside retreat
Standing behind electric gates at the end of a gravelled driveway, �dith Piaf’s former home makes quite a first impression. The large entrance hall opens onto a number of reception rooms, including a games room, well-equipped kitchen and a dining room that is easily big enough to accommodate 16 diners. The exposed beams and stonework create a warm, cosy feel throughout the whole property, and the galleried library above the dining room is the perfect place to curl up with a good book.
There are four double bedrooms within the main house, plus a further three suites just past the swimming pool. It also benefits from its own gym, so you won’t have to go far for your workout or worry about who might see you in your gym gear. Of course, if you’d rather exercise outdoors you could always go for a jog around the grounds and make the most of the stunning views, before treating yourself to a sauna for your efforts.
Set in four acres of private grounds, the outside space is just as impressive as the inside of the property. It is said that Piaf loved to be in the tranquil and peaceful surroundings of her country home. The well-stocked garden boasts all manner of fruit trees, from lemon and lime to apricot, cherry and fig. Those keen to keep fit can enjoy making use of the recently refurbished all-weather tennis court, and for a truly authentic French sporting experience there is also a boules court.
A spacious terrace surrounds the swimming pool, while a pool house equipped with a kitchen and shower room provides handy shade and facilities. The summer kitchen with barbecue and dining area, is a prime spot for alfresco entertaining, and with all those hours of Proven�al sunshine there should be no shortage of opportunities to put it to good use.
And the price tag for this property? A cool €6,890,000. The opportunity, particularly for �dith Piaf fans, to own a piece of French history? Priceless.
Tel: 08700 11 51 51