Interview with Judy Finnigan

Television presenter and novelist JUDY FINNIGAN and her husband Richard Madeley spend summers at their house in Provence. She tells Zoë McIntyre about her fondness for the area

Can you tell me about your French pied-à-terre?

Richard and I own a house in Saint-Paul-de-Vence (pictured below), near Nice. It is a lovely medieval walled town on a hill. Our house is in the hills nearby and we have the most fantastic view of Saint-Paul from our terrace, which is what made us buy the house in the first place.

How did you find the house?

We bought it in 2005. We were spending the new year in the area with friends and were staying in a nearby hotel, so just for fun we decided to look around to see if there was anywhere that took our fancy. The house we bought was only the second we saw; we fell in love with it on the spot.

How often do you visit?

We try to base ourselves there for most of the summer, from June to September, but work sometimes calls us back early. I spent time writing my new book out there and the remainder was written in Cornwall, where the story is set. I also have a lot of books at the house and can take the opportunity to do some reading. When we cannot be there, Richard and I love to look over the pictures and fantasise about what a lovely holiday we had.

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Your neighbour is Bill Wyman, formerly of The Rolling Stones – is Saint-Paul a particularly glamorous area?

Our house isn’t glamorous – it’s just a little villa with a little pool – but there are a lot of people with exceptionally nice villas and it is enjoyable to pay a visit; we have quite a good social life out there. Admittedly, most of our friends are expats, but the locals are incredibly friendly and have grown used to us being there.

Do you travel much around the rest of France?

If we are going to be there for more than two to three weeks, we drive right down from Calais, usually stopping somewhere in Burgundy. After arriving at our house, we usually stay locally as we love it so much. We often go to Cap d’Antibes for the beach restaurants that offer just fresh fish and shellfish dishes. I love French food, but I am not keen on fiddly Michelin-star restaurants, so the basic French cuisine suits me well. We did drive across to Carcassonne a couple of years ago, which was really nice.

Do you have any favourite addresses in the area?

Our favourite restaurant is the La Colombe d’Or in Saint-Paul-de Vence – it was an old Provençal farmhouse but now it is a hotel and restaurant. It was popular with artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, who would pay for their meals with their drawings and paintings. There is a beautiful art collection in the hotel and outside, so if you eat lunch in the courtyard, which I love to do, it is almost a euphoric sensation. It is such a beautiful courtyard in such a beautiful place. It is also quite exciting as a lot of film stars dine there.

Are you interested in French art?

Our house is in an area hugely favoured by artists because of the beautiful light and we enjoy visiting the art centres that honour this tradition. Our favourites are the Picasso museum in Antibes, the modern art at the Maeght Foundation in Saint-Paul-de-Vence and the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, decorated by Matisse. Although we are not collectors, we appreciate the art and it is lovely to be around it when we are there.

Judy Finnigan’s debut novel Eloise is published in paperback by Sphere, priced £7.99.