CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to France Magazines today CLICK HERE

Postcards from Provence

PUBLISHED: 12:59 25 June 2013 | UPDATED: 12:59 25 June 2013

Provence has inspired many great artworks

Provence has inspired many great artworks

Archant

Carol Drinkwater on life in the sunny south

I have spent a fair portion of this year on trips, enjoying wonderful adventures, meeting people, privileged to do the job I do. Still, when the pilot announces that we are approaching Nice, my heart soars at the sight of that winding Riviera coastline with its foamy, lapping waves, its uniquely turquoise Mediterranean water, the palm-fringed, verdant hills... I am home. The familiar sights that make travelling all the sweeter: the sun beating down upon white sailing ships, rust-red rocks, limestone hills, open-top sports cars gleaming in the heat, sprawling villas shot with red and purple climbing bougainvillea, Wedgwood blue swimming pools in every backyard… and once landed, the distinct perfume of eucalyptus as I roll my luggage out into the fresh, sea-salted air.

Is it any wonder that every 19th and 20th-century artist worth his paintbrush found his way here? When I am homesick, I go to galleries to seek out canvases of those Riviera giants, to imbibe images of my adopted homeland, but now that I am chez nous for the summer with a head full of stories to write, I have no need to substitute reality with art, except that the Côte d’Azur offers such a wealth of art work that it is hard to resist. There are the regular exhibitions that draw me back time and again and there is always a special celebration to entice me away from my desk.

In the village of Le Cannet, just north of Cannes, where film star Rita Hayworth lived for a short while, is the new Musée Pierre Bonnard. When my head is swimming with words and the heat overtakes me, I immerse myself there for a few quiet hours. Picasso, whose last home was just a few miles from our Olive Farm, died 40 years ago. And this year the museum dedicated to Henri Matisse, in the artist’s former home on the hilltop of Cimiez in Nice, celebrates its 50th anniversary. The collection of works on permanent display is inspirational both in colour and versatility.

Should you have plans to visit the medieval walled village of Vence with its clear spring drinking water, do not miss La Chapelle-du-Rosaire. Matisse designed the chapel as a thank you to the Dominican sisters, one of whom had nursed him through sickness. The Riviera is full of love stories but this one is unusual. In the 1940s, when the great painter was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery, he advertised for a ‘pretty young nurse’ to assist him through his convalescence. Monique Bourgeois answered his call, caring for Matisse lovingly. She also posed for him on several occasions. Later, she became a nun with the Dominicans in Vence. They were planning the construction of a new chapel. Monique, now Sister Jacques-Marie, asked her friend to design the chapel for them. At the age of 78, Matisse began what he later regarded as his chef d’oeuvre. I visit Vence regularly to slip into the cool embrace of this sublime masterpiece, with its cobalt-blue, stained glass windows and its discreet lines.

I have recently been researching the life of Jean Cocteau. A remarkably versatile film-maker, writer, dramatist and poet, he painted the interior of the Chapelle de Saint-Pierre des Pêcheurs in Villefranche-sur-Mer. Cocteau was a true citizen of the Riviera when the coast was at its most opulent. Cocteau died 50 years ago and was equally flamboyant and hedonistic. He kept company with everyone: Coco Chanel, Yul Brynner, Marlene Dietrich; and he died within hours of his close friend, Édith Piaf.

It is rare to find an artist who is not attracted to the good life, company and food that can be enjoyed in such magnificent surroundings. Is it any wonder that my heart soars when I return home?

Article by France Magazine France Magazine

More from Travel

Friday, December 7, 2018

These welcoming and wonderful Christmas markets are just a short trip across the Channel away, so what are you waiting for?

Read more
Thursday, December 6, 2018

When it’s cold outside, indulge your love of French food and drink at one of these stylish pop-ups and events closer to home

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Discover the Christmas delights of northern France with our top five Christmas markets in the region

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

From lakeside jazz festivals to chestnut fairs, get stuck in with these events taking place across France in December 2018

Read more
Thursday, November 22, 2018

You can ditch the airport queues and long drives, and hit the rails instead, says Daniel Elkan. The French Alps has an abundance of ski resorts that suit families, easily accessed by train.

Read more
Monday, November 19, 2018

Budget travellers can pay nothing to stay at bed and breakfasts around the world during Barter Week in exchange for manual, creative or teaching activities

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Find out when your favourite French ski resort opens and closes this year and start planning your ski trip to France

Read more
Winter trips
Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Find out what events are taking place in France to commemorate the Armistice centenary.

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

The full route of the 2019 Tour de France was announced in Paris on 25 October

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

From hot air balloon gatherings to scallop festivals, there’s always something fun and unique going on in France in November

Read more
Subscribe for

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

France Forum

Questions about France? Visit our free France forum to get help and advice from thousands of other Francophiles and expats. Topics include: property, tax, law, travelling, pets, education, healthcare and much more.

Join the forum

Most Read

Join us on social media

France magazine
Living France magazine
French Property News magazine

Enter our competitions

Win books, DVDs, travel and even holidays in France in our great competitions! Take a look at our latest competitions…

Enter now