Why I Love The South of France

Why I Love The South of France

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It’s not just the sunshine, the lavender or the
azure sea. I am always at home in the south of France because of the
museums, the food, the people and a thousand and one other reasons.

How
can one not fall in love with a coast made for sun lovers, museumgoers
and people vacationing in a colorful coast? From the days when the
Greeks set up a fishing station in Antipolis to today’s bustling cities
of Antibes and Cannes with its pleasure boat harbors and narrow old
streets, the entire coast offers visitors pure joy and culture.

Travel
the coastal road from St Raphael to Cannes, then via Golfe Juan,
Juan-les-Pins and on to Nice. It’s a trip that will reward even the
most cynical traveler. And inland you’ll find hilltop towns with that
special southern character, deep valleys boasting fields of flowers,
olive groves and almost ceaseless sunshine. Even the hill villages,
high on Alpine peaks take one’s breath away. Day visits to Vence,
Roubion, Mougins, built in the form of a shell, Tourrettes-sur-Loup and
St-Paul-de-Vence, high above the azure sea will delight you as they
delighted me on every trip. Grasse, with its perfume, Utelle, a
pilgrims town, Gourdon, above the hills of Grasse, Peillon, surrounded
by rock and dating from medieval times, or Tourette-Levens in the hills
above Nice, all places that are filled with history, legend and mystery.

The
entire region boasts baroque chapels with painted walls, frescoes and
murals. A guided tour of 12th-century La Brigue and Notre Dame des
Fontaines or the more modern decorations of Andrea de Cella at
Cagnes-Sur-Mer or Roquette-Sur-Var will amaze all. Twentieth century
chapels like Jean Cocteau’s Chapelle-Sint-Pierre at
Villefranche-sur-Mer or the Chapelle du Rosaire, designed and executed
by Matisse or Picasso’s “War and Peace” Chapelle-du chateau de
Vallauris are all remarkable achievements.

It
was in this region that Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Renoir, Dubuffet,
Soutine, Bonnard, Sisley, Signac, Monet, Leger and Dufy lived and
painted. Even Picabia, Arp and de Stael came here for the light. Their
work is still on display southern galleries. The Cote d’Azur was a
fertile source of artistic expression. The artistic tradition of a
Belle Epoque continues today. In Nice alone one can see the works of
Chagall, Matisse or many other Modernists in their newly built gallery.
The Museum of the Biblical Message displays great works by Chagall. I
am always struck by his sense of color, his vibrancy and imagination.
Filled with the vision offered by this master, I follow the streets of
Cimiez where I gaze at Roman ruins and the great white Hotel Regina
where Matisse himself once lived. Even a view of Matisse’s Chapelle du
Rosaire reminds us of the artist’s forty years of luminous complicity
he had with the region. I marvel at the Arbre de Vie, the tree of life
he created in stained glass and the ‘stations of the cross’, roughly
drawn on the walls facing the altar.

A
visit to the 17th Century Genoese villa in the Arenes de Cimiez excites
the admirer of this mammoth talent. One can visit Renoir’s studio at
Cagnes-sur-Mer set among the olive trees. And back in Antibes, the old
Grimaldi Chateau boasts a collection of Picasso’s ceramic work second
to none. Here too you can see works by Max Ernst and Balthus. Art is
everywhere. But that’s only part of the story. There are 28 paintings
by Dufy at Nice’s Musee-des-Beaux-Arts. Add a trip to the famous Maeght
Foundation in Saint-Paul where you’ll marvel at the works by
Giacometti, Miro, Braque and Alexander Calder.

Even
in Nice there is art in the streets. Walk through the parks and gardens
of this lively city and you will discover great sculpture of Calder,
Maillol and Bernard Venet.

The
region boasts national museums, museums of particular artists, museums
of artistic trends, or those devoted to historical eras. Add the
museums dedicated to particular towns or regions, museums in castles
and museums on special themes, such as Napoleon, the sea, oceanography,
perfume, nature, pottery, transportation, religion and cooking and you
have art at every turn. There is even a Maison de la Petanque
presenting the highlights of the history of ‘boules de petanque, an
important southern pastime. I visit here often. I love what I discover.

One night during carnival, I
walked out onto rue Jean Medecin in Nice to see the parade. In the
middle of a gigantic crowd in a festive mood I met the only person I
knew in the region. What followed was a celebration that can only take
place in the south of France during carnival celebrations. It was his
birthday and we drank Champagne at “Flo”, one of the most unique
restaurants in Nice.

For more information about the French Riviera contact:
http://www.crt-riviera.fr
E-mail: [email protected]

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