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.frE-mail: [email protected]
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