The Retirees go Abroad – St Paul de Vence and Grasse

Despite the expense of the cab on Sunday, we saddled up for a day at St Paul de Vence and La Colombe D’Or.

Saint-Paul is a commune in the Alpes-Maritimes department in south eastern France. One of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera, it is well known for its modern and contemporary art museums and galleries. Saint-Paul de Vence has long been a haven of the famous. During the 1960s, it was frequented by French actors Yves Montand, Simone Signoret and Lino Ventura, and poet Jacques Prévert. Saint-Paul is also well known for the artists who have lived there, such as Jacques Raverat, Gwen Raverat and Marc Chagall and more recently the couple Bernard-Henri Lévy and Arielle Dombasle. Former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman has a home there. American writer James Baldwin died there in 1987. British actor Donald Pleasence died there in 1995.

The Colombe d’Or started life in 1920 as “Chez Robinson”, a café bar with an open air-terrace where people would dance at weekends. It soon attracted characters from the neighbourhood, which gave the idea to Paul with the support of his wife Baptistine “Titine”, to extend and reopen as the Colombe d’Or, an inn of 3 rooms. The friendly atmosphere together with Paul’s deep interest in the arts brought the visit of many artists and the walls were soon covered by paintings, which often were exchanged for a stay or a few meals. The art collection has grown year on year until today. And the Roux family continues to take care of the Colombe d’Or.

After showing Veronica and David the village we then went to the restaurant which we had booked months in advance.

The village is enclosed by a wall and has many art studios and restaurants amongst its narrow streets. Like the keep in Windsor castle visitors to the village in early times were welcomed with a canon at the front door. Throughout the village are the wells and fountains that sustained the people inside the walls. Some of the houses are brightly decorated with flowers and vines and even have friendly inhabitants. At the opposite end of the village is the cemetery and the chapel in which the village has farewelled members of its community over the centuries. There is the church dedicated to St Paul and holding if not the remains of St Paul then relics of St Paul.

The time had arrived that we could enter La Colombe d’Or. We had planned that we would visit the hotel and view the art donated by the likes of Picasso and Matisse in exchange for meals. Even just the décor is extraordinary. The front door looks like a stable door but when open your entry is barred by a rope until your reservation is checked. There after you are shown into the bar and the hotel, its dining room and its lounge with the art on the walls all around you. After drinks you return to the courtyard and are shown to your table where the menu is explained to us dummies who don’t know French. Our waiter spoke very good English and joked and interacted with us throughout an extra special meal. Once we were too full to eat anything more he tempted us with a plate of fresh raspberries and crème fraise. A very special memory.

After a thoroughly delightful lunch we dragged ourselves away from La Colombe D’Or to the centre for perfumes at Grasse. Having experienced the tour at Froganaud Kerry and I filled in time and met David and Veronica to stroll through the village. A very different place to St Paul de Vence as my pictures will testify.

The day ended with a trip home in the evening traffic that grid locks Nice but we were still smiling from that lunch.

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Retired Australian Lawyer having worked representing the innocent and the not so innocent in Australia and some of the remote parts of the world and having travelled widely through Europe, Western Russia, Canada, USA, New Zealand, Thailand Malaysia Solomon Islands northern China, Hong Kong and the UAE So now that I have the time I am writing about my travels present and past. Hope you enjoy exploring off the beaten track.