June 2007

The Sensory Delights of Southern France

Author: Lois Dudley


Having just returned from Southern France, I’m on sensory overload. From the verdant fields of Provence to the bustling beaches of the French Riviera and the glamorous casinos of Monaco, each day brought many surprises and delights.

Back home with my memories, Provence evokes images of medieval villages and hillside villas. It brings forth the fragrances of lavender and “Herbs de Provence” and the sounds of birds and cicadas. The French Riviera brings to mind beaches, bikinis, and glamorous film stars, the fresh sea air and the aroma of coffee in outdoor cafés. Monaco summons thoughts of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, the scents of gardens and flowers, the sounds of engines racing in the Grand Prix and a the feel of casino chips in my hand.

Perhaps most memorable are the delicious meals I personally experienced along with delightful local wines and champagne: foie gras with Armagnac; roasted back of sea bass with asparagus served with Morel cappuccino; beef Carpaccio with artichokes and parmesan; poached egg in asparagus sauce; braised lamb with vegetables—lunches and dinners, finished with magnificent desserts and a fantastic array of cheeses, each course magnificently presented and impeccably served.

Fill up your senses
Would you be interested in meeting a count and countess to view their magnificent terrace garden, followed by a reception and visit in their home? Or might you like to see a small private villa in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat with fresco-covered walls, painted by Jean Cocteau? Both of these tours were special; the owners were gracious and enjoyed discussing their families and famous friends. In the villa, I was surprised to see an original Picasso plate next to two remote controls—beautiful art in everyday settings.

Other not-to-be-missed places to visit, all of which are favorites of mine, include Aix-en-Provence, known for its thermal springs and many fountains; Eze Village, a hillside village offering a magnificent view of Mediterranean; and St. Paul-de-Vence, a medieval village filled with art galleries, boutiques and sidewalk cafés. I must now add Saint-Rémy, inspiration to Vincent Van Gogh, who produced more than 150 paintings of the surrounding countryside (The Wednesday morning market was fantastic.); and Mougins, a picturesque village filled with studios and art galleries. Mougins has kept the quality of its environment intact, and offers a panoramic view of the Baie de Cannes, the Lérins Islands, Grasse and the Préalpes.

I highly recommend you visit the Villa Ephrussi, a luxurious residence, set on the exclusive Saint Jean-Cap-Ferrat, built in 1905 by the Baroness de Rothschild. Given to the Academy of Fine Arts, it is now a museum. Take a delightful walk through the seven themed gardens surrounding the mansion which is filled with antique furniture, old master paintings, sculptures, and an extensive collection of rare porcelain.

Of course, where you stay on vacation impacts your personal perception of any area. Virtuoso accommodations in this region range from small boutique properties to palatial villas and grand hotels. My favorites were: Hostellerie Les Frenes/Avignon—a delightful staff and our room had a terrific bathroom; Hotel Le Saint Paul—a great location with lovely, unique room décor; Intercontinental Carlton/Cannes—views of the sea from many rooms and a creative lunch buffet presentation; Le Mas Candille/Mougins and Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat plus Chateau Eza/Eze Village—fantastic food and wines; and Cap Estel/Bord de mer Eze—absolutely beautiful villa in a stunning location by the sea.

You’ll want to go on a diet before you go to France. Be adventuresome in your dining. Pleasant surprises await you.

Au Revoir!

Lois and her husband, Bud, in front of the villa in Saint Jean-Cap-Ferrat.

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