On the Monday of our trip I booked a private tour of the hills beyond Nice with Mira, whose company Friend In France provides transfers and tours in the French Riviera. Without Mira I would never have been able to squeeze in as many activities as I did that day – and her expertise and knowledge proved invaluable for me to get the most out of my time.
Mira picked me up at the apartment at nine in the morning and we began by driving the forty minutes to Grasse – the “perfume capital of the world”. Grasse represents half of France’s perfume production and grows two-thirds of France’s ‘natural aromas’, due to the rich, fertile fields of flowers such as lavender, jasmine and rose which grow nearby. I haven’t read it but apparently the last few chapters of Patrick Suskind’s novel Perfume take place here. There are three main perfumeries open to the public in Grasse: Molinard, Galimard and Fragonard. Grasse is also the place where Edith Piaf died in 1963.
The nave. The vault of the nave shows early Lombardian rib crossings. There are twelve pillars, one representing each of the apostles. There are no buttresses outside, so the walls are 1.7 metres thick to hold the weight of the vaulting.
The old lady who volunteered there was very pleased that I asked, in my halting French, where the Rubens were – I’m not sure many tourists seek them out. She pointed to the three paintings to the right of the aisle and counted un, deux, trois – The Thorn Coronation, Sainte Helene and the Ecstasy of the Holy Cross, and The Foundation of the Cross.
Next we drove further into the hills to visit the tiny hilltop village of Gourdon. It overlooks the Vallee du Loup and is 760m above sea level. If you look carefully to the right of the picture you can see the donkey trail that zigzags down into the fertile farmland below.
If you click on the picture it should open in another window (it’s a very big file but worth wait for it to load), then you can click again to enlarge. In the centre of the picture on the horizon, just to the right of the large mountain, is Nice, then all the western towns of the Cote d’Azur, including Antibes, Cannes and beyond to St Tropez, stretch out to the right.
After my lunch, Mira and I continued on to the Matisse Chapel du Rosaire just outside of Vence. Unfortunately you cannot take photos inside but you can see plenty here. Also, depending on what country you are in, you may be able to watch this six minute piece on YouTube about it, which is worth watching. At the end of his life, the artist Matisse designed and built this chapel for the Dominican nuns who had nursed him through his illnesses. It was his last, and he said his greatest, work.
Next we travelled to the Fondation Maeght, just outside of Saint Paul de Vence. Opened in 1964, it is a private museum of contemporary art founded by Marguerite and Aime Maeght, who were wealthy art collectors.
Opposite is the famed La Colombe d’Or, a restaurant frequented by famous artists such as Matisse, Picasso, Chagall and Leger. Many artists dined there before they were famous and paid their bills by giving the owner artworks which are now worth a fortune and still on display there.
It was almost five o’clock and time for Mira to take me back to Nice. It had been a terrific day and I had worked up a great appetite. Luckily we were booked in to Luc Salsedo, where we had the best dinner we have ever had on the French Riviera!