One is first seduced by the light and immediately understands why so many artists flock to this sun-kissed area of the Mediterranean. Overlooking St. Paul de Vence from the terrace at Auberge Les Orangers, a lovely B&B my friend and travel sleuth Marilyn discovered online while she organized our trip to an area nearby Nice, I could only thank Mother Earth for her many blessings. Nestled among the hills, surrounded by trees and flowers, it was like stepping into a magic space: an oasis of calm that speaks of life in direct touch with nature. Awakening at dawn, I sat in the small terrace to bask at the panorama. The oranges shone under the early morning rays while birds chirped; the air was pregnant with the fragrance of rosemary, thyme and roses. Brewing coffee and freshly baked croissants from Thomas’ kitchen alerted my senses that breakfast was beckoning; my friends joined one by one to the rhythm of classical music in the background. I felt right at home.
Soon thereafter we left for our first day exploring the area: the Matisse Chapel I had tried to visit on two earlier occasions but had been closed. Hours are tricky but this time Marilyn was in charge. The chapel was an experience worth the wait particularly after having seen the sensational cutouts at a Tate Modern show in London. From there we headed to the exquisite Chagall Museum with the biblical themed paintings; there we caught an exhibition of his monumental tapestries but also saw the mosaic by the basin and, of course, the stained-glass windows surrounding the auditorium. Before entering the museum we had lunch at a small restaurant located in the Mediterranean style garden adjacent to it where I opted for a simple salade niçoise. In the early afternoon we strolled around Vence, stopped for gas and then discovered a huge Monoprix where we shopped for herbes de Provence, calissons (those heavenly morsels typical to the area) and other goodies. We got to Les Orangers in time to take a nap and get ready for an early dinner at L’Olivier Rouge were we had walked in the first night to a closed kitchen but they had provided us with a lovely repast. That second night we were warmly welcomed and I sampled a memorable ratatouille: so simple and difficult to make with this perfect balance. The house wine was clean and crisp and the desserts were also delightful including homemade calissons as macchiato accompaniment.
Our final day took us to the Maeght Foundation, the modern art museum and sculpture garden with several strong pieces by Joan Miró and Giacometti among others. It’s located on Colline de Gardettes overlooking
Saint Paul de Vence, the walled town with cobblestone streets that we visited later; it’s a fun artsy town packed with tourists, galleries and boutiques. If you take the time to locate its tiny cemetery, look for Marc Chagall’s tomb with its simple white structure where many leave their message of love written in simple stones. Time after and again I pay my respects.
Les Alpes Maritimes is an area of the French Provence I never tire to return.