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Brushing up on the Côte d'Azur

For some of the most beautiful vistas in and around Nice, follow in the footsteps of five famous painters who were inspired by what they saw

  • Brushing up on the Côte d'Azur
  • Brushing up on the Côte d'Azur
  • Brushing up on the Côte d'Azur
  • Brushing up on the Côte d'Azur
  • Brushing up on the Côte d'Azur
  • Brushing up on the Côte d'Azur
  • Brushing up on the Côte d'Azur

Words and Photos Rebecca Marshall

Villefranche-sur-Mer

Les Filets de Villefranche, Raymond Tournon (1918)

The picture Local painter Raymond Tournon (1870-1919) lived in Villefranche after abandoning an early career as a cartoonist to join the French Impressionist painters. This piece shows fishing boats on the Quai Amiral Courbet - you can still see the brightly painted, traditional pointu boats in the harbour today.

The place There's a good beach at Villefranche, where a lot of locals come to bathe because it is sandy, compared to the stony Nice beaches. The waterfront restaurants mostly have decent food and even better people-watching from their terraces - Le Cosmo (11 Place Amélie Pollonais, +33 4 9301 8405) is one of the most popular, serving big portions at reasonable prices. The old fort, the Citadelle St-Elme, and village feel make this a classic French harbour town, marred only slightly by the cruise passengers that stop offhere en route to Monaco in the summer. It's also often hard to park, so the train from Nice is a good bet.

St-Paul de Vence

Le couple dans le paysage bleu, Marc Chagall (1969-71)

The picture Russian-born Chagall (1887-1985) spent much of his life in France and developed a close bond with the Côte d'Azur, eventually living in the beautiful hilltop town of St-Paul de Vence from 1966-1985. Chagall once wrote: "There, in the south, for the first time in my life, I saw that rich greenness - the like of which I had never seen in my own country." Chagall is up there with the giants of 20th century art - Picasso said of him, "When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is."

The place Countless other artists lived and painted in Saint-Paul, and it has a suitably arty feel, with more than 50 galleries, art museums and artist's workshops. The elegant Maeght Foundation (www.fondation-maeght.com) is a must-see, with works by Chagall, Miró, Giacometti and Braque. Another must is to eat or stay at La Colombe d'Or hotel and restaurant (www.la-colombe-dor.com), on the road into town, which has been run by the Roux family since 1920 and gives a sense of Saint-Paul's star-studded history. Many artists ate there, often exchanging paintings for meals, as Picasso once did; the poet and screenwriter Jacques Prévert lived there; and the actors Yves Montand and Simone Signoret got married there. The food, served in a little garden, is good, as is a dip in the hotel pool, overlooked by a looming Miró sculpture. And you might spot Rolling Stones bassis Bill Wyman, who has a house in the town.

Grasse

Rue de la Fontette, Erwin Sutter (1935)

The picture Erwin Sutter was an Alsatian painter (1897-1974), whose art was strongly experienced by his experiences fighting in the Great War. He moved to Grasse in 1932, painting scenes of the old town such as this, which shows hints of his style of abstract expressionism.

The place Grasse is more rustic and less polished than St-Paul-de-Vence or Villefranche, but worth a trip for its tightly-coiled cobbled streets - such as Rue de la Fontette - and to get an idea of its perfume history. The town is known as the world's perfume capital and it's here that many of the country's top "noses" have come since the 18th century to learn to identify more than 2,000 scents. Grasse is still said to produce around two thirds of France's natural aromas, and you can tour the old perfumeries of companies such as Molinard (www.molinard.com), Fragonard (www.fragonard.com) and Galimard (www.galimard.com). On the drive back down to the coast, Mougins or Valbonne are both charming villages to stop at for a wander and an early evening aperitif.

Grasse

Vue de Grasse, Raoul Dufy (1930)

The picture Dufy (1877-1953) is in many ways the quintessential French Riviera painter, having lived in the area for 10 years between 1919 and 1929, first in Vence and then in Nice. Initially best known as a Fauvist painter (think Matisse and bright colours), his time in Provence led him towards cubism and the landscapes of Monet, Pissarro and Cézanne.

The place Dufy painted this in Grasse's central square, Cours Honoré Cresp, where locals drink coffee on the benches as teenagers glide by on inline skates and a carousel trundles round. From the south side of the square, there's a gorgeous view down through the hills to the coast, where Cannes and Les Iles de Lérins can be seen in the distance.

Cagnes-sur-Mer

La Montée de la Bourgade, Emile Auguste Wery (1930)

The picture Emile Wery (1868-1935) was a good friend and confidante of the more-famous Matisse, with whom he travelled and worked in 1895/96. Wery fell in love with Cagnes and moved there in the early 1920s.

The place Cagnes-sur-Mer is a classic French hilltop town: sleepy old streets, such as the one pictured, wind up to the medieval village of Haut-de-Cagnes at the top of the hill. The town was a popular destination for French artists and is dotted with 14 art lecterns on the Painters' Trail (see next page) - but it's probably most famous as the home of Auguste Renoir, who lived here with his wife and three children from 1907 until 1919, and continued to paint despite crippling arthritis. The evocative Musée Renoir, set in his old house, is due to reopen in July after restoration - the old photos, possessions and artwork usually on display at the museum can be seen at the Château-Musée Grimaldi, Haut-de-Cagnes, in the meantime.

Nice

La Baie des Anges à Nice, Raoul Dufy (1927)

The picture Dufy (see also p67) painted this during his time living in Nice, when he was also fond of capturing the parties and yachts of the rich and famous on the French Riviera. This work shows how he combined modernism with more classic landscapes.

The place There's a lot to do along Nice's promenade, but a good place to start is the Cours Saleya Market, famous for its beautiful fresh flowers and gourmet food stalls, as well as boutiquey shops selling everything from truffl es to Provençal soap. On Mondays, the place turns into a fairly chic flea market, with more than 200 vendors selling posters, knick-knacks and vintage goodies. For a restaurant that serves great food at good prices, Chat Noir Chat Blanc (20 Rue Barillerie, +33 4 9380 2869) is a funky bistro hidden down a quiet lane, with tables on the sidewalk. The Italian chef serves creative seasonal Mediterranean food, often using ingredients straight from the sea or nearby farms.

These works are part of the trail La Côte d'Azur des Peintres, which has lecterns around the Riviera marking the spots where 80 works of art were painted. The route features 30 artists from the past two centuries, and other destinations include Antibes Juan-les-Pins, Cannes, Menton, Mougins and Villeneuve-Loubet. See www.cotedazur-tourisme.com/culturel


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