Visiting the Mediterranean

Where Provence Meets The Alps Meets The Cote D’Azur

Matisse discovered the town, but an hour northeast of Nice, where he had been living for three decades, near the end of his life…and, once he’d seen it, decided not to leave but to stay on to create the masterpiece of his career.

If France’s Mediterranean coast is bejeweled with a string of sparkling sea towns, playgrounds of the rich and yachting…a few kilometers inland is the retreat of the artist and the romantic. Here, where Provence meets the Alps meets the Cote d’Azur, towns dating to the Middle Ages cling to the sides of the rock hills and are sometimes so perfectly charming you wonder how man managed to create them without help from Disney.

Perhaps the best part is that these ancient villages, with their postcard-perfect, flower-fringed squares and passageways, aren’t museum towns. You could imagine their thousand-year-old wooden doorways and hand-stenciled window frames on display in some gallery in Paris, for example, but, in fact, they are the setting for contemporary artists who create in studios and show in galleries mixed in among the apartments, shops, and cafes. These places are very much living.

We spent yesterday driving from one to the other, starting in Vence, the town Matisse decided to adopt as home in his twilight years. Wandering the twisting, climbing stone alleyways, oohing and aahing over one tiny courtyard after another, we agreed that Matisse knew what he was on about. We didn’t want to leave either.

From Vence to Grasse, then Mougins and Biot. We had only a day to explore, but you could spend a delightful week or longer soaking up all this atmosphere.

And, if budget is not a concern, you could be tempted to follow in Matisse’s footsteps and stay on to live out your days. As Henri…and many others before him and since…have observed, there’s something about the light in this part of the world…

Yesterday, the sun shone bright in a clear sky and glittered atop the aqua, teal, and sapphire surface of the water.

We’re still window-shopping, and our hurried scans in rental and sales agents’ windows yesterday indicated that Vence is at the high end of this southern France medieval village market…and Grasse is at the more affordable end. In Grasse, we saw advertised a two-room (typically, in this part of the world, that means a bedroom and a sitting room, plus a kitchen and a bathroom, which don’t officially count) apartment available for rent for 420 euro per month.

“I could swing that,” our daughter Kaitlin remarked with a smile.

Kathleen Peddicord