I first visited the region with my parents and sister in 1974. Naturally, with a mother that is an artist, we stayed at La Columbe d’Or…a rustically casual hotel in the medieval fortified village of Saint Paul de Vence, high in the hills above Nice. It also happens to have one of the world’s most amazing 20th century art collections (that is the corner of an Alexander Calder mobile in the picture … proof that bad photography runs in my family). This is what it should look like..
The hotel originally began as little cafe not long after the turn of the last century, and quickly grew into an inn that was hugely popular with artists such as Jean Renoir, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, and Pablo Picasso to name a few. The proprietor, Paul Roux, would often accept works of art in lieu of money…hence the magnificent collection. Indeed, my sister and I slept in a bed with a Chagall fresco on the wall above it. Here you see the Leger ceramic mural on the dining terrace where my shameless flirtations once landed me locked in a broom cupboard with an overly amorous waiter until I gave him kiss in exchange for my freedom. That same waiter still worked there 15 years later when I returned with my husband and daughter.
The menu was the same as well…traditional French country fare that is all the rage again.
Folklore has it that although the art collection was not alarmed or insured, there has only ever been one theft. Madame Roux, Paul Roux’s widow, was so loved by the community for her hospitality and generous heart that it was promptly returned.
Apart from lazing by the pool or savoring a long meal on the unbelievably romantic terrace, you can play a game of bowls with the locals, wander the cobblestone streets to poke around all the little boutiques, or climb the hill to the Maeght Foundation to see still more incredible art…or just hang out in the Giacomatti courtyard like Tatjana…
Long before Nick and I married… we spent several months in Provence while Duran Duran wrote Seven and the Ragged Tiger. We shared a villa in Valbonne with the rest of the entourage. I would while away the days watching Chef Eric in the kitchen. That is when I truly
began to appreciate the flavors of Provence. We dined frequently in my ALL time favorite restaurant, the Moulin de Mougins. The Michelin 2 star restaurant where Chef Alain Ducasse started as an assistant in 1977 (I will never forget the tender Sisteron lamb both fed and encrusted with herbs de Provence, or the lavender scented creme brulee).
My other favorite was Tetou, in Golfe Juan…the best bouillabaisse in the world! Creamy rouille on toast floating in a rich soup tinged with cognac, and trays of succulent lobster, red mullet, and John dory to add to it. Seafood heaven!
Subsequent summers were often spent at the magnificent Hotel du Cap in Cap d’Antibes .
An elegant, impeccably run hotel (which incidentally does not take credit cards, a little fact that can be quite bothersome since the rooms start at $875.00 per night for the smallest, and run as high as $6800.00 per night for your own villa…not exactly pocket change). Days disappeared in the exquisite gardens that lead down to the Eden Rock restaurant and infinity pool…
…and evenings in the very exclusive bar (we knew Jacques the bartender waaaaaaay too well) which was unquestionably the hottest, celebrity filled place to be during the Cannes Film Festival…
While most definitely glamorous, the film festival itself is an endless round of meetings, press, and parties (which are all about networking…not socializing) when you are there on business.
I don’t think I slept more than 2-3 hours a night before getting up to face the same exact grind each day for nearly two weeks straight. I didn’t even have time to see one film while I was there!
Looking back over my life, it does feel somewhat Dali-esque. To all my friends en route to the south of France, bon voyage, and for those of us staying stateside…why not enjoy cooking Provencal at home?
Grilled Sea Bass Provencal
3tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons herbs de Provence (oregano, thyme, savoy, basil, sage, and lavender)
1 1/4teaspoons sea salt
2whole (about 1 1/2 pounds each) sea bass, cleaned and scaled
1/4teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large thyme sprigs
1). Prepare charcoal fire or preheat gas grill.
2). Meanwhile, from 1 lemon, grate 1 tablespoon peel, and squeeze 2 tablespoons of juice. Cut remaining lemon into slices. In a small bowl, stir lemon juice, olive oil, herbs de Provence, and 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt.
3). Rinse fish and pat dry. Make 3 slashes in both sides of each fish sprinkle inside and out with remaining sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place lemon slices and thyme sprigs inside the fish cavities, and place the fish in a 13″ by 9″ glass baking dish. Rub 1/2 the oil mixture on the outside of fish; reserve remaining oil mixture to drizzle over cooked fish. let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.
4). Lightly grease grill rack; place fish on hot rack. Cover grill, turning once, cook fish 12-14 minutes or until fish turns opaque throughout and thickest part flakes when tested with a fork.
5). To serve, place fish on a cutting board. Working with 1 fish at a time, with a knife, cut along the backbone from head to tail. Slide a wide metal spatula under front section of top filet and lift off of the backbone; transfer to plate. Gently pull off the backbone and ribs from the bottom filet and discard. Transfer bottom filet to another plate and repeat with 2nd fish. Drizzle filets with remaining olive oil mixture.
Serve with: Haricovert as shown, or better still…ratatouille.