Grand Homes of the French Riviera

Early this morning the cicadas were singing in the outside garden. With no rain in the forecast, we were able to head out early for a full day of adventure.

Renoir (1841-1919) lived in a villa outside Antibes in Cagnes. The home is now a museum and with remarkable simplicity, displays some of his paintings, ceramics, and sculptures.

In the gardens surrounding the villa, placards with copies of some of his paintings show the exact spot where Renoir stood. Ancient trees grow on the property with gnarled branches as well as classic tall Cyprus trees.

In the museum we were introduced to some of Renoir’s friends who collaborated with him. In his studio where late in his life Renoir painted different models from his wheelchair, his wheelchair, easel, and paint set were all on display. On the wall was a painting of Renoir working from his wheelchair by his friend Andre and a photograph of the scene too. What was really impressive were the number of family photographs displayed dating back to the early 1900s which included pictures of his son Jean Renoir who was a renowned filmmaker. The movie Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe was filmed, in 1959, at the villa. Renoir is also celebrated for such movies as The Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game.

When I look at black and white photographs I always need to remember that the world did not appear black and white to the people in the photos. Their world was just as colorful as we see it today and even more so. We noticed that several paintings did not include any houses or buildings we could see from the villa. Instead they saw colorful flowers and hills covered with trees.

From Renoir’s villa we could see an ancient hilltop town Haut de Cagnes which appeared in many of his paintings. Approaching the town we were pleased to see a car park but when we pulled in, it all seemed very odd. It looked a sliding glass door would open and you would drive into the lobby of a building. Two men kept gesturing for us to do it and when we got inside, we experienced something new to us. You exit the car and it disappears into the unknown. To get it back, you can watch a moving plank on a monitor retrieve your car all automated. Here at the base of this ancient village, modern technology blends with the old world perfectly.

Haut de Cagnes was beautifully preserved with stone houses, wrought iron balconies, and flowers everywhere. At the top was Grimaldi’s Chateau which is a series of Museums. We ate outside at a cafe with panoramic views of the countryside giving a feeling of total freedom from a busy world.

Our final stop of the day was The Rothschild Villa and Gardens where Beatrice Rothschild lived. Inside we toured the villa where we saw carpets from Versailles, rose quartz figurines, and delicately embroidered clothing. Beatrice was eccentric and even held a wedding for her two beloved lapdogs which included a garden party with guests. Floral arrangements enhanced every room. On a table I spotted a magnificent bouquet of roses, some in full bloom and some wilted. Never one to resist the sweet aroma of roses I buried my nose in one of the flowers and sniffed. Nothing. The flowers were silk!

Outside we toured the gardens. The paths wove around the peninsula so you had 360 degree views of the sea. Huge yachts were anchored offshore and we could hear the happy cries of swimmers below.

On several of the paths were herb gardens with signs that said smell me. There was rosemary, mint, and lemon verbena, but most wonderful of all were fountains in the middle of the garden that playfully spouted water every 20 minutes to classical music. Watching it made me feel very joyful.

Driving back to Antibes was a challenge. The GPS was accurate, but gave directions every 30 seconds such as, “Turn half left, keep right, but turn left.” I don’t know how people maneuver these roads every day and then squeeze their cars into the tightest of parking spaces.

Tonight we had a picnic dinner back at the hotel. We will miss the French Riviera. Tomorrow we take a train to Italy.

One thought on “Grand Homes of the French Riviera

  1. Beth Kalikstein says:

    What a gorgeous day– from the landscape to the scenery to the grounds to the art work! The fountains set to the music sounds like such a joyful experience:)


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