Renoir, Rubens & Frites City

There are few places in the south of France, large or small, that don’t offer a special reason to stop by. Treasures abound of every kind. I’m just saying …

Cagnes-Sur-Mer is ten-minutes west of Nice and easy to reach by the coastal train. Choose to spend time at one of many pebble beaches  or take the shuttle to Haut-de-Cagnes. Stroll the narrow streets of the medieval village where you will find great restaurants and the 13th Century Grimaldi Castle. Plan to visit the beautiful domaine “Les Collettes” , the Musée Renoir, where Pierre-Auguste Renoir, one of the founders of Impressionism, sculpted and painted for the last 11 years of his life. Visitors during that time included Albert André, Rodin, Bonnard, Matisse and Modigliani to name just some.  It was here that Renoir started sculpting with Richard Guino and later Louis Morel.The home and grounds have been authentically restored and visiting his studio, with his wheelchair, easel and brushes as he might have left them, is very touching. The view of Haute-De-Cagnes from the house and olive groves is simply beautiful and visiting artists are often seen throughout the property capturing their own masterpieces. You also suddenly come upon this view driving the A8 west of Nice and it’s quite stunning!

A return trip to Grasse  (click on the name to visit the website)was on the agenda last Wednesday only this time we took the bus from the  Grasse train station instead of the 200 steps up to the old town in Centre Ville. (Not to mention the inclines often found between the sets of steps!) I found the steps fun to do last time but my husband’s back did not agree! The more time we spend in this intriguing town, the more surprises we discover. Known as the perfume capital of the world since the 1500’s when the Italian glove makers in the area (this part of France was more connected politically to Italy for many centuries) began to add scents to the gloves, the perfume industry dominates the economy and supplies essences to manufacturers everywhere. At 300m above the Cote D’Azur, the open fields in the surrounding countryside offered the perfect environment for the profusion of fragrant flowers, many developed from seeds brought back from the Crusades. The excellent Museum of Provençal Art and History is housed in an Italianate Villa built  for Jean-Paul Clapier Marquis de Cabris who married Louise de Riqueti daughter of  the Marquis de Mirabeau.  When the couple were required to live with the Dowager Marquisese, Jean-Paul soon fell out with his mother. He proceeded to have his own house built in a way that entirely blocked  her previously magnificent view. If you visit, note the Gorgons Head depicting vomiting vipers  above the front door which reportedly was placed so it would be directly in the line of sight of the old lady. The French have a reputation for dealing with grudges in inventive and long lasting ways. There are several perfume museums in the town that are surprisingly interesting to visit as well.

The Cathedral Notre-Dame Du Puy,dates from the 11th Century and was extended in the 17th. Its bell tower dominates the skyline. The interior is stunning from the enormous, rough-hewn pillars to the three magnificent paintings by Rubens as well as the only religious painting known to be done by Jean Honoré Fragonard, born in Grasse in 1732.

Our week ended on a slightly different cultural note to the above trips. Through the last fifteen years, all of our trips to France have included more research into our quest for the perfect “frites”. Several years ago we spent some time in the beautiful Italian-influenced town of Menton right next to the border with Italy. Just off the main pedestrian way, at the foot of the old town, we discovered the best frites we have ever experienced in the, excusez-moi, unlikely-named “Frites City”. Seriously, we returned several times during our stay there. We hopped on the train and spent last Saturday afternoon in Menton and our first stop was to see if the establishment still existed. It does. The frites continue to be spectacular (the secret is the oil, the owner insists, not to mention the fact that the potatoes are freshly cut right then and there) and we had them for lunch … with a side of French mayonnaise. Magnifique, if not exactly the wisest food choice but we all need to break out every now and then!  Before or after your frites indulgence, visit the very personal Jean Cocteau Gallery  in the 12thC Bastion at the old port. A new museum to house more of his works and those of others from the collection of Severin Wunderman is under construction just across from this which promises to be quite spectacular.

As I share my travels with you, I would love to hear about yours. Where are your favourite places to visit? Some, I know, are in your own back yard. You can leave a comment below or on Facebook and I look forward to hearing from you!

Published by patriciasands

Patricia Sands lives in Toronto, Canada when she isn't somewhere else, particularly the south of France. With a happily blended family of seven adult children and, at last count, six grandchildren, life is full and time is short. Beginning with her first Kodak Brownie camera at the age of six, she has told stories all of her life through photography. Much to her surprise a few years ago, she began to write and has now published three novels, including two that are part of a six-book series set in the south of France. Love France? Love her work! Check out her website She is particularly drawn to the rewarding friendships of women and the challenges many embrace once their families are grown. "It's never too late to begin something new," she enthuses. "As the saying goes, just do it!"

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