Nice & Tuscany 
2002

France

 
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I landed at the Nice airport and Marjorie and Marie Claude, our guide, was gracious enough to pick me up since I was arriving late.

 


We got to our hotel and checked into our rooms and what a delight to find that this hotel room had a view of the Mediterranean and the Bay of Villefranche. We were in Villefranche and what a beautiful place it was. I could sit on my balcony and just watch the ships coming in. All of my guests were happy to be there and so easy to walk around and see the sights from our location.

 


Villefranche means ‘free town’. Marie Claude told us that this came to be because everyone used to live in the hills, but they were offered no taxes to pay if they would move down closer to the water. This beautiful place was started in the 13th century, becoming a fort in the 16th century.

 


After a wonderful and attentive dinner, we all did our own thing to prepare for the tour starting the next day….

 


After breakfast we met our coach and driver and set out to Eze and the Petit Jardin Exotique. Now this was a bit of a climb because Eze is a perched medieval village, and you have to walk up to get to it, then a bit further up to get to the garden. The views were breathtaking as we were 429 metres up with garden falling around and down the hill.

 


The garden itself contained over 400 species of plants and cacti and it surrounds the ruins of the castle along a maze of little paths. Just over the edge there is a beautiful little church. After visiting the garden we of course took time to stop in the shops on the way down to buy a few things.

 


At the bottom of the hill we made our way over to Fragonard, the famous perfumery, founded in 1926, and named after the painter Jean Honore Fragonard, whose landscape paintings of Grasse were popular in this area at the time. The perfumery is still a family run business and it sees itself as steeped in the traditions of the past, while embracing the future. With other outlets in Grasse & Paris, it is a great place to sample the perfumes and the olive oil-based soaps.

 


We had a tour through the plant and then had a chance to stock up on olive soap and test different perfumes out. I noticed that quite a few came out with the Fragonard bags in tow.

 


We took our lunch at a wonderful little restaurant call Auberge de La Croix du Pape. Did I mention that the food was good? And lunch is usually the main meal of the day. Did we get fed. I had my first pizza there, an appetizer size, right out of the stone oven. The only thing is that they are really big on anchovies, and I am not, so enough said…it was still delicious.

 


Then after lunch we made our way to the Biblical Message Museum of Marc Chagall. Marie told us that she knew Marc Chagalls last wife – they used to shop in the same market. The building itself is very plain and really sets off his work. As you know his colours are very bright and his works need time to contemplate, so there are lots of benches to accommodate this. The original collection of 17 large paintings were hung by Chagall himself and has never been moved.

 


The permanent collection here is the largest existing public collection of Chagall’s art.

 


The designer of the garden was Henry Fisch and he planned this garden in gray and green to counteract or contrast Chagalls bright colours.

 


A quick stop to visit the Russian Cathedral St. Nicolas and we headed back to the hotel in time to rest a bit and get ready for dinner.

 


Our next day, after breakfast, we set out to visit Serre de la Madone garden. Benoit Bourdeau was there to give us a tour and apologized for showing up in his working clothes, but really, we didn’t even notice!

 


This garden was created between 1919 and 1939 by Laurence Johnston, the creator of Hidcote Manor in England. A great traveler, he brought back a splendid botanical collection from Asia including some very rare species.

 


We had lunch in the old town of Menton and then it was off to William Waterfield’s garden….(the average age in Menton is 65 plus – it’s all because of the climate!)

 


Three generations of the same family have lived and gardened here, up the side of a steep hill above the old town of Menton-Garavan along the French Riviera close to the Italian border. The garden was first laid out by Humphry Waterfield, uncle of the present owner. Humphry was an artist, garden designer and close friend of Lawrence Johnston who was making his own garden at the same time at Serre de la Madone.

 


After a wonderful tour by William we ended up around a beautiful little pond where everyone just chatted and took in the ambiance of ducks and plants. Marjorie took time to give him a copy of her book and chat.

 


On our next day out, after breakfast we boarded the coach to visit Les Noailles…a spring garden where the terraces are set up so that the water runs down them melodically. This garden is located in Grasse, where there are also 23 perfumeries located. I have never seen so much jasmine in all my life!

 


Catherine of Medici came to Grasse from Italy and liked to wear perfumed gloves (usually myrtle). They thought this was a great idea and Grasse evolved to be the perfume area of the world. Essences are made here by the 23 perfumeries like Guerlain and Chanel. Grasse is famous for its jasmine and roses. Chanel only wants the rose and jasmine essences of Grasse

 


We took our lunch in at Le Chaudron which everyone enjoyed, then boarded the coach for Vence and the Matisse Chapel.

 


This chapel was the crowning achievement of his life. Henri Matisse was the most influential painter of the third quarter of the 20th century, as Picasso had been of the second quarter, and Cézanne of the first quarter.

 


In 1947 Matisse immersed himself in the decoration of a small chapel run by an order of Dominican nuns in the village of Vence in southern France. The project was, in his own words, "the last stage of an entire lifetime of work, and the apex of an enormous, sincere and difficult effort."

 


The cornerstone of the Chapel of the Rosary was laid in 1949 and consecrated in 1952. The interior of the chapel is unexpectedly modest. White tiled walls with black line drawings face blue, yellow, and green stained glass of climbing leaves depicting the Tree of Life. When the sun is shining, the tiles reflect the changing colors of light through the stained glass in a delicate spiritual unity. It was truly a very peaceful and serene place to visit.

 


We also got a quick peek at the garden as it is closed to the public. Matisse is buried at the Notre-Dame Church of Cimiez, which we visited because the rose gardens next to the Church were beautiful.

 


After this visit we headed towards Cagnes-sur-Mer and Renoir’s home, Les Collettes. Another inspiring visit…the home is full of memories of he and his wife and their three sons. You can walk through and see his paintings and others on the walls, but most moving to me was the room he painted in..you would think he had just left for a minute. The pictures on the wall in this room depicted him towards the end of his life with his very arthritic hands. He continued to paint until his last day, the 3rd of December, 1919. He was 78.

 


It was incredible to think that painters like Rodin, Bonnard, Matisse and Modigliani walked the same floors that I did…

 


His garden, at Les Collettes is planted with olive trees, fruite and vegetables and the roses that his wife loved to grow. I can still remember the fragrance of being in the rose beds surrounded by orange tree blossoms…

 


Back to the hotel for dinner this evening, where we celebrated a very special ladies 75th birthday…

 


This is our last day in France ….we first visited Les Cedres, where we had a private tour of the gardens and greenhouses. It was incredible. You could not take pictures of the home as it is private and we did not want to abuse this so you will just see the pictures of the grounds and the swimming pool which had a view to die for…

 


On 2.5 acres there are over 14,000 species of plants taken care of by 18 gardeners. Peto designed the waterway in this exceptional garden. Trees are draped with ephphytes, there is a palm grove, a garden filled with giant cacti all around the swimming pool, a collection of bamboos and a corner of equatorial forest. It’s all there, plus more – like the greenhouses full to the brim. This is a plantsmans garden. Les Cèdres is a private botanical garden and is famous for its rare collections of tropical and sub-tropical plants.

 


Off to the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild now for lunch and then time to spend in the beautiful villa and gardens.

 


Lunch was delightful in the Tea Room which overlooks both the garden and the water. The villa houses a collection assembled by Beatrice de Rothschild and her husband, Maurice Ephrussi that is legendry, combining ornate furniture and tapestries, sculptures, objects d’art, as well as classical and modern paintings. It is one of a select club that unites the Wallace collection in London, the Jacquemert-André museum in Paris and the Frick collection in New York.

 


Similar to the art collection that brings together works from throughout the ages and the world, the gardens surrounding the villa evoke both European and exotic landscapes recapturing the characteristics of Italian and Spanish gardens that were so dear to the Baroness. In front of the villa, the French garden spreads out gloriously, but is in sharp contrast with both the neo-Renaissance architecture of the pink-stucco residence and the splendour of the Mediterranean greenery. It was on this peninsula that the Baroness was able to bring together and sing the praises of ‘the loveliness of Creation, that of the gods and that of Man’.

 


The Villa is set among seven magnificent themed gardens. Here we found the formal French garden, the lush vegetation of the Spanish and Florentine gardens, the fragrant profusion of the rose garden, the rare trees in the exotic garden, and the archaeological remains in the Stone garden.

 


Cap Ferrat was the summer resort of Europe and North America's most elegant and wealthy denizens, and it was in 1905 that Baroness Ephrussi de Rothschild chose this spot to build her personal "folly" inspired by the great Renaissance palaces of Venice and Florence.

 


An historic monument filled with priceless works of art built on the narrowest part of the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat promontory, this sumptuous palazzo, one of the finest listed buildings on the French Riviera, has views over the Bay of Villefranche on one side and the Bay of Beaulieu on the other.


After this absolutely wonderful day, we were ready for dinner and to finish up with our packing for we were headed to Italy tomorrow and more gardens!

 


We met our new guide for Italy, Gabriella, at our coach and swiftly loaded the luggage on and we were off…

 

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