by Deirdre Opp
When you think of France, what comes to mind? Is it the wine, the cheese, sprawling vineyards and the scent of lavender? Maybe the 35-hour work week? France has a universal reputation for all of the above and more for a reason. The French take some things very seriously, and a certain way of life is one of them.
In several of the villas we visited on this lovely trip to the South of France, we stumbled upon the works of Ben Vautier, best known for his text-based paintings and quotes.
As I visited these houses and explored the client experience (what family is this good for? Would I like to cook in this kitchen? How close is it to town?), it felt like my very own quote for the trip would be a discovery of joie de vivre. It?s a phrase we hear often, but loosely defined it means the joy of living?looking to your life as something that is to be taken with great pleasure and enjoyed.
I traveled with my colleague, Steve as we took inventory of the villas we currently represent, toured new villas, and absorbed as much of the French culture as possible. Our travels took us to three regions in France ? Provence (Les Alpilles and the Luberon), St Tropez (Gassin, Ramatuelle and St-Maxime) and Cote d? Azur (Nice, Grasse, Valbonne and St-Paul).
After arriving at the Marseille airport, we made our way to the Hotel Benvengudo in picturesque Les Baux-de-Provence. This former traditional Provencal house has been restored as an elegant hotel, with chic interior design and modern rooms. The first thing to strike me was the intense fragrance in the air: the commanding smell of spring flowers, particularly the roses and jasmine. The weather was sublime, and after a quick regroup at the hotel we were off to see our first two villas. We finished the evening with dinner chez-nous, filled with fresh, seasonal produce and Provencal flavors.
For the next few days, we zig-zagged across the region, visiting Maussane, St-Remy, Menerbes and Gordes. These towns offer a serene and comfortable way of life but then offer the most dazzling and arresting views, an ideal combination. Red poppies covered the fields and roadsides, and vineyards and olive groves stretched far into the horizon. Driving in these areas is like being in your very own Grand-Prix! The streets are narrow and winding and bicycle group tours dot every roadside, the drivers are (seemingly) experts. Admittedly my heart skipped a beat whenever we were met by oncoming traffic, and at one point Steve pulled his grab-handle loose.
Arriving at this villa is like stepping into a secret garden. As you enter through the gate, the pool?s crystal clear waters and tall, protective cypress trees greet you. This villa mixes both elegant chandeliers and stately furniture with antique wood and rustic pieces, collected from the owner?s travels around the world. Floor to ceiling windows bring in the outdoors, and art from the reaches of Africa and Morocco adorn the walls. The French kitchen is one of the most inviting spaces in the house with its enormous dining table and state-of-the-art appliances. The kitchen is laid out so that the chef is front and center enjoying his or her guests. (It?s the type of kitchen in which you?d love to play chef). Starting at €4,750/week
Roger Vadim filmed Brigitte Bardot in Et Dieu Cr? la Femme (And God Created Woman) in St. Tropez in the ?50s, immediately setting off an international fad of sun, sex and celebrities. This once tranquil fishing village suddenly became the summer playground for Europe?s youthful, glamorous, and not much has changed since.
We arrived in St Tropez to beaming sunshine and many more villas to see. We had the pleasure of staying at The B. Lodge Hotel, a quaint and comfortable place with a great staff, delicious breakfast, and a backgammon table on the terrace.
Not a thing about St Tropez disappoints. Its shops, restaurants, and waterfront buzz with activity from dusk til dawn. Even the smallest alleys in St Tropez will surprise you; we were delighted one evening to find an incredible sushi restaurant in an alley that was less than twelve feet wide. St-Tropez remains undeniably dazzling with its mega yachts and infamous parties, but it has so many magical areas ripe for discovery and new memories.
The last leg of our journey took us to an area north of Cannes, where we were shown villas along the coast and in the hills.
The town of Valbonne, especially the square where Caf?des Arcades was, felt like we had stepped back in time. The square bustled with activity: people laughed as glasses clinked and children ran around with delight. The environment was charming, and the atmosphere, very French.
Fifty-six villas visited, countless miles on our rental car, meals to die for, and a good dose of joyful French living. Thank you France for the adventure!