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June 10, 2020 – Published in Design & Decor Summer 2012 issue
A chateau at its peak
Words: Jim Dunn
It seems it was the British who invented The South of France. Of course, they didn’t discover it as the French have always been there, but it is generally agreed that it was Queen Victoria and the Victorians who started to make the area a fashionable winter retreat.
Deciding that she had finally had quite enough of the dour, rainy weather in Scotland at her Balmoral estate and of the flat, uninteresting, countryside of Sandringham in Norfolk, Queen Victoria decided that just occasionally she would slip off to the South of France, with a growing entourage, for some sun. Who could blame them? Especially when the South of France is known for its mild winter months and Mediterranean that sea glistens and sparkles under clear blue skies and the sun is warm for a large part of the day.
And that is precisely why and when I go there, in the winter and colder months. Try, please, to avoid the peak summer months of July and August when, quite frankly, the South of France is totally unacceptable.
With the French on holiday en mass all major roads are invariably blocked and tempers frayed. Not only is it almost impossible to get a reservation at any decent restaurant but the beaches, which are certainly good but not vast, are a sea of flesh.
Added to this hotel rates are sky high. The best months to visit are therefore April, May and June and then September and October.
You see, the French generally do it all so well. They’re rather chic down there in the South of France. There’s less of the yesterday’s laundry look among the residents for a start.
Of course the French can be maddening and arrogant but they do have a beautiful country and the food and wine aren’t all that bad either.
In the early 1920s the Americans also came and made the area even more fashionable with the jet set… as they began to be called…on the other side of the Pond.
It became very fashionable, as it still is today, to have a home in Paris and spend the weekends in the South of the country. Stars of the day like Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, Dorothy Parker and other writers, actors and socialites galore flocked to be with the in crowd. Hotels opened all year round, a tourist boom followed and a new holiday destination was created.
And when a lady called Bridgette Bardot, then an unknown film starlet, came along and was photographed on the harbour side at St Tropez, a new generation of travelers descended on the Coast. Sadly, this new set of tourists did not always bring a great deal of sophistication with them and in certain areas the Coast is still decidedly tacky.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Monte Carlo become even more popular, not only with gamblers and as we now know it but as a tourist destination in it’s own right thanks mainly to American film star, Grace Kelly, who married the local Prince. This tiny country is well worth a day at least if you are on the Coast.
I’d also suggest you spend some time in the capital of the Cote d’ Azure, Nice. Set around the big beautiful curved Bay of Angels, France’s fifth largest city has its famous Carnival in February but throughout the year there are markets, the old town and the glamorous Promenade to explore. Talking of glamour, don’t forget also to visit Cannes next door and take a look at the beautiful people at leisure.
My base when I visit is well away from the crowds on the Cote d’Azur at Chateau Eza in Eze, a romantic, medieval hill-top town right on the sea. Its about 30 minutes by car from Nice airport and only 15 minutes from Monte Carlo. The Chateau is small, eleven rooms and suites, six with open fires, if the weather does turn a little cool.
Perched 400 metres above sea level at the top of the village, its restaurant, which overlooks the Mediterranean, as do all the rooms, has some of the best food on the Coast and has been awarded a Michelin Star every year since 2007. Here you can dine with spectacular views across the bay to St Tropez and look down on the glorious Cap Ferrat and making it a must for morning coffee, shopping and more.
The village is steeped in history as you will discover as you wander the cobbled narrow alleyways. Following a hard battle, the Moors successfully invaded staying some eighty years with the Chateau later becoming the private home of Prince William of Sweden. Many writers and artisans also moved into the village and even today it has an enthusiastic artisan and artist colony.
The Chateau has just undergone a five-month refurbishment and, as you can see from these photos, is looking perfect. Bathrooms have been changed, Italian Emperado, Travertine and Carrera marble abounds, as does warm terracotta. The rooms are decorated in Royal blues with white Egyptian cotton sheets on all the beds.
You can sleep in rooms with names like Marie Antoinette, Romantique and Jardin or in Suites called The Chateau, The Medieval and the Royal. Outdoor terraces and Jacuzzis have been added to some suites and the project is the work of top American designer, Tracy Curry.