Posted on May 21 2017
People travel to Cannes and Antibes for the aura of blue heat and bon viveurs and the sight of super yachts. High in the hills behind the French Riviera is the old antidote to the flashy hubbub of the coast, a pocket of cobbled towns, where the air is deliciously cool and the sky is rose pink.
Clinging to the rising mountains, with modest chateaux and hidden gardens, Grasse is quite dilapidated, certainly not so gorgeous you will ever feel overwhelmed. But this is its vast charm. You are expected to do nothing here but traverse the commune from west to east, past cafes selling crepes for lunch and , in the early evening, delicious steak tartare heaped, unusually, in bowls, to be eaten with a spoon. Grasse became a perfume centre in the 17th century and several major fragrance houses still whirl with commerce. In the fields around the city, hosts of violets and jasmine unfold their glory – there’s rarely a time in these towns when a flower festival isn’t gearing up or winding down. There is a cathedral in Grasse and Saracen tower, but no building here feel over-commanding – it’s a place concerned with the nose more than the eyes with pomades, soaps and creams.
Where to stay: La Bastide Saint-Antoine
This classic, elegant hotel seems to always be buzzing with weddings and anniversary parties, excited laughter oozing across immaculate lawns upon which handsome staff serve canapés.
Tourrettes-Sur-Loup is, I think, the most romantic of the Alpes-Maritimes towns. The most remote-seeming and out of the way – too high up for the tourist coaches. A heart-stopping jumble of Romanesque towers and courtyards, steps and doorways and sun-bleached stone. In the distance the view of the Riviera, the blue sea convinces you that summer could never end. This is perhaps the strangest thing about the Mediterranean, almost always in sight, so close you can even trace the movement of a certain yacht, and yet there is nothing maritime seeming about the towns. They appear to exist in a kind of self-contained calmness that implies that you are not just half an hour but several days away from the coast.
The second most visited village in France. So many of its original features have been preserved, the 16th century ramparts, the arcades, the wells. Not always as touristy, the town has always been well-off, always loved, known for its famous visitors and residents. Here, the fountain where Churchill liked to sit and paint; there, the grave of Chagall, covered by rosemary and surrounded by cypresses.
Where to stay: La Colombe D’Or
The unpompous air of heritage prestige of this place cannot be beaten. It’s where Hitchcock came to finish writing To Catch A Thief, and where the walls are hung with paintings by Matisse and Braque, personal gifts from the artists, who all came to stay here, sometimes for months at a time.
Built on the foothills of the Monts of Vaucluse, facing the Luberon, Gordes is one of the most well-known hilltop villages in the region, and one of the most beautiful in France. Its houses and buildings of white stone root themselves into the sharp cliff of the mountain, its labyrthinth of "calades" (narrow cobblestone streets) do not leave the visitor indifferent to its charms. Chagall, is one of many artists who have stayed in the village of Gordes and have contributed to its fame.
Where to stay : Le Mas De La Tannierie
Behind the honey-coloured stone walls of this splendid five-room guesthouse everything is unexpectedly contemporary. The owners have created a Scandi space from scratch with sober lines and loft-like volumes. Breakfast if organic breads, cereals and fruit and served in the big kitchen or on the terrace.