When I started blogging I decided that I would not write about places I have not actually been to or products I haven’t tried. This post is an exception. La Colombe d’Or hotel in the South of France is somewhere I desperately want to visit and came tantalisingly close to dining at last year when I was at the Cannes Lion International Festival of Creativity. For now though, I have no choice but to experience this hotel vicariously until I can persuade someone to whisk me away to the Cote d’Azur for a sneaky weekend.
La Colombe d’Or is nestled high up in the hills just outside the ramparts of Saint Paul de Vence, a quaint fortified village of cobbled streets, art galleries and pavement cafes on the Cote d’Azur, 25 minutes from Cannes. With its stunning views of mountains and the Med, an outdoor swimming pool and a relaxed trattoria feel, it is a perfect place to escape the heat and craziness of Cannes in festival season.
I’m told that the twinkling courtyard restaurant is one of the most beautiful and romantic outdoor eating places that you could imagine. The food is very good, although not excellent and certainly not as spectacular as the price. The thirteen rooms and twelve suites are by all accounts lovely and the service is very good, especially for France. The swimming pool and surrounding lounging areas are pure heaven. But what actually sets this place apart is the utterly astounding collection of modern art.
Paintings by some of the 20th Century’s greatest artists including Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Chagall, and Miro casually line the walls of the dining room and corridors. A stunning ceramic mosaic by Léger provides a focal point on the terrace, a Calder mobile hangs over the shallow end of the pool and a giant César thumb guards the entrance to the courtyard.
The Colombe d’Or was opened as a hotel in 1931 by Paul Roux, an aspiring painter who cultivated friendships with the artists who flooded the French Riviera in the mid-twentieth century and who were happy to exchange hospitality for pieces of art. The hotel became immensely popular and as a result the art collection grew exponentially, both in exchange for hospitality and by commission. The tradition was carried on by Roux’s son, and the hotel to this day continues to expand its collection, which is reputedly so large it has to be rotated.
The hotel boast an illustrious list of visitors, including Edward VIII (then the Prince of Wales) and Wallace Simpson, David Niven, Orson Welles, Cary Grant, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Marlene Dietrich, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot and Charlie Chaplin. Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald apparently had a very public argument over Isadora Duncan here.
Twenty paintings from the collection, including Matisse’s Portrait of a Woman, were stolen in 1960 and were reportedly discovered in a storage area of the Marseille train station. After this the Roux family were forced to end their open-door policy and it is now only possible to view the art collection if you are a guest at the hotel or diner in the restaurant, both of which I hope to be sometime in the not too distant future.