St. Tropez resonates with French charm

St. Tropez resonates with French charm
By Carleton Varney

Special to the Daily News

On the French Riviera, St. Tropez is bustling these days, busily anticipating that the summer season will bring lots of folk to the hotels, cafes and shops of this Mediterranean village. The sidewalk artists are painting away, even some artists from San Diego and New York, as I discovered on my recent visit. I even purchased a watercolor or two, not from the American gentleman who painted tigers and handsome elephants but, from the Belgian or perhaps French lady who had a stand filled with harbor scenes of boats at anchor.

I’ve returned to the States with my watercolors to have them framed on Clematis Street and will hang them on a wall filled with nautical art from places around the world that I have visited and enjoyed. Memories are what I hang on my walls, happy memories.

I also noticed that St. Tropez these days is nodding at Palm Beach’s glamour, after seeing many of the posters that fill the windows of the myriad small fashion shops that line the byways of this village. I found it interesting that the posters linked St. Tropez and Palm Beach, as if the two were twin sisters living apart, but simply across the Atlantic Ocean.

St. Tropez was made famous by the one — the only — B.B. Those are, of course, the initials of the actress Brigitte Bardot, who remains to this day a vital part of town’s image. Bardot is everywhere. Her face adorns walls in restaurants, in photography boutiques, in fashion shops, on T-shirts and even on the walls outside public buildings. Bardot is St. Tropez’s claim to international fame, just as Marilyn Monroe — whose initials form another set of twin letters — still represents American beauty to so many worldwide.

In this ever-changing world, it is good to know that there will always be a Riviera, albeit one struggling to preserve the image of days of yachts and jet-set glamour. There are not many hotels in the world like the Hotel du Cap or La Reserve — or Chateau St. Martin in Vence.

I always enjoy, when in the south of France, a lunch in one of my favorites destinations, so off I went with friends to celebrate the glamour of the French Riviera, not in St. Tropez but to Vence. Way up in the hills is my favorite, Chateau St. Martin, where the lobbies, dining rooms, terraces and gardens are so beautifully cared for and furnished with the simplest of elegance.

The dining room has been looked after to perfection by the maitre d’ hotel of 33 years. Seated there, I looked upon the very palest of peach/coral walls, adorned with ceramics of equal beauty. Peach roses — and I mean very fresh peach roses — filled the vases on every table, and the views over the valley, directly onto the Mediterranean Sea in the distance, were breathtakingly beautiful. I would unconditionally recommend Chateau St. Martin to any reader planning a visit to the Cote d’ Azur this summer.

I would also recommend thinking about how you might see the color of peach/coral in your own home.

On walls, the color creates a perfect background for French tapestries woven with the famous Aubusson color schemes — and the warm peach tone also will made your guests look radiant. Flesh-tone walls are very, very flattering.

While visiting, I was invited to stay with an old friend of mine, Kiki Ward Platt, who enjoys living in one of the most charming, chateau-like farmhouse homes in Fayence. The house squats on a terrace in such a manner that one can see miles and miles of country lakes, valleys and hills. “Simplicity” describes my friend’s way of living.

I can honestly say that she has the best collection of art books, design books, biographies and visual geographic books that I have ever seen; and the books are not shelved so that one sees only the spines. Art books are piled on tables, on ottomans and on floors in such a manner that they are touchable and enjoyable. Unlike some people, including myself, who stack a few handsome design books with great covers on a coffee table for beauty’s sake, Kiki Ward Platt actually opens her entire library to anyone visiting or staying at her home in France.

Here’s one of her wonderful decorating hints: Make an end table of your own using a stack or two of handsome books. I am happy to say that as a house gift, I brought my hostess a copy of my own new book, Houses in My Heart, to add to the at-hand collection.

A visit to Fayence and to other great villages on the French Riviera and into Provence offers so many visual and gastronomical delights. You’ll also find wonderful antique shops such as Antiquités Pays de Fayence, which is operated by a gentleman proprietor, Jean-Jacques Dervieux. He happily will tell you all about the glass pieces, the porcelains, the tables, the chairs, about everything in his shop. The shop is at RD 562, Quartier La Ferriere, 83440 Montauroux, and I heartily recommend visiting. If you visit France this summer — and I know many of my friends from the Palm Beaches do go to St. Tropez and Cannes in the season of Riviera sunshine — e-mail Jean-Jacques at and tell him that Carleton sent you.

And don’t miss the great galleries of art in southern France. My favorite is the Gallery of Beddington Fine Art at Les Remparts, Rue de la Prison, 83830, in the town of Bargemon (telephone 04-94-76-64-06). Its owners, Michelle and Guy Beddington, display works by artists Phil Billen and Stefan Szczesny, who created a series of lithographs on the island of Mustique that I found delightf


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