When my family and I go on vacation, we tend to become sedentary, and stay put where we are. We don’t seem to be the kind of people who explore the area, take helicopter rides over volcanoes, or even go out to dinner to local restaurants. Once we plant ourselves somewhere for our family vacation, and there are a lot of us, adventure trips aren’t part of the plan. We lie in the sun all day, there is lots of swimming, occasionally some fishing if we’re on a boat, and evenings together wherever we are staying, and everyone seems happy that way. And when we were on a boat, we left the boat at night once during a trip for dinner off the boat. But most of the time, the kids and I were happy at anchor somewhere (off Corsica or Sardinia, or tied up at some rocks outside the tiny port of Portofino), and not even going into port. And we usually had one nightclub adventure per trip, but we haven’t done that in a few years. And this year, we had a lot of fun at night playing a game called “Catch Phrase”, which you pass around like a hot potato, playing what looks like Charades, with a timer and a buzzer to add tension to the game as you try to describe the ‘phrase’ on the screen without actually saying the words. In our case, it involves a lot of screaming, shrieking, and laughing, and the family is divided into two teams. I love the game!! We also play a lot Scrabble, some cards and liar’s dice. We read in the sun (they read other people’s books, not mine, it’s hard to be a hero on your own turf), and have lunch and dinner together every day. Our vacations involve my five younger children, each brings a friend or significant other. My three older married children make their own plans and have young children. And the younger five and I + their 5 friends or SO’s spend a week together in France or Italy, and have since they were born. The older ones were part of the group until they married a few years ago and had their own kids, and enjoy doing different things now with their own families. So there are eleven or twelve of us now on our family vacation every summer. And we love being lazy, relaxing, and having fun together. And as we do every summer, we decided to go out for one dinner, and stayed comfortably at our hotel the rest of the time. (We’re a big group to move around, so we do very little moving during our vacation week).
For the past few years, the ‘kids’ (all in their 20’s) have asked about a famous restaurant in a town in the South of France called St. Paul de Vence. And the restaurant is called La Colombe d’Or, which means The Golden Dove. I always thought it would be too fancy (and we like staying relaxed and informal on our holidays), and it was about a half hour from our hotel, which seemed like a trek. But this year we decided to try it. St Paul de Vence is a medieval town, with a beautiful small church at the top of a hill, the hill is covered with small ancient buildings that wend their way up the hill, bordering a narrow street (maybe 6 feet wide), passable only on foot, and paved with small stones. You don’t want to be walking up the steep hill in high heels!!! There are little shops and art galleries, other narrow streets leading away from the main one. I went to a wedding in the little church two years ago, and it was absolutely beautiful. There is a main square when you first arrive at the town, with a restaurant. Everything is beautifully kept up, and it is a well-known tourist attraction in the South of France, about 40 minutes away from the sea. And locals play ‘boule’, also known as ‘petanque’ in the main square, which is a game with a small metal ball you throw far away, and then try to approach it with larger metal balls (about the size of grapefruits). It’s a game they play a lot in the South of France, and in Italy. Old men sit in local squares and play for hours, while others watch.
We wandered up the hill, on the stone paved streets, glancing into narrow alleys, and enjoying the walk before dinner, and then we went back down the hill to the restaurant at the edge of the main Square. The restaurant is very famous in the region, because the small towns in the South were home to some of France’s most famous artists, Chagall, Picasso, Miró, Léger, and others who lived there at one time, and had studios there, even long before they were famous, and it must have been a great place to live. In its early days, La Colombe d’Or was one of their hang outs, and when they ran up enough of a bill, they would give the owner of the restaurant a painting or a piece of sculpture in payment, and the wise owner in this case hung onto all of their art. (It is also a small hotel now), and before or after dinner, you can wander through small sitting rooms on the lobby floor, and the walls are covered with drawings and paintings by artists whose work you normally only see in important museums. There are several Calder sculptures, and a beautiful one next to the swimming pool. The art is breathtaking, and you can sit in the garden, with a Fernand Léger looking over your shoulder. The art is mesmerizing, and makes it a special experience even before you eat. It’s like having dinner in a small, cozy, home style museum. And a big group like ours was easily accommodated in the family style garden, with beautiful sculptures all around us. Just being there is a piece of art history, and we were all fascinated by it.
The dinner was delicious, as we had been told it would be. Just great food, not overly pretentious, just warm and friendly service and wonderful French food. We had a wonderful dinner and a terrific time, and walked through the rooms again after dinner, to discover the art on every wall. We had a fantastic dinner, and were bowled over by the art of famous artists all around us. And as we left, we promised ourselves and each other that we would come back again next year. It was well worth the 40 minute drive to get there, and the effort to leave our hotel. And we chatted all the way back about all the art we had seen. It was a remarkable setting and far more exciting, personal, and alive than seeing it in a museum. We were just inches away from some very major artwork as we ate our dinner in the garden. It was an unforgettable experience.
For the rest of the trip, we were lazy as we always are and ate at the hotel where we were staying, on the sea. The kids continued to swim for the rest of our stay, and play the games we enjoyed at night….and our trip to the Golden Dove will remain a cultural highlight of our trip. It brought art to our fingertips, as part of real life, while we enjoyed a lively family dinner, in the same place those artists had come to so many years ago, and paid for their dinners with their destined to be famous work. What a treat!!!