La Colombe D’Or in Saint Paul
Time slows down under the fig trees
La Colombe d’Or, in the charming fortified village of Saint Paul de Vence, is a restaurant for all seasons and having lunch there feels more like visiting an art exhibit. The stained glass dove sign and large wooden doors make for a circumspect entrance where you enter the sandstone patio under the shade of parasols and olive and fig trees. Our usual table on the far border is under the shade of the Fig trees, where we look out on terra-cotta roofs and the green hills afar. Time slows when rose wine flows! I roamed the place with my eyes clicking at the rhythm of my camera lens. Inside pricey paintings hang over tables and the hotel corridors in a casual way. They must pay a lot in insurance!
The small intimate bar opens into the dining patio, and it is like a small shrine with carved wooden stools and a few little tables. A collection of letters, photographs and art decorate the walls taking you back to another time.
Lunch is on the terrace with a view of the valley, under the fig trees in the summer, or by the fireplace in the colder months. Like a noble metal it never blemishes and continues to increase its value. And the myth goes on. When you come in you feel like an invited guest, as if you were in somebody’s home for a party.
It all started almost a century ago
This legendary, genuine, friendly and unassuming restaurant and hotel, started back almost a century ago in 1920 by Paul Roux as the Cafe Bar Robinson. Friends persuaded Paul and his wife Titine (real name Baptistine) to enlarge it and that’s how La Colombe d’Or was born, first as an inn with just only three rooms that today increased to twenty-five. Later on they erected a new façade using stones from an old castle in Aix with the architect Jacques Couelle designing a fireplace with the hand imprints of the people who helped build it.
The place attracted many artists who often paid their bills with their artwork, allowing the owners to amass a priceless private collection of 20th century art. Paul Roux valued the work of Picasso, Matisse, Miro, Calder, Chagall, and Leger as much as the artists’ company. In the 40’s intellectuals and painters moved to the Mediterranean that had become a “free zone” and La Colombe d’Or became the place to be and be seen. While on the set of “Devils Envoy”, Jacques Prevert stayed at the hotel during the filming of “Devils Envoy”, and he never left as he moved to the village and an intimate friendship developed. The Roux’s motto was “Welcome here on foot, on horseback or on canvas!”
At the end of the war it was the turn to the international crowd to arrive and the new friends of Francis (Paul’s son), like Yves Montand, Lino Ventura and others. It became one the most famous celebrity salon in the South of France. In the 50’s they it was the turn to Miro, Braque, Chagall and later on Calder, Cesar. The art collection keeps growing with the latest work installed a large ceramic by the Irish artist Sean Scully for the swimming pool area. Today, nothing has changed. Celebrities like Michael Caine, Bono, Roger Moore or Richard Attenborough can be seen lunching at a long table on the terrace, undisturbed by the other guests.
Paul, Titine, Francis, Francois, Daniele and Pitou created an exceptional place and instilled a welcoming and warm-hearted spirit to the place and the family continues today at the helm of the Colombe.
It feels like home
A simple food, good service and relaxed atmosphere, is exactly what you expect from a place run by a family. The menu concocted by Paul Roux, features freshly baked bread, butter curls, olives, crudités, large cutting board with charcuterie, plus a host of famous starters of fine home grown produce: grilled peppers in olive oil, caramelized onions, stuffed baby vegetables, baked Provencal tomatoes, beans anchovies, eggplants and other specialties from the Midi, reminding us that the host is a family.
Wandering around Saint Paul
After lunch we quietly wandered through the medieval village the winding the cobblestone streets laid into the shapes of flowers of the village discovering elegant fountains, vine-covered stonewalls with breathtaking views of the mountains and sea. It is an artists’ village filled interesting creative costume jeweler shops and knick-knacks for decorating the home. At sunset it was time to return back home to Monaco. But we will certainly return for more!
Photos by Celina Lafuente de Lavotha - Monaco Reporter