Reading time 4 minutes
Summer 1949. Actress Simone Signoret spends a quiet holiday with her husband, director Yves Allégret, in St. Paul de Vence, a small town that climbs a hill in the Maritime Alps, between Nice and Cannes. They are staying in the most chic hotel of the place and of the entire French coast, Picasso, Chagall and Matisse said before this French cinema lady, La Colombe d'Or. Nearby, a potential gala star, Yves Montand, is invited to a dinner there by his friend, the writer Jacques Prévert. Yes, the French intelligentsia loves this corner of the Côte d'Azur. They say it was love at first sight. Simone Signoret and Yves Montand met in the halls of La Colombe, maybe they walked around their pool and fell in love. Two years later they married in that same town and would return dozens of times to the place that joined them. There, perhaps, she forgot about his sonic affair (which included Marilyn Monroe).
Almost 100 years of history. © @ Jacques Gomot
Like this one, there are a thousand stories between the walls of La Colombe d'Or (The golden dove). Some known, many, sure, secret. Today, almost a century after its opening as Chez Robinson in 1920, this hotel and restaurant continues to witness romances and friendships, visits by geniuses and artists. Now it is no longer a refuge for French icons, but worldwide.
Its proximity to Cannes makes it a favorite destination restaurant for all the stars that go through the Film Festival every May for 71 years. From Tarantino to Brad Pitt. From Paul Newman to Sophia Loren. "It is the most chic brothel on the Côte d'Azur, " his parishioners say with irony, for those idylls to which they invite their stone walls that were once the walls of a castle in Aix-en-Provence.Chez Robinson was, during the 20s, a café bar with a terrace where the neighbors would dance on weekends. The success made its owners, Paul Roux and his wife Baptistine, "Titine" think , that they should expand it. Thus La Colombe d'Or was born in 1931, just outside St. Paul de Vence, as a restaurant and three-room inn that housed "horses, men and painters."
Picasso paid with his paintings. © Jacques Gomot
Roux, son of a farmer, was a great fan of art. “He was a self-taught and a man of charming enthusiasm who, having started buying works, did not hesitate to offer accommodation to some painters in exchange for his work, ” says Martine Assouline in the book La Colombe d'Or (1995).
During World War I, many artists protected themselves on the Cote d'Azur and there was Paul Roux to give them shelter and food in exchange for a painting, a sculpture. The first to arrive were Georges Braque, Fernand Léger and an old Henri Matisse.
Matisse did not even enter La Colombe. He came with his limousine to his door and asked Paul to have tea with him in the car.
Fernand Léger mural in the garden. © La Colombe d'Or
With World War II, regular customers were made Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, César Baldaccini … They paid for their stays or their meals with pictures. Paul Roux wanted it that way. And all those paintings now decorate the walls of the main hall, of the hallways. You can dine under a Miró, next to a Braque and a Chagall, and lie on the edge of the pool in the shadow of a Calder cell phone and under the watchful eye of the mosaic of Léger.
Picasso was the only one in all the times he was there and, despite his friendship with Paul Roux, he had never paid 'in spices'. But that changed the day Roux got very sick, his wife then claimed the picture he had always promised. He offered them three and Paul chose The Vase that hangs proudly in the restaurant today.
Alain Delon in the 60s: Cannes and La Colombe was and is the plan. © Jacques Gomot
The 1960s was the beginning of La Colombe's success as a refuge for movie stars when they passed through Cannes or simply the Cote d'Azur: Chaplin, Orson Welles, Sophia Loren, Paul Newman, Alain Delon and Romy Schneider and Simone Signoret and Yves Montand, of course. Also there have been writers (James Baldwin, Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre), architects (Jean Nouvel), musicians (Elton John) …
Francis Roux, the son of Paul and Titine, took the reins of La Colombe and had to spend one of the worst nights in the history of the place when, in 1959, he woke up and all the works of art had disappeared … except a Chagall. The artist was the next day, angry that they had not appreciated his work as to steal it. Luckily, everything appeared again.
A Calder in the pool, hopefully! © La Colombe d'Or
Today, La Colombe d'Or is still run by the Roux family, the third generation. François and his wife Daniele, maintain the charm of the place where artists and curious people continue to go. And they continue to collect art, Sean Scully's sculpture near the pool has been his last acquisition.
Dining there is still a great experience for the stories, romances and friendships that have occurred there and for a market menu that goes from vegetable entrees and marinades to blunt meat stews. You can also stay at the hotel (which only closes between October 22 and December 22), it is no longer a three-room inn, but a boutique of 25, where you will sleep where the geniuses of the twentieth century slept.
Joan Miró, another regular from La Colombe. © Jacques Gomot