The great Marcel Pagnol often entertained his friends with stories of life in Provence. Usually what the renowned film maker was describing with such heart, human, and outright love was the area in and around the small, picturesque village of Le Gaude, where he moved to after the second world war.
The village is a fine place to visit or live, welcoming to tourists without being overbearing. La Gaude has been described by others as a typical Provencal village. However, lovers of this peaceful little town will tell you that it is much more than that description could ever imply, and that Monsieur Pagnol was much closer to the reality!
The village itself is perched charmingly at the top of a hill with an altitude of two hundred forty meters (787 feet). This height affords the most wonderful, panoramic views of the beautiful Mediterranean Alps Maritime region of south-eastern France. The village commune covers one thousand three hundred hectares of land and is home to just over six thousand people. A close neighbour, just 9 kilometers (a little less than 7 miles) to the south on the D18, is Cagnes sur Mer.
Nestled in a lush, green abundance of Mediterranean vegetation, La Gaude has been until recently an agricultural center. Today, it has grown and changed into a peaceful and pleasant residential area La Gaude has not lost its agricultural heritage however. This part of France is still the grower of some of the best citrus in the region. Orange trees and lemon trees add colour to the village. Other Mediterranean plants such as olives, dates and carob also thrive here. It is home to Baronne neighbourhood on the banks of the Var River, a large complex which specializes as a research center in IT, agricultural economy and horticulture. Here people study ways to make French agriculture bloom, both by increasing the product and by marketing it more efficiently.
There are many things in the little village of La Gaude that will awaken interest and excitement in the inquisitive visitor. One of the first things they will notice is that the town’s architecture has been beautifully, carefully, and lovingly restored. The village is full of quaint, romantic houses, churches and other architectural marvels from various eras dating from the middle ages to the present. The most dominating of these is the château that belonged to the Marquis de La Gaude at the time when the French Revolution swept through the land, overturning the existing order. After the Revolution ended the buildings were abandoned and allowed to fall into disrepair and for many decades they were little more than ruins. Recently new owners have come to lovingly care for this beautiful, historical treasure. They have restored the beauty, charm, and strength of the original château. This imposing building once again dominates the small village, which proudly bears the name of the château’s former owner. The only bad thing about the château, from a tourist point of view, is that it is privately owned and can not be toured. However the exterior may be appreciated by guest and villagers alike.
Two churches are worth visiting: Saint Pierre de l’Assomption church and the church ofSainte Victoire. Both of these churches date from the days when church architecture was the top of all artistic forms, and building churches was not only a business but a service to God himself. Visitors will be charmed by their grace and beauty that the old architects and builders put into their work, and may also give one a new appreciation for French history and the place of religion within the old French culture.
The village’s charm is not only in its architecture, tourist sites, and weather. The real beauty of the village of Le Gaude is its people and history. The town’s most famous resident was the Provencal author and film maker, Marcel Pagnol, who lived in the village of Le Gaude for thirty happy and productive years. His most famous works include Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources, Le Château de ma Mère and the Femme du Boulange. The town is proud of its successful son, who loved the Provence region so much and expressed his love so poetically.
To express their appreciation, the town has a festival in his honour every year in August. Visitors are encouraged to attend. At the festival guests of the village may acquaint themselves with the great man’s work, and the village culture, as Pagnol’s work can hardly be separated from the life of Provence and its culture.
Two saints are also celebrated with fetes. The first celebration occurs in February, while the second fete is celebrated in August. The saint fetes are always interesting, and enjoyable. These fetes present the chance for the tourist to explore France’s Catholic heritage while enjoying them at a lovely and holy celebration.
Other attractions include the former oil mill, which will be of interest to the historically and mechanically minded, the St Michel oratory, and the more modern but no less important Living Eco-museum.
More athletic tourists will find many things to keep them busy. The really adventurous may participate in moto cross. Others can make use of the La Gaude Village Sports field. The area around La Gaude also offers sports as diverse as camping, hiking, cycling, hunting, swimming pools, tennis fishing, and skeet shooting.
Visitors can find themselves welcomed at a bed and breakfasts, or hotel (there are two) in La Gaude. These offer wonderful service and a nice ambiance for visitors.
For the culinary inclined individual, there are plenty of options in restaurants and cafes in the area around La Gaude. Provence’s cooking is somewhat regional. Being close to the ocean, of course, offers a wonderful selection of seafood. The Mediterranean influence also brings hot spices and olive oil onto the menu. Some spices include: Rosemary, serpolet, sage, thyme, marjoram, savoury, basil. The local diet also includes fruits, salads, pastas, cereals, vegetables, and some meat. A careful vegetarian may find a meal in nearly any café. What the local diet does not often include is a lot of cow’s milk and cheese. In the hilly country, it is easier to raise the small adaptable goats than the large, clumsy cattle. Therefore local dishes often include goat cheeses.
As for drinks, wine and coffee are both local staples. The coffee is a local espresso. French wines, of course, are known all over the world for their quality. La Gaude and all the surrounding villages will offer an excellent selection.
The village of La Gaude has several neighbours that may also be of interest to a restless tourist. Neighboring villages include St Jeannet, five kilometres (a little less than 3 miles) away, Gattières seven kilometres (roughly four miles) away, and St Laurent du Var 12 kilometers (a little under 7 miles) away of the village.
The biggest town near to La Gaude is Vence. This cultural and economic center offers much to the visitor. It is the center of art and the arts. It attracts artists from all over with its workshops, galleries, and outdoor artistic displays (in season). It is also a center for the literary world of France, with book stalls, readings, even an English library! It also has its share of medieval architecture including churches.
Another nearby city is Nice, the cultural pearl of France. If Vence is the place of artist, Nice is the place for art appreciators. There are numerous galleries in the city, more than in any other French city besides Paris. There is also an active, romantic nightlife, historical sites, and fine dining. With fun, food, and culture Nice is a place that many people will want to visit.
There is something for every taste in the village of La Gaude: From farming to medieval buildings, from motocross to the festival of Marcel Pagnol from church architecture to celebrations of its saints. People of all types of interests will feel welcome and intrigued with this charming little village. Even with these attractions, La Gaude has the appeal of being less tourist-crowded than many other cities in the south of France. In La Gaude one can appreciate France without being distracted by the non-French visitors Whether you are a historian, a religious person, a fan of Marcel Pagnol, an intellectual, an artist, a rambler, or a fan of motocross, there is something in the small French village of La Gaude that will interest your mind, excite your senses and make you want to come back for more.