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Henri Matisse: Life, Legacy and Love of Southern France

From the sea to flowers, animals to people, artists find their inspiration all around. For some artists, such as Henri Matisse, it’s a particular region that stirs their creativity. Born in the northern region of Picardy, Matisse blossomed artistically in southern France in the warm sunshine. We’re doing a deep dive into the life and inspiration of Henri Matisse as well as the best Matisse-inspired activities in France.


Henri Matisse: Life, Legacy and Love of Southern France

Matisse’s Biography

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Born in 1869, Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse didn’t grow up planning to be an artist; he studied law, per Biography.com. But in his 20s, he started painting and taking drawing classes. Like many artists, such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, he studied art in Paris

Looking at pieces from Matisse, you’ll notice his use of vibrant color and geometric shapes, such as in Icarus and Luxe, Calme et Volupté. He painted, sketched, sculpted, and even designed ballet costumes, according to Winged Canvas

“This 19th-century gospel of work, derived from a middle class, northern French upbringing, was to mark his entire career, and soon it was accompanied by a thoroughly bourgeois appearance—gold-rimmed spectacles; short, carefully trimmed beard; plump, feline body; conservative clothes—which was odd for a leading member of the Parisian avant-garde,” says Roy Donald McMullen in a Britannica article

From bronchitis to appendicitis, Matisse had various health problems but didn’t let them hold him back; he even attached a pencil to a long pole and thus continued to create art, according to Biography.com

In 1954, he died in Nice and was buried nearby.

Matisse’s Legacy

Kimberleyaeg, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Matisse’s art portfolio has a wide range of techniques, styles and subjects, but he is most often associated with Fauvism. After viewing some of Matisse’s work, “a contemporary art critic mentioned the bold, distorted images painted by certain artists he nicknamed ‘fauves,’ or ‘wild beasts,’” according to Biography.com. And now Matisse is considered the father of Fauvism, per Winged Canvas.

Inspired by artist Paul Signac, he also utilized the pointillism method, according to the Met. In short, this technique is using many dots of color to create the scene. Although he wasn’t an overnight success, Matisse did live to see his art succeed and traveled to showcase his work in New York, Berlin, Moscow and beyond, per Britannica. During his lifetime, Matisse even had a book published about him. Notable art collectors such as Gertrude Stein purchased Matisse’s work, per Biography.com.

Matisse and his Love of Southern France

Nice | French Side Travel | Monaco
Photo by Round Trip Travel

Today many flock to southern France for its sun, sea and sights. Matisse wasn’t any different.

Not only did he come to enjoy its pleasant weather but also to find inspiration for his artwork. He spent time in Corsica, Saint Tropez and Collioure and found inspiration in these sunny destinations, according to Winged Canvas.

In an article for the Met, Magdalena Dabrowski writes, “In the summer of 1904, while visiting his artist friend Paul Signac at Saint-Tropez, a small fishing village in Provence, Matisse discovered the bright light of southern France, which contributed to a change to a much brighter palette.”

He fell in love with the bright hues of southern France so much so that he resettled in Nice in 1921, per Biography.com. Over the years, Matisse stayed in different areas of Nice, including Old Nice and the Cimiez district, according to Nice’s tourism site.

Matisse also had a stint in Vence, a town northwest of Nice. Here he lived in a villa with a large garden and created Nature Morte aux Grenades and the Rosary Chapel with stained glass windows, per Nice Tourism.


Interested in diving even deeper into the life and legacy of Henri Matisse, perhaps in southern France? We’ve rounded up some of our favorite Matisse-themed activities in Nice.

Visit the Matisse Museum in Nice

AlfromLig, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Located in the sunny city of Nice, the Matisse Museum pays homage to its namesake with hundreds of his pieces of artwork. Wander among his sculptures and admire his paintings, all just steps away from his source of inspiration. 

Cooking Class in Matisse’s Workshop

In the old town of Nice, start your day by exploring its markets. Then get to work during your private cooking lesson in Matisse’s workshop. Marvel at the sea view as you get inspired in the kitchen and enjoy your meal in the company of an international opera singer.


Where to Stay in Nice

Hotel du Couvent Nice
Photo courtesy of Hôtel du Couvent

Hôtel du Couvent
This brand new hotel opens in summer in 2024 and will charm you with its 88 rooms in the heart of Old Nice. Treat yourself to a visit to its Roman-inspired thermal spa. Stroll the hotel’s farmer’s market and nosh on the hotel’s farm-to-table dining.


Dreaming of being inspired by Matisse and the landscapes that sparked his creativity, too? You might be interested in: Nature and Culture in Southern France or The Highlights of Corsica in Comfort and Style. Need some help planning your trip?

Guide to Ajaccio: Home of Napoléon Bonaparte

Military commander, short man with his hand folded across his chest, dictator riding on a magnificent horse. Napoléon Bonaparte has many images and titles that precede his name. But beyond the pages of history textbooks, who was this Frenchman? Napoléon I certainly left his mark on French history, including in his hometown of Ajaccio on the island of Corsica. Here’s a brief history of Napoléon Bonaparte as well as a guide to Ajaccio.


Guide to Ajaccio: Home of Napoléon Bonaparte

Napoléon’s Early Life in Ajaccio

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1769, Napoléon was born in the town of Ajaccio on the French island of Corsica. It was just the year prior that France had annexed this Mediterranean island from the Italian city state of Genoa, according to History.com.  Napoléon attended elementary school in Ajaccio, and at age 9, he left for mainland France to improve his French, according to Napoleon.org. Corsica had its own dialect and had heavy Italian influence, per Napoleon.org. “He was however to keep his accent when speaking French, and his spelling was full of Italianisms, confusions and pure inventions,” says Thierry Lentz.

Napoléon’s Military Career

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Throughout his life, he would go between mainland France and his home island of Corsica. In 1784, Napoléon started at the École Militaire in Paris. The irony of his military achievements is that he finished 42nd out of 58 students at the Paris military academy, per Britannica. Nevertheless, Napoléon Bonaparte made a name for himself and France with his military achievements; out of the 60 battles fought, he only lost 7, according to the World History Encyclopedia

In 1804, he named himself emperor and continued his military campaigns. However, his defeat by Russia led him to exile to the island of Elba in 1814, according to History.com. Not one to give up too quickly, Napoléon escaped exile and came back to France to reclaim his throne. The following three months or so would be named Napoléon’s Hundred Days, as he sought to regain control of France but to no avail, per The Collector. His fate was determined with his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, which led to his exile once again. In 1821, he died in exile on the island of Saint Helena, and later his remains were transferred to Les Invalides in Paris, per Napoleon.org

Napoléon Bonaparte’s Legacy

Photo by JR Harris on Unsplash

It’s been hundreds of years since Napoléon Bonaparte lived, but you’ll still find his influence throughout France, including Ajaccio. Although his reputation includes military defeat, escaped exile and dictatorship, Napoléon Bonaparte managed to leave a positive legacy. Napoléon founded the Bank of France and the Napoleonic Code, which saw the end of feudalism, per PBS. “He is often ranked alongside Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar as one of history’s most brilliant generals,” according to the World History Encyclopedia. “He also implemented a set of civil laws, best known as the Napoleonic Code, that was adopted throughout much of continental Europe and influenced the judicial systems of many modern nations.”


Today you can explore Napoléon I’s heritage and legacy in Ajaccio. His family home has been turned into a museum that can be visited today. Admire the artwork at the Palais Fesch, an art museum with many pieces from Napoléon’s uncle. Several statues in his likeness can also be visited. Here are more activities to explore in Ajaccio and Corsica.

Morning Boat Cruise to Îles Sanguinaires and Gulf of Ajaccio

Discover the bright blue waters of the north shore of Ajaccio with a private boat tour. You’ll float past famed singer Tino Rossi’s home, the Chapel of the Greeks and the citadel. Your private boat tour includes a stop at the island Mezu Mare where you can take a swim or see the Alphonse Daudet lighthouse.

Discovery of Ajaccio in Napoléon Bonaparte’s Footsteps

Reading a history book just won’t suffice. If you’re a history buff wanting to trace the steps of Napoléon Bonaparte in Ajaccio, look no further. We’ll organize a private guided tour as you explore Napoléon’s birthplace of Ajaccio and see history for yourself.

Wine Tour to Sartène and Alta Rocca

Ajaccio sea view
Photo by Jon Amdall on Unsplash

Corsica’s crystal blue waters and Napoleonic history aren’t the island’s only assets. Dive headfirst into Corsican wine country with visits to the town of Sartène and the Alta Rocca region. Sip on one of Corsica’s famed wines such as Vermentino or Sciacarello. Your private chauffeur will take you to some of the region’s finest domains.


Where to Stay in Ajaccio

Les Mouettes
Indulge in a stay at this four-starred hotel nestled against the coast. This 19th century villa offers 27 unique rooms where you can rest your head after a full day at the beach and in the town of Ajaccio. At Les Mouettes, hotel guests may enjoy access to its private beach as well as snorkels and lounge chairs. Take a dip in the hotel’s saltwater pool and enjoy a glass of wine on its terrace.


Longing to see the legacy of Napoléon Bonaparte with your own eyes and feet? You might be interested in: Luxury Stay in Southern Corsica or The Highlights of Corsica in Comfort and Style. Need some help planning your trip?

Your Gourmet Guide to French Regional Specialties

Partake in a culinary journey throughout the regions of France, where each region boasts distinctive flavors and gastronomic delicacies. With 13 administrative regions nestled within metropolitan France, this country is your playground for epicurean delights.

We’re taking you from the snow-capped Alps to the sun-kissed shores of the Mediterranean, displaying each corner of France that offers a tantalizing array of specialty dishes and foods to ignite your senses. Join us as we explore these French regional specialties, inviting you on this luxurious gastronomic adventure.


Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Many know this region in eastern France for its stunning Alpine landscapes, including the majestic Mont Blanc, and for its ski resorts. However, there are many fine wines and culinary delights such as the city of Lyon’s gastronomic scene for you to explore as well.

Indulge in an unforgettable week experiencing the best of Lyon’s unique gastronomy: Luxury Gourmet Week in Lyon

Fondue Savoyarde, French Alps
Credit: Yann Allegre

Regional Specialty: Fondue Savoyarde 

The locals serve this decadent melted cheese dish with bread and cured meats. It is perfect for an après-ski in mountain dining experience in this region. 

Fondue has both Swiss and French backgrounds, dating back to the 17th century. It uses a mixture of cheeses from both countries. Today, a typical recipe requires equal parts of Comté and Beaufort, two of France’s top mountain cheeses, along with an equal portion of Swiss Gruyère.

Ready to hit the slopes? Check out: Ski Vacation in Chamonix


Bourgogne-Franche-Comté

This region in eastern France boasts picturesque vineyards and charming medieval towns. It’s famous for its prestigious Burgundy wines, exquisite cuisine, and scenic countryside. Check out: Wine Tours in Lyon, Dijon & Champagne

Coq au vin, Burgundy

Regional Specialty: Coq au Vin

This classic French dish embodies the rich flavors of Burgundian cuisine. Coq au vin contains chicken braised in red wine, lardons, and mushrooms. The key ingredient is local Burgundy red wine that chefs use to marinate and cook the chicken and to create the flavorful sauce that completes this artisanal dish. 


Brittany

Located in northwest France, Brittany is famed for its rugged coast, ancient Celtic heritage, and delicious seafood. Picturesque villages, historic sites, and vibrant cultural festivals draw visitors to the region.

Regional Specialty: Breton Crêpes

You cannot visit France without having tasted an artisanal classic, crêpes. This specialty, which originated in 13th-century Brittany, is described as thin pancakes, which can be sweet or savory. Crêpes, not to be confused with galettes, are typically made with wheat flour. Top your crêpes with sweet flavors such as Nutella, caramel, fruits, or the French favorite, crème de marron. While galettes, made with buckwheat flour, are typically accompanied by more savory flavors such as ham, cheese, and eggs.

Hungry for more? Check out: Beginner’s Guide to French Crêpes


Centre-Val de Loire

Locals and visitors alike celebrate this region in central France for its majestic châteaux, picturesque countryside, and the iconic Loire Valley, often referred to as the “Garden of France.” It’s a paradise for wine enthusiasts and history buffs alike.

Tart Tatin, Loire Valley

Specialty Dish: Tarte Tatin

Those who have a sweet tooth will want to indulge in this classic French dessert created back in the 1880s by the Tatin sisters. Described as an upside-down caramelized apple tart, this delectable dessert embodies the elegance and refinement of the Loire Valley. It includes all the elements in a perfect treat with a crunchy base, a fruity interior (typically apples, and some sweet caramel glaze. 

Entice your taste buds and discover the true flavor of the Loire Valley: Flavors of the Loire Valley


Corsica

Known for its pristine beaches, rugged mountains, and vibrant Mediterranean culture, Corsica offers opportunities for luxury seaside retreats, outdoor adventures, and indulgent cuisine featuring fresh seafood and local specialties.

Corsica, Fiadone

Specialty Foods: Fiadone & Brocciu cheese

Fiadone, a traditional Corsican cheesecake made with brocciu cheese, showcases the island’s unique culinary heritage and local ingredients. Eggs, lemon zest and sugar are also included in this dish. This regional delight is creamy on the inside and golden brown on the outside.

Brocciu is prepared with goat’s or sheep’s milk and is described as soft, creamy, and sometimes foamy. Nineteenth-century Emile Bergerat French poet once said, “Those who haven’t tasted it don’t know the island”. This cheese has its seasons for the best time to taste it, which is in the winter between December and April. 

Check out: Luxury Stay in Southern Corsica


Grand Est

Rich history, diverse landscapes, and charming towns characterize this region in northeastern France. Grand Est is home to picturesque vineyards, scenic countryside, and the historic city of Strasbourg, home to the European Parliament.

Alsace, Choucroute Garnie

Specialty Dish: Choucroute Garnie

Choucroute Garnie, French for dressed sauerkraut, is a hearty dish symbolizing the France-German culinary influences of this region. The name also hints at its lavishness. This dish consists of sauerkraut expertly cooked with the subtle essence of Alsatian wine, enriched with decadent goose fat, and infused with aromatic juniper. Delight in a lavish array of charcuterie, featuring succulent slabs of pork and a variety of exquisite sausages, all served atop a bed of tender potatoes, ensuring a truly unforgettable culinary experience of this region.

Discover: Gourmet Delights in the Heart of Alsace


Hauts-de-France

Located in northern France, this region is famous for its iconic landmarks such as the white cliffs of the Opal Coast and the historic city of Lille. It offers a blend of cultural heritage, culinary delights, and opportunities for luxury shopping and leisure.

Carbonnade Flamande, Northern France, hauts-de-France

Specialty Dish: Carbonnade Flamande 

Also known as Flemish beef stew, it represents the comforting and robust flavors of northern French cuisine. Carbonnade flamande champions hearty beef cooked with beer and caramelized onions. The sumptuous, glossy gravy and melt-in-your-mouth beef offer a comforting embrace, making it an ideal dish to savor during the chillier months.

Most “Estaminet” restaurants, a traditional type of eatery found in this region of northern France, have this specialty on the menu. They serve hearty, traditional French cuisine with an emphasis on using local ingredients and having an old-world ambiance.


Normandy

We love Normandy for its picturesque coastline, historic sites, and rich culinary traditions. Here you can explore charming seaside towns, sample gourmet cheeses, and ciders, and discover the region’s pivotal role in world history.

Moules Marinères, Mussels, Moules Frites, Normandy

Specialty Dish: Moules Marinières 

An ideal choice for seafood lovers and an essential culinary experience if you wish to immerse yourself in traditional French cuisine. This beloved classical dish involves fresh mussels cooked within a savory broth of white wine, garlic, and herbs. It brings together this coastal region’s delicate flavors of seafood and dairy products. The origin of the Moules Marinières recipe stems from an efficient approach to preparing mussels, highlighting the innate flavors of the seafood to shine through.

Ready to embark on a culinary journey? A Road Trip Through Normandy for Foodies


Nouvelle Aquitaine

Situated in southwestern France, this region is famed for its diverse landscapes, from the sandy beaches of the Atlantic coast to the lush vineyards of Bordeaux. It offers opportunities for luxury wine tours, gourmet dining experiences, and outdoor adventures in the Pyrenees mountains.

Foie Gras, Nouvelle Aquitaine, Bordeaux,

Specialty Food: Foie Gras

Not only is this region famed for wine and amazing landscapes, but also its world-renowned cuisine. There are a few specialties from this region to include the most famous foie gras. This culinary specialty is a popular holiday delicacy in France renowned for its exquisite flavor and velvety texture. Foie gras comes from the specially fattened liver of ducks or geese. According to French law, “foie gras is part of the cultural and gastronomic heritage protected in France.” 

Unique Experience: Gourmet Walking Tour of Bordeaux

You can have the opportunity to embark on a gourmet journey through Bordeaux with our private walking tour. Led by a knowledgeable foodie guide, you can explore the city’s culinary treasures, from artisanal coffee and chocolate to local pastries and iconic specialties. Indulge in 10 tastings, including cheese and wine at the historic Covered Market, culminating in a delightful meal at a renowned bistronomic restaurant, accompanied by Bordeaux’s finest wines:


Occitanie

Occitanie known for its Mediterranean climate, picturesque countryside, and historic cities such as Toulouse and Montpellier is a paradise for wine enthusiasts, offering access to renowned vineyards in regions like Languedoc and Roussillon.

Cassoulet, Occitanie, French Regional Specialties

Specialty Dish: Cassoulet

Cassoulet is named for the dish it is traditionally baked in – a cassole. This hearty stew contains white beans, duck, sausage, and pork, representing the rustic and flavorsome cuisine of the Languedoc region. The cassoulet from Toulouse uses duck confit and French garlic sauces, a delicacy of that area. 


Pays de la Loire

Positioned in western France, this region is renowned for its fairy-tale châteaux, scenic rivers, and charming towns. It’s an ideal destination for luxury river cruises, cultural excursions, and gourmet dining experiences along the Loire River.

French Regional Specialties, Rillettes de Porc
Courtesy of Sarthe Tourism

Specialty Food: Rillettes de Porc

This dish showcases the region’s dedication to artisanal craftsmanship and gastronomic tradition. Pork rillettes, a beloved French lunch or snack, pairs beautifully with crusty bread and creamy French butter, garnished with tender pork and served alongside cornichons. Additionally, rillettes consist of slow-cooked pork or poultry in its own fat, resulting in a flavorful and indulgent dish, much like duck confit, but it is served shredded.


Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur

Situated in southeastern France, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is famed for its stunning Mediterranean coastline, picturesque villages, and vibrant cultural scene. It offers opportunities for luxury villa rentals, wine tasting in Provence, and indulgent seaside escapes on the French Riviera.

Bouillabaisse, Provence, South of France, Gourmet Guide, French Regional Specialties

Specialty Dish: Bouillabaisse

Bouillabaisse stands as a quintessential culinary treasure traditionally from the Mediterranean region of Provence. Originating in Marseille, where it holds a very symbolic status, this dish comprises a rich fish soup served with garlic-infused bread croutons slathered with rouille, accompanied by fish pieces and potatoes.

Contemporary Provençal bouillabaisse showcases locally sourced rockfish simmered in a flavorful court-bouillon made with water or white wine, infused with garlic, olive oil, and sometimes saffron. The preparation of today’s bouillabaisse soup follows a specific charter, which mandates that they must cut the fish in front of you. At the Miramar, one of the founding members of the charter, bouillabaisse must be crafted with at least six varieties of rockfish. 


Ready to tantalize your taste buds and embark on a culinary adventure through France? Speak with our experts today to dive deeper into these regional specialties!

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