Jill Shepperd was instilled with a love of books from birth. Her mother was a librarian, then the owner of a small bookshop but when she passed away, Jill was too young to be interested in running the business. “Wanting to travel, I worked in various travel agencies over the years before relocating to here in 1994 with my then husband,” says the Whitley Bay native.
Jill is co-owner of Niche Books Valbonne but many of us know her from when she ran the English Book Centre (EBC) on rue Alexis Julien. “I first started working part-time for the owners Sue and Mike Abrahams in 1996, alongside part-time working as a TEFL teacher – new country, new types of job! In 2002, my husband and I were divorcing and I had to choose whether to stay in France or return to the UK. Coincidentally, Sue and Mike decided they wanted to retire, so I took the plunge and bought the business.”
She says she loved the shop as it provided an amazing opportunity to meet many interesting people and be part of the local community “but it was – and still is – hard work! As with any business in France, there are many social charges, restrictions and admin hurdles to overcome but the great thing about being an independent bookshop is complete freedom of choice for stock titles you think will interest the clientele. We held several book signings with various authors, including Carol Drinkwater, Maureen Emerson, Ted Jones, Michael Nelson and Stephen Clarke.”
The EBC turned into a hub for the local Anglophone community, putting people in touch with each other, creating social opportunities for new arrivals to the area and, during the summer, the shop became “the English-speaking Tourist Office.” Soon, local international schools also traded with Jill at EBC.
Which made it even more of “a very difficult decision to sell” the shop to Lin Wolff in 2009. “There were many personal reasons and complications. Lin had worked for me for several years and, like me, was a bookaholic. I left the shop in very good hands.”
After the sale, Jill needed to work again, so returned to teaching and became involved with the Sunnybank Association in Mouans Sartoux, volunteering in their library. “I did however, return to work in the bookshop from time to time when Lin needed staffing help.”
Fast forward to post-Covid lockdowns in 2022. By then, Lin had returned to the US permanently and was obliged to sell the lease for 12 rue Alexis Julien. Deborah Frost, who had worked for Lin for many years, and Jill decided to try and relocate the shop. “After a lengthy and fraught struggle, and many meetings at the mairie, we secured these premises at 7 rue Grande. Debbie and I formed a business partnership and created a new company. With the change of location, we decided to change the name and diversify the range of items we stock to appeal to an even wider clientele.”
The pair was able to raise money via online donations, which helped fund some of the changes they had to make to the new shop. “Debbie and myself say a huge thank you to our loyal customers and friends. It has been an incredible first year, helped enormously by our regulars, new customers who never knew there was an English bookshop here before and the return of tourists to the village.”
Niche Books Valbonne sells a wide range of books in English, bilingual books, local school titles, greetings cards, a small range of stationery items, including crayons and colouring books, French books linked to the region and the possibility to order books not in stock!
Brexit has obviously led to many changes for the British community, some of whom have had to permanently return to the UK. “The community of English-speaking residents remains largely unchanged. The growth of English classes in local schools brought a new clientele to the shop – parents wanting to see their children read much more in English.”
Jill and Debbie are continuing to help promote local authors and artists. A book signing with Lewis Hinton took place recently, for his novel The Face Stone, a Jack Sangster mystery. The shop also stocks cards by Cathie Van der Stel & Marina Kulik, and beautiful hand worked prints by photographer Jon Kershaw.
Illustrator Tiphanie Beeke will be at the shop on Saturday, September 24, at 3pm to read stories of Fletcher, an inquisitive little fox, and children can colour in their own Fletcher pictures.
Reflecting on the almost 30 years she has lived near Valbonne, Jill says that while the neighbouring Sophia Antipolis tech park has grown “exponentially”, the old village has maintained its natural charm. “There are still many villagers who have grown up, lived and worked here all their lives. Local festivals continue in time-honoured tradition mostly around Place des Arcades, the popular square at the heart of the village where there is a variety of restaurants and cafés to choose from.”
Of course, with a newly purchased book in hand – maybe the latest Thursday Murder Club story by Richard Osman.
Jill’s Top Sellers in Valbonne
For those who like bread straight from the oven, Jill suggests stopping by Le fournil d’Eugène, next to the bookshop, around 11am for a Valbonnais. Her other tips include “amazing cheeses” from 365 Fromages (rue Eugène Giraud), indulgent chocolates from a Meilleur Ouvrier de France at Chocolaterie Christian Camprini (rue de la République) or a glass of ‘proper’ beer at the Irish bar Roots on rue de la Fontaine.
There are less than 400 people on the planet with a coveted “Masters of Wine” certification. Considered the highest wine achievement in the world, Elizabeth Gabay is one of two people in the Alpes-Maritimes with the accreditation.
As a Provence specialist for the Wine Scholar Guild (formerly the French Wine Society), she is also the main South of France wine writer for Decanter magazine. Her second book, Rosés of Southern France, was published earlier this month.
“I passed the Master of Wine exam in 1998 after four years of intensive study, three after the birth of my son Ben,” says Elizabeth. “The exams involve understanding and being able to analyse viticulture, vinification, commercial business, the role of wine in society and, of course, being able to taste and evaluate wine. The pass rate is low – around 10% – and we do have an amazing global network.”
Back in 2018, Elizabeth wrote the definitive book on rosé, Rosé: Understanding the Pink Wine Revolution. “I had originally thought of a book on the region of Provence, but with over 80% of production being rosé, it made sense to focus on rosé. As I studied the market, history and different styles the book grew into being a global reach and a realisation that there really was a global revolution happening as rosés were growing in volume – now well over 10% of global consumption.”
When Elizabeth started researching for the book in late 2016, the level of quality rosé around the world was “erratic”. And while quality has improved in the past six years … “a lot of regional styles have disappeared as commercial competitiveness has pushed producers to make ‘Provence-style rosé’. Quality is improving but at the price of losing tradition and individuality,”says the Saint-Martin-Vésubie resident.
Rosés of Southern France is a collaborative cowrite with her son Ben Bernheim, who “has spent his entire life in wine. As part of the wine tasting team at Edinburgh university he won the prize for the best white wine taster competing against Oxford, Cambridge and French students.” After graduating in 2017, Ben helped his mom finish the original rosé book and he worked in vineyards and as a sommelier.
“Working with a 25-year-old is exhausting. He has so much energy,” Elizabeth shares. “I was in my comfy niche of writing and lecturing and he has pushed the boundaries.” In addition to last year’s e-guide and this year’s book really, the mother-son duo also found the time to create their own rosé, Sen, made with a winemaker in Slovakia.
Their book Rosés of Southern France clearly establishes patterns for regionality and what makes the wines stand out, which is of interest to both buyers and consumers. “Last year Ben and I did an e-guide tasting 1000 Southern French rosés and we realised that the best wines showed originality and we wanted to write more about these wines and estates.”
Elizabeth and Ben sampled over 2,000 rosés during the past year. “Including rosés from elsewhere – it is important to keep an international perspective.”
The book aims to be a classic wine book. “If you love rosé, you can read it and understand the different styles, and how to look for other wines.” At the same time, at the end of August, they are launching their website pink.wine which will be a modern and innovative approach to rosé,” the New Yorker explains.
“Most existing books on rosé either give a list of wines or list estates to visit or are coffee table books with lovely photos. We wanted to treat rosé as a serious wine. We have included maps showing the geology and geography, photos of the soils, grapes, regions. We have tried to show how and why the styles of wine have different styles. The elegance of Sainte Victoire, the robustness of Gigondas, the complexity of Tavel …”
Rosés of Southern France is for professionals, sommeliers, buyers and anyone who likes rosé. “Hopefully it will help consumers when they go into a shop and want to choose a wine. Recently someone mentioned they liked fuller bodied Les Baux rosés and we were able to suggest which regions and appellations had similar styles.”
Elizabeth has three recommendations to look out for this summer.
Les Schistes, Les Maîtres Vignerons de Gonfaron, Côtes de Provence (€7.80): a delicate charming white peach, fresh citrus acidity and a lovely balance of restrained fruit and acidity.
Pierre Amadieu, Romane Machotte, Gigondas AOP 2021 (€17): a juicy, slightly weightier rosé with real Gigondas character filled with fresh cherries, strawberries and raspberry fruit – but also a serious gastronomic wine.
Chateau de Selle, Domaine Ott (€26): red fruit, floral, perfumed, orange blossom. Gorgeous citrus acidity, crisp, citrussy, vibrant well-made, elegant, direct, hint of leafiness on the Rather lovely.
And for those like me who know nothing about wine, Elizabeth says look for rosé in a dark bottle. “I know that is counter-intuitive but colour is not important. Pale does not make it good. The bright sunlight can damage the wine and give it off vegetal flavours. I’ve seen people say they don’t like rosé and then discover they are tasting wine which has been in the sun. An hour on the table in summer is enough to harm the wine.
“Look at the back label. If it says serve at 6°C you know it is best drunk chilled by the pool. Serve at 10°C and above with maybe some detail of the grapes suggests the producer is more serious.”
Warning: Excessive consumption of alcohol is harmful to your health
Chrissie McClatchie is one of the region’s most established freelancer journalist. FromWine Enthusiast to easyJet Traveller, and from Business Insider to Superyacht Digest, the Australian from the Northern Beaches of Sydney demonstrates her lexical versatility in wine, travel and yachting, subjects often associated with life on the Côte d’Azur.
It was in 1993 when Chrissie first came to France to visit one of her sisters (she has four much older siblings) living in Lyon. She was accompanied by her geologist dad and mom, who was born in Vietnam to French parents. “I still remember that flight with the now-defunct airline UTA,” Chrissie recalls. “It had started in New Caledonia before stopping in Sydney, Jakarta and maybe Melbourne, and was full of returning compulsory conscripts who spent the whole flight smoking. As soon as we landed at CDG, they all cheered and kissed the tarmac. It was pretty impressionable to a 12-year-old who had never left New South Wales before.”
She returned to France a few years later with her mom to spend Christmas with her sister, who by then was working with her husband as villa guardians in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. “That is the moment when my love affair with the South of France started,” she says.
Chrissie has had Australian-French dual nationality since she was eight and even though her mom never spoke French at home, she did emphasise her European roots to the family.
“My mom and I used to follow my dad on his geological trips to the bush and we’d often visit a town called Mudgee, where mom would take me to cellar doors while he was working. I remember deciding, much to her delight , that I wanted to be a winemaker.”
Both wine and France would niggle in her brain for years to come.
By the time she graduated high school, her sister, who was now living in Nice and had just had a baby, suggested that Chrissie come over for a gap year to improve her French. “I spent nine months studying in the morning at the Alliance Française on rue de Paris and quickly found an international friendship circle. I loved the global vibe, beach picnics, ease of travel, and sense of history, although I may have spent too much time in Vieux Nice, particularly at Chez Wayne’s and Thor!”
Post-immersion, she returned to Australia to study Medieval History and language at the University of Sydney and in 2002 vended up back in France as part of a six-month exchange in La Rochelle, in the southwest of the country.
Clearly cut out for the jet-set life, as soon as her exams were done, she took a “trip of a lifetime,” travelling through the Middle East – Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Georgia, Armenia and Iran (“It was incredible to visit places like Palmyra that have suffered at the hands of IS”) – and then spent some time in Washington DC as another sister had moved to the US. “I volunteered at the Smithsonian, which was incredible, but as I couldn’t get a work visa I booked a cheap flight to Nice and gave myself six months to find a job.”
When in wine country
Within the first week of arriving in the Mediterranean city, she got a job at Vins sans Frontieres (VSF), fine wine and spirits provisioning for yachts.
“There is actually a thriving local wine community here, with four Masters of Wine – the highest qualification in the wine world – living in and or around Nice, plus plenty of other interesting characters.”
She worked at VSF from 2007 to 2014, and was mentored by Rod Smith, a Master of Wine, and Helen Brotherton, a WSET diploma graduate. “We all had a crash course in the superyacht world, though.”
She wouldn’t realise at the time, but she had really fallen into a niche segment of the market. “The wine yachts order for their owners or charters is really top end – the best chateaux, the best vintages – but the flip side is that ‘no’ isn’t an answer.”
As Chrissie points out, acclaimed wines may be produced in finite quantities but as a yacht supplier you have to make sure you can find what your clients want, when they want (“yesterday”). “It is definitely more competitive now than it was when I first started. I remember a client calling at 2 pm on a Friday afternoon and by 4 pm we were delivering €80,000 of wine to his yacht in the port of Nice. I think now quotes and management company approvals would be required.”
The job was demanding but there were some incredible perks. “I will never forget a three-day trip to Champagne as guests of LVMH. We had dinner at Veuve Clicquot and Krug and a tour and tasting with the Dom Perignon winemaker,” she describes.
Chrissie started to share her local wine discoveries on her blog Riviera Grapevine, which became “the catalyst for everything that has happened in my career since.” It led her to the Bellet vineyards, behind Nice, doing cellar door tours of both Château de Bellet and Château de Crémat but, most importantly, led to regular writing work. “I have had great opportunities come my way from people discovering the blog, starting with a column for the Riviera Reporter. It all helped me build a portfolio that took me to The CEO Magazine, a global business publication that profiles high-level executives from around the world.” By this point, she was back in Australia.
Chrissie and her Irish husband, whom she met though friends in Nice, decided to move to Australia in 2016 for a year. “We just had our first child and it seemed like the best time to head back home. The CEO Magazine was my first in-house writing role. I learnt so much about the magazine production process in the ten months I was physically there but while it was great to be near family, there were lots I missed about Europe.”
In 2017, the family moved back to France, swapping Nice for Villefranche, where they have very much embraced French village life, playing football with the local club and sending the kids to public school. “Even though I have spent the best part of my adult life here, I still feel like an Australian in France. And I think I always will.”
Bilingual Chrissie has been working remotely for The CEO Magazine since June 2019. “Last week I interviewed the CEO of La Monnaie de Paris, the French Mint, as well as the CEO and Founder of a Swiss electric vehicle company. No profile is ever the same, which keeps the role exciting and challenging.”
The magazine has five editions (ANZ/EMEA/North America/India/Asia) and Chrissie writes across them all. “The cover story on Calin Rovinescu, CEO of Air Canada, was a particular favourite as it was just when Covid hit and air travel ground to a halt. A tricky, topical subject and the client loved the story!” she enthuses.
Chrissie also writes travel and lifestyle features for the monthly magazine. “Last year’s Norway trip was a definite highlight. A five-day cruise with Viking from London to Tromsø in search of the Northern Lights – although the story is still on hold because no one can leave Australia to travel.”
She has tapped into her base in Nice to become a local expert on the French Riviera and her travel stories have appeared in easyJet Traveller and The Culture Trip. “For Atlas Obscura, I really enjoyed tracking down Philippe Arnello, the man behind Nice’s midday cannon, and witnessing him light the cannon at noon.”
Hands down, her proudest publication moment was in easyJet Traveller. “I love the magazine’s fun spirit and it has always been the goal publication for me. I pitched a behind-the-scenes Nice carnival story for the February issue and found the perfect angle – a new, high-tech piece of equipment that the carnavaliers were using to sculpt the floats. I’d sent numerous pitches for other stories before with no bites but this one in late December was commissioned two hours after my email – and I filed it five days later. I was actually flying on easyJet the day the issue was released and it was cool to see my name in print, fresh off the press.”
Thanks to a year as a content editor for Relevance in Monaco and some freelance content marketing for yachting companies, Chrissie has also penned for industry publications like Dockwalk and Superyacht Digest. “I love having the chance to tell unique stories, like digging into the world of designing crew quarters on yachts and speaking to Espen Oeino, Zaniz and Winch Design.”
Covid when you’re already working from home
As a freelancer, Covid lockdowns fortunately haven’t affected Chrissie’s writing routine. “Since I already work from home, I’ve been able to continue to do so since the pandemic hit, even when schools were closed. I’m lucky to have the backing of a supportive employer at CEO mag,” she admits.
She wrote a piece “A postcard from the future: Living in lockdown in France” for The CEO Magazine, an insider’s view on how one of the world’s toughest confinements touched the community of Villefranche, including Foccaceria Mei, the local cold cuts and cheese shop where Alessandro (above) lives across the border in San Remo, Italy.
Chrissie had just cracked the airline magazine market when Covid brought travel to its knees. “I had four stories –Turkish Airlines, Hemispheres for United, easyJet and N by Norwegian – that I doubt will see the light of day. Yet at the same time, there was a wealth of more news features and I started writing about real estate and yachting pandemic angles for Business Insider. The work has been there, it’s just about taking a different approach.”
Chrissie can imagine much worse circumstances than her household of four (she has a 5- and 3-year-old), which has some outdoor space. “As a mom, I’m rarely out in the evening and with the French schools open and the 6 pm curfew like there is now, things don’t feel too different. I am looking forward, though, to having a meal at some of my favourite restaurants when they re-open.”
Like many other working moms, Chrissie, says her biggest accomplishment is being able to juggle young children and a career. “To have landed a dream in-house journalist role at a global publication when my first child was 12-months-old and to be able to continue to acquire career skills while having another is something I am immensely proud of.”
Beth Curtis first started visiting Villefranche as a teenager for an annual holiday and her love for the place just blossomed from there.
“In my late twenties, I had my own graphic design company so it meant I could work remotely and Villefranche was that place,” says Beth, who owns The TapHouse. She split her time between the UK and France working as a graphic designer, creative director, private event chef and music event organiser. “Unfortunately life then threw me a few curveballs, including two awful divorces, where I lost everything, and my extremely poorly 4-year-old nephew was diagnosed with AML leukemia. Thankfully, he has since recovered.”
She was finally able to put down some roots. “A few years later, the bar that was my local was up for sale. I knew people in the area and a few in London that might be interested so I spread the word. One day I received a message from an old friend in Nice who had owned and run very successful bars and we discussed what might be possible. He suggested I take it on and make it a great place for me and my customers. So The TapHouse was born and that is what I set out to do.”
She opened the doors on June 7, 2018, and the inauguration was attended by friends, locals and tourists who came from as far as Dubai to attend. The mayor of Villefranche, Christophe Trojani, also supported the opening by cutting the ribbon.
That first summer gave her time to learn the ropes as she was operating a bar business on her own. “I had many things to learn at once and spent every waking minute working and thinking about the bar. I opened from 2 pm all the way through until 2:30 am every day. When the doors were closed to customers, I was cleaning, cooking, buying food and supplies, organising the endless paperwork that comes with running a business in France and organising and marketing the music events that I’d become known for in the area.”
Beth recalls that every day brought new challenges, some disastrous, some great. “During the crucial and final 15 minutes of the World Cup football we lost the Sky signal. I had a completely full terrace and I was trying my best to restart the connection when the local police arrived and insisted on checking all my documentation. Hence my customers all moved to the next bar to see those last minutes of the match.”
Her greatest memories come from seeing people having fun, mixing together and enjoying the atmosphere and music. “People come for my playlists but for me it is the live music events that make the bar so special. We have had international artists come to perform and because the space is so small, it makes them so intimate and wonderful. The first was in 2018 with Omar MBE, the outstanding British soul singer, songwriter and musician who has duetted with the likes of Stevie Wonder.”
In 2019, she then hosted an event to support her association “Music Therapy” that raises money and awareness for children’s cancer and leukemia charities. Derrick McKenzie, Jamiroquai’s drummer for over 20 years, was the headline act and was supported by a local DJ and vocalist Terrance James “The Voice France 2020”. The 2020 season had another amazing performance from Lifford Shillingford, Britain’s Got Talent golden buzzer winner and supported by Charley B from The Voice UK.
Beth describes The TapHouse clientele as extremely varied. “We have customers ranging in age from 4 to 94, locals originally from Villefranche and the Côte d’Azur, expats living in Villefranche and the surrounding areas, males, females and many dogs have become our extended family.”
She adds she has a huge following from tourists all over the world, due to the Channel 4 UK TV series A New Life in the Sun, which featured her story over two seasons. “They originally found me because of my social media. I was invited to a Skype interview which went well and I was chosen to appear on the show.”
The series first aired in the UK and was then sold to English-speaking countries around the world and to Netflix USA. “Channel 4 told me it was successful and was in the top three prime time terrestrial TV shows in terms of viewers. This meant that I was chosen to appear on the follow up revisited series, which was filmed in 2019 and followed the complete bar renovation and the ups and downs of the season. Channel 4 has recently been in contact to schedule filming the next instalment of the story.”
One couple from Israel visited The TapHouse because they wanted to find Beth after seeing the series. “This happened with many others who have now become regular clients of The TapHouse.”
Business was just starting to gain momentum and then early 2020 Covid happened. “It was absolutely devastating and an extremely stressful time,” Beth shares. “We were closed for four months and it was announced that we were allowed to reopen early June. I was planning the reopening and sent an application for the permission of the late license to be open until 2:30 am, as I had previously been allowed to do. It was refused and I only had permission to open until 00:30, even though other bars were given extended permission. Because of this and the pandemic, my turnover was down 60%. I spent many sleepless nights and became very down because of the situation. I was literally turning away customers and telling them to go to other bars.”
Beth’s problems were about to get worse. “The whole 2020 season was a big fight to keep the business afloat. Bars and restaurants were granted free terraces that normally we pay a yearly rent for. There were regional events organised, like the Fête de terraces, to try to help and I put together events to maintain a steady flow of customers coming to the bar. For these, I sent official requests to have an extension of my terrace, these requests were granted.”
Her events had a great following so not only was she busy but it brought customers to other bars and restaurants in close vicinity. “People would praise me for bringing life into the village. But then, right at the end of the season, I was issued a letter by the police, from the mayor, stating that because I had failed to apply at the beginning of the season I no longer had the right to occupy the terrace space outside. To say I was upset and angry is an understatement. I spoke with many people to seek advice and, with help, I sent a letter to reapply and ask for permission again.”
In January 2021, the response came with a polite refusal although no reason was given. (The bar to the right was also denied but the bar to the left was not).
“It makes absolutely no sense at all,” Beth states. “I had events and group bookings lined up for this season and I have been forced to cancel everything. Including one of the Côte d’Azur business clubs who wanted to hold regular lunch events at the bar.
“I sent another letter of request to the mayor explaining how devastating this is and the impact it is having on me and my business. I’m yet to receive a response.”
The denial of a terrace means that it is impossible for Beth to open. “The reopening costs alone are more than I could make in revenue during the season.” With the current Covid restrictions, she would be allowed to welcome four customers. During the summer season, she would be allowed to open inside but for those who have visited or seen the bar on TV, it means maybe 10 customers. Plus with summer temps and Covid, she is certain people will take their drinks on a terrace somewhere.
In January of this year, Beth realised that the only way to save her mental health was to remove herself from Villefranche. “I have stayed away which means that I haven’t had to witness others opening their establishments, some even with new terraces. It has undoubtedly been the right decision because it would have destroyed my state of mind. Even seeing it happening on social media has been tough.”
Beth is at a loss as to why the municipality would want to revoke her back but reveals “people have speculated that maybe someone wants to buy my business cheaply.” Her silent partner was issued with a police summons and he was later “told to tell me to stop fighting because I can’t win.” She understands that “the mayor has the last word and has decided to make the space a public garden.”
Beth Curtis has stated a petition and is hoping that by making some noise, maybe, just maybe, the mayor will change his mind. “I need at least 1,000 signatures to even begin to be heard. I’m also asking for comments on the petition and for people to share it with as many people as they can.”
The English Osteopath was 28 when she broke her back while playing tennis, an accident that resulted in temporary paralysis in both legs for six months. It was thanks to an osteopath that she began to walk again and found herself on a life-changing road to recovery.
“Lying in bed thinking I’d never walk, work, or love again, I had to make a decision to thrive. I turned off my emotions and got on with it,” Rachael describes.
She quit her job with the Daily Mail Group, where she was the youngest commercial publisher at the time, and spent the next five years training at the British School of Osteopathy.
Speaking French since the age of 7 and having studied at the Institut de Français in Villefranche, Rachael moved to Antibes in 2001 and set up her first English Osteopath clinic at 4 rue Vauban. She has since become the only clinic in Antibes to be approved by the Norwegian Government to issue Seafarer Medical certificates required by all yacht crew.
With a large portion of clients driving from Monaco, the ever-energetic brunette opened a second clinic in 2010 at 11 bis avenue Generale de Gaulle in bordering Beausoleil. She then initiated the Frozen Shoulder and Chronic Fatigue clinics and set up an association for those with limited income to have access to free osteo healthcare for their children and babies (all her osteopaths are trained in paediatric osteopathy).
With a bilingual team of 16 between the two locations, Rachael was heavy-hearted having to shut down the two locations during the first Covid confinement that began in March. “It was tough on my business and tough on the patients having their treatment programmes disrupted. I spent a lot of time on Zoom walking patients through their pain, which worked surprisingly well, and some were even cracking their own backs! Luckily the pharmacists were open and I could arrange with our clinic doctor to get them the right medication.”
In round two of confinement in France, which started October 30, the clinics are allowed to remain open. Thy are busier now than ever and are seeing a type of pain that the therapists describe as a physical manifestation of constant low-grade stress and anxiety, the result of poor at home office work stations or the result of looking at screens more than usual, as all other healthy physical activities have been curtailed.
In Monaco, with people travelling less, patient frequency has increased while in Antibes, where the yachting industry is at a standstill, there has been a slight drop in appointments.
Still, across the board, the intuitive Rachael has noticed a change in recent weeks. “I see a rise in stress. You know, the expat community is already isolated and I think the reality has just sunk in that people can’t go home for Christmas to see their families. Our ability to cope with pain is different when we are sympathetically aroused, like we are now. This means we are gearing up to face an attacker, and Covid is one that we can’t see, so it’s fight-or-flight.”
In Antibes, where cafés and restaurants are closed, Rachael has opened the Waiting Room Café at the clinic. “People need to connect so while a patient is waiting, there’s a Nespresso machine, cookies and even beer, and a table for one – we are hoping for TripAdvisor reviews! – and if someone needs to talk, we’ll sit and have a chat and a coffee.”
In addition to running to the two English Osteopath clinics and doing call outs (even on weekends), Rachael is the lead medic for Supporting Wounded Veterans, a U.K. charity that supports 26 veterans a year through Skiing with Heroes – a “skibilitation” week – and also providing each veteran with a mentor and treatment at the only Wounded Veterans’ Pain Management Programme in Britain. “This program gives veterans confidence and a chance to start new lives,” she says, something she knows first hand.
Over the last five years, she has raised €100,000 for Supporting Wounded Veterans through a 5-day “Mountains to Monaco” bike ride and two quiz nights in Monaco, one held at Stars’n’Bars where Gilly Norton, founder of the founder charity, told me, “Some 87% of those who participate in our Pain Clinic and/or Skiing with Heroes programme return to work or training.”
Rachael says that the charity is currently fundraising “to take part in very exciting research” using psychedelic drugs, such as MDMA, as part of a therapeutic approach to treat PTSD. “If this trial continues to produce results, it will be a game-changing breakthrough in helping those suffering with this terrible mental health condition and who haven’t responded to other Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapies currently available.”
In another life, or some 20 years ago, relationship psychologist Mairead Molloy decided to put her degree in hotel management to good use and bought a small hotel in Cannes. She had “great fun” running it for seven years despite the occasional culture clashes between the Irish and the French.
“Sure, it was hard but there are cultural differences between neighbouring villages in both countries so you have a choice – get on with it or bury your head in the sand,” says Mairead, who hails from Wexford. “I did struggle at the beginning but I learned French, which definitely helps, and have gotten used to how the locals think and behave.”
Part of her language improvement came from her partner. “Marrying a French man was indeed challenging but divorcing him was even more challenging,” she remarks with a smile.
She sold the hotel and moved to the UK and picked up a Psychology BSc and then a Masters in International Law at Birkbeck, University of London. It was then that she stumbled upon Berkeley International, a specialist elite dating agency and international introduction agency offering an exclusive matchmaking service to find perfect partners and soul mates for discerning and affluent members.
“I have been the Global Director of Berkeley International for 17 years and I still actively run it day-to-day. As a global operation, we have never been so busy. Covid has really made people see what is valuable in life,” she shares.
It’s Valentine’s Day and who better to ask about love than Mairead? “There are songs and books and films about this but for me, love is finding that one person that you are totally yourself with, and you can’t imagine what your life was like before they came along.” She points out, “Relationships depend, though, on what each party brings to the table and people tend to want love all wrapped up under the umbrella of Keepers-Friends-Laughter-Fun.”
One true love is not her philosophy but Mairead, who says “it only took me 52 years to find love,” does believe that it is rare to find that someone that fits perfectly to you. “We make mistakes in our early years and so hindsight is a great friend so follow your instincts I say … you can’t go wrong.”
For Mairead, the biggest mistakes super-wealthy clients make when looking for that perfect partner are being too fussy with lengthy wish lists and not managing themselves and their expectations properly. Also, thinking sometimes they know better than the professionals.
“Dating agencies offer a sense of security as everyone you meet is vetted and we take the stress out of dating someone, clients never face online rejection,” explains Mairead, who was featured in RTÉ2’s “Irish in Wonderland” program on Monaco in 2017.
“Our membership has increased over 200% since coronavirus began and couples are getting together quicker – our success rate has gone up by nearly 80%. That’s not to say people are settling but they have become less picky realising what their real priorities are now,” she conveys.
“We even had an engagement over lockdown, a man in Brazil met one of our members in Milan and after a few zoom calls and they decided to meet up in Paris, where they are now living an planning their wedding and futured together.”
Mairead reveals that her psychology background “comes in very useful in the dating business,” but as a qualified relationship psychologist and eating disorder specialist she also concurrently runs her own consulting company, Mairead Molloy, which focuses more on specialist disciplines, from nutritional interventions for eating disorders and psychological approaches for dealing with obesity to marriage mediation and coping with being single.
“I have noticed over the years that food and weight are big factors in relationships,” she states. “How we feel about our bodies and how we look have a massive impact on our self-confidence, which has a roll-on effect as to how we manage or harm our relationships, even preventing us from having one altogether.”
Monaco and the South of France can be pretty tough for people who struggle with body image. “Most eating disorders are triggered by someone deciding to go on a diet. It becomes no sugar, no fat, or whole food groups could be eliminated. It really depends on what you believe, what piece of information you take to an extreme: I’m not going to eat any bread, or I’m not going to eat anything with salt on it, for example.”
She says irregular appearance or disappearance of food in the household can indicate an eating disorder, as can a new anxiety around particular foods. “Look for whether a person has changed their thinking around food – talking constantly about food, weight or calories if they never really talked about those subjects before. Or if a person who was once not picky becomes inflexible about the type or amount of food they eat.”
Overexercising is one sign that gets overlooked in this culture. “Rapid or extreme weight loss or gain is another sign of an eating disorder. As is when people start eating because of emotions rather than for hunger or appetite.”
She implores, “Talk to someone. Early detection, initial evaluation and effective treatment are important steps that can help an eating disorder sufferer move into recovery more quickly, preventing the disorder from progressing to a more severe or chronic state.”
The Covid pandemic has taken a toll on all of us. Mairead says last year Covid gave her time to sit back and breathe for a while. “Now it is a very frustrating time indeed but I take the good with the bad and am grateful for what I have. Business wise, building personal relationships is vital and person-to-person has become screen-to-screen taking away that personalisation of how we work.”
Mairead has not seen her family face-to-face for over a year now. “That really hurts but the pandemic has also shown me how resilient we all are.”
Her advice this Valentine’s Day? “Be kind and do something thoughtful for someone,” encourages Mairead Molloy.
More From Good News, Monaco’s Valentine’s Special Edition
Valbonne was my first home when I moved here more than 20 years ago and the English book shop continues to be a meeting place for the local community. Except it has a new name and new owner. Well, kind of.
American Kaitlin Kraemer grew up playing a variety of instruments, taking dance lessons, and trying her hand at painting courses.
“While I’ve not descended from a family of creatives per say, my parents have a great appreciation for the arts,” she says. “I suppose my folks recognized my passion for the arts at a young age and did everything they could to foster that.”
A full-time artist whose solo exhibit “Confessions Intimes” is at the Monaco Yacht Club this week, Kaitlin originally decided to major in Anthropology and minor in Studio Fine Arts. “This stemmed from this innate passion for creating, as well as my desire to understand human behaviour – why we do what we do, think how we think, love what we love – and how many of these traits and evolutions are quite similar cross-culturally,” she explains.
An opportunity to study in Aix-en-Provence came at the recommendation of her undergraduate arts professor and mentor, Walter Hatke, who believed she was an ideal candidate for this immersive painting program. “He strongly encouraged me to apply to the summer semester course at The Marchutz School of Fine Arts. The experience honed my French language skills and really legitimised my own ability to see myself as an artist,” she recounts.
That summer of 2007 she fell in love with painting, as well as with the South of France, which influenced her permanent move back to France in early 2018. “I decided to return to a part of the world that I love, to continue to do what I love – in the sunshine, with a glass of rosé. As a full-time as an artist, you have the unique ability to live and work from anywhere.”
The move, she says, definitely wasn’t a seamless or easy transition although being proficient in French helped, as does being an extrovert. “There have been many ups and downs, but that is par for the course when you’re an expat. I wouldn’t change any of it – except, perhaps, having my family closer. Being so geographically distant from them has been the only downside.”
Kaitlin has been painting regularly for 15 years now, but didn’t become a full-time artist until 2017. “The decision was one part mind-numbingly terrifying, the other part, an absolute necessity. I woke up one morning and realised how stuck and unhappy I felt in my seemingly ‘perfect’ life – I had a good job, a husband, lived in a nice apartment, but was fundamentally unhappy and unsatisfied. So I did something about it.”
Within six months, she changed everything about her life: she gave notice at work, filed for divorce, left London where she had been living for four years and moved back into her parents’ house in the US, and enrolled on a year-long rigorous graduate arts program at Tufts University.
“I look back at that time now and it both shocks and thrills me. I kind of can’t believe I had the courage to do it, but am incredibly grateful that I followed my instinct and made it happen. It’s not been an easy journey, but the fact that I’ve done it – that I wake up every morning passionate about and proud of what I do – is definitely my greatest achievement to date,” she admits.
Kaitlin, who has had shown her work in Boston, London and on the Riviera, was given the opportunity to exhibit in the IQOS Showroom at the Yacht Club through the Monaco-based consulting agency, Highlights. “I was put in contact with them through a mutual friend, and worked with their team over many months and pandemic-related setbacks to organise this exhibit.”
In normal times, Kaitlin would have held a vernissage but obviously this was not possible under the Covid guidelines. However, she emphasises that everyone is welcome to visit her exhibit this week (up to four people at a time, with a terrace to accommodate those waiting) at IQOS, just steps from the Wine Palace. “There are only four days left so please pop by this week to have a look, up close and in person,” she encourages.
Kaitlin wants to inspire others with her art and her story – to show people that almost anything is possible if you want it badly enough – and “that through chaos, there is beauty.” But finding beauty in the last twelve months of Covid have been incredibly difficult for her.
“I am an eternal optimist, and have tried to keep as busy and productive as possible, but I’ve found it more challenging than ever this past year. My younger sister, whom I was very close with, passed away in a tragic accident in July. I still find it incredibly hard to talk about.
“My family and I have experienced a loss that no family should ever experience, during a time when gathering and consoling one another has been nearly impossible. It has been horrific and heart-breaking, to say the very least.
“I’m still not a point where I can share these emotions in my art but I carry my sister in my head and heart each and every day, now more so than ever, and am trying to live my life stronger and bolder and better, for both of us.”
Visit Kaitlin Kraemer’s “Confessions Intimes” exhibition at the Monaco Yacht Club’s IQOS showroom until February 6, from 10 am to 7 pm.
Natalia Langsdale’s connection to Monaco goes way back – be it with yacht brokerages Fraser Yachts and Camper & Nicholsons or private jet resellers Hawker Beechcraft and Boutsen Aviation.
“My professional career spanning the likes of London, Dublin, Auckland and Monaco has always been affiliated with event planning in one capacity or another, working in and for companies targeting a UHNWI clientele,” says Natalia. “It must be in my nature – being a Capricorn – and upbringing to be organised, disciplined and a people’s person.”
Born in England, to a British father and Polish mother who met in Sweden, Natalia grew up in Sweden until the age of ten and then for health reasons related to her mother, moved to the South of France, which she called home for 28 good years, in and out of studying and working abroad too.
In 2015 she launched Bright Creativity, a marketing, PR and events agency in France. “I have been fortunate with my upbringing and family to be fluent in six languages. Having learned French at a young age even before coming to France any bumps in the road that people encounter with not speaking the language were eradicated.”
The Villefranche-sur-Mer resident advises, “Regardless of language though, the bureaucracy of setting up a business is the most difficult if you do not have the right advisor. Your number one priority is having an excellent accountant and in the South, it is extremely hard to find a good one who speaks English and can help you. For most it is understanding under which form to open your company under, for example, if it should be auto entrepreneur, EURL, SARL, or another entity.”
Through a friend, Natalia was encouraged to try her hand at high-end wedding planning. She had organised her own nuptials – a civil ceremony and a church wedding in two different countries – and “was looking for more of a human contact, and loving all that surrounds weddings, bringing the best vendors, allowing my creativity and fine eye for detail together.”
Under the umbrella of Bright Creativity, she added My Riviera Weddings catering to an international clientele to deliver a stress-free and impeccable service. “The website is a testament to who I am reaching out to and what makes me different, existing in the languages I speak and additionally to include Japanese and Chinese.” The business took off through word of mouth.
“Most couples forget that their wedding is THEIR day to be enjoyed and so My Riviera Weddings puts couples at the forefront,” explains Natalia. “The concept itself was born out of years of event organising in the luxury industry, where bespoke events such as ‘Dinners in the Sky’ 50 metres above ground level overlooking the port of Monaco or golf with biodegradable golf balls and floating targets at sea with the backdrop of the Principality while on a 70-metre superyacht are just some of the specialities that I have proven to my discerning clientele.”
Then along came Covid. Immediately Natalia’s phone started ringing with cancelations and postponements, with the next wedding not even taking place until … 2022. “The pandemic has an immediate impact on My Riviera Weddings and other conferences and events that I had in my books for 2020 and 2021 as my clientele is all international, either coming from abroad, or residing in Monaco and the French Riviera, with the intentions of having friends and family from abroad come to the wedding here.
“Many of my favourite vendors I had lined up, began showing signs of closing their businesses or moving away from the coast to start a new life and forced to pivot. Some of the top-end hotel choices closed for the year and unable to plan so far ahead could not commit to the new dates. It has caused a lot of extra work on top of what currently was a lot of work shall we say, with the reduction of the size of weddings allowed down to only 6 from big events of 100-plus sized groups.”
Natalia, who has a M.A. Hons with distinction in European Union Studies with German and Scandinavian Studies from Edinburgh University, shares that intimate elopements are now more on the cards in the safe havens of renting a private villa and enquiries from small, private affairs “trickling in if at all that.”
She has been approached to speak this week on TF1 on behalf of UPSE – L’Union des Professionnels Solidaires de l’Evénementiel – which represents the events and wedding industry to share her personal account on how the pandemic has affected the industry.
Like so many others in lockdown last year, Natalia found herself from one day to the next wondering how to keep herself going. “The first confinement made me understand what I truly believed in, who my trusted entourage were and that I was ready to turn a page to follow values I believed in. Coupling my love for the finer things in life with my ingenuity, I was able to see promise during the pandemic and not give in or up to the hardship that was threatening.”
Scraps of cord lying around the house with washed up driftwood from the beach made her realise she could create sustainable beauty for the home and soul while the world was trying to come to grips with a new reality.
“I need nature around me to thrive and remain charged creatively and I found raw beauty in simplicity and wanted to share my values and express my personality by creating something handmade, durable and above all sustainable. A circular brand was thus born – Made with Love by Natalia – a nod to circularity and putting the planet first, one knot at a time.”
Natalia says a positive thing to come out of the Covid crisis is her Collection and the community of like-minded people and supporters that she has built up. In addition to selling her crafts online, she also passes on her knowledge by connecting and sharing with people around the world though online Zoom masterclasses. ”It’s my way of saying my thanks to those who have followed me since the outset, who wish to learn a new craft and gain the same confidence to trust what they’re good at and just go for it! A kind of booster to the morale while actually learning.”
In just one year, the Made with Love by Natalia Collection with its photo shoots and media coverage has allowed Natalia “to be the person I truly am. I have empowered women with my eclectic designs, captivating people, who appreciate quality yet want to look their best or feature handmade in their homes, to stand out, be bold in a new sustainably-minded society.
“It allowed me to combine all my skillsets and produce something that today proudly sits in homes, on yachts and are worn matching the positive ethos that makes me, me,” Natalia Langsdale beams.
Madeleine Karlsson and I met in October 2016 on the Run For Laura, in memory of the 13-year-old Bastille Day victim and daughter of SBM employee Jacques Borla. We instantly hit it off, especially as we share a passion for Sweden (she is part-Swedish and I write for ÖTILLÖ Swimrun). Gorgeous on the inside and out, she is the real deal.
At the time, Maddy had been living in Monaco for about seven years and teaching Pilates privately. “I had been doing this for years and was often asked to provide clients with workout videos for when they were travelling or when I wasn’t around,” she says.
She also started training as a Nutrition & Health Coach online, working with people from all around the globe, who were also asking for workouts. “My clients in Monaco started asking for recipes and my clients online asked for workouts so the idea came to put it all in one program online,” she explains. She started Fit Body Fresh Mind at the beginning of 2019.
Maddy confesses: “I’d always loved the idea of having an online business but it wasn’t something I ever thought I could do since the tech part really scared me. The early days definitely involved a steep learning curve and a lot of cursing at my computer but somehow I ended up with an online program that is now followed by several hundred people from over all corners of the Earth.”
In 2019, she partnered with Monaco resident and fellow Swede Janni Deler Olsson (wife of influencer Jon) and they added a pregnancy program for women expecting. Maddy also added group coaching programs and a mini-program in French, as well as (pre-Covid) Pilates, Yoga and Surf retreats.
In October 2019, she packed up a decade of her life in Monaco and moved to Costa Rica. “It had been my dream to live here since I first set foot in the country in 2008 but somehow the time didn’t feel right until now. I think having an online business definitely helped in taking the leap.”
Life in Costa Rica couldn’t be more different than life in Monaco. “I live in a jungle town on the Pacific Coast, around a five-hour drive from the capital. The roads here are pretty crazy, although they did get paved recently, and I replaced my Mini with a 4WD that I only just manage to squeeze my surfboard into. I haven’t seen or heard a sports car since I left Monaco and I can’t say I miss it.”
A fixture in Monaco’s social scene, Maddy says, “I don’t remember the last time I wore makeup or heals or that I dressed up for that matter. There is no real occasion here so I spend most of my life in swimwear, Yoga wear and flip flops.”
With the rain, she sometimes wears rubber boots (especially with Hurricane Eta) and she recently bought a horse. “So yeah, life is pretty different and I can’t really think of anything that is the same as my life in Monaco, but I am loving every minute of it. I really needed the change.”
She admits Covid was challenging and the drastic lockdowns prevented her from going to the beach, the main attraction where she lives. “I did miss Monaco at times, especially during the first confinement when I watched on Facebook my old neighbourhood being entertained by Martine Ackermann and Didier Casnati of the Gypsy Queens on their balconies. It would have been a lonely time regardless of where I was living so I am grateful I decided to stay here even though it means I am far from my family in Belgium and friends in Monaco.”
As we kick off the New Year, Maddy encourages women to forget the pressure of resolutions but rather aim to make 2021 a healthy one mentally and physically, despite Covid and all its excuses. “The biggest hurdle a woman needs to overcome in her body and mind is to stop being so critical of herself. This will only backfire when you try to get in shape and feel you are not living up to perfection, which leads to ongoing cycles of being ‘really good’ followed by periods of being ‘really bad.’ This produces feelings of guilt, which serves no purpose other than keeping you stuck in that vicious cycle.”
A large part of her work is about teaching women to be less critical and kinder to themselves by working with their bodies, not against them. “Not only does it make us feel better mentally but our bodies thank us for it by responding really well physically, too,” Madeleine Karlsson reassures.
“How truly awful, says Maureen Emerson. “Warships in the Channel to protect us from the French. Britain has been part of Europe for 47 years. This has brought a much treasured peace plus tariff-free trade. Many people who voted to leave do not understand the impact that the loss of the latter will have on our small country. The fact that we now seem to be squaring up to Europe distresses those of us who feel both British and European and are now preparing to mourn the coming rift, which will surely affect us in Britain both economically and even socially.”
For well over a decade the Valbonne resident has been captivating our minds with biographies about expats on the Riviera in the 20s and 30s and how the Second World War impacted their lives. The author of Riviera Dreaming– Love and War on the Côte d’Azur and Escape to Provence, as well as several published articles, including Before Chanel – The Story of La Pausa and The Affair of the Hotel Martinez, Cannes, shares her own story and what led to her fascination with the history of life on the Riviera.
Maureen’s parents grew up in Dublin (her mother was a model along with Maureen Fitzsimmons, later Maureen O’Hara) and they ran away to get married. “I was born in a cottage in a Somerset village at the outbreak of war. I was never allowed to see their marriage certificate! In 1940 my father joined the RAF and my mother and I returned to Dublin where I spent an idyllic six years where I was even allowed to walk alone to my infant school at the age of five.”
When the war ended, in 1946, the three left for a new life in England and a war torn London. “It was a land of fog, desperately sad blitzed buildings, rationing and shared apartments. I thought the world had come to an end. But the world was West London, and again I was allowed much freedom and grew to love the streets with their varied and fascinating people – and I still do. For, if there is tension in the home, outside the front door in a big town all life is there and anything is possible.”
Young Maureen was sent to a very traditional convent school in Hammersmith where she made many friends and did zero work, leaving at 16 with, “if I remember, two ‘0’ levels. I couldn’t take academic work seriously and tended to challenge rather than learn.” Secretarial college in Regent Street followed, and a job in the post room of J. Arthur Rank Productions, which brought pocket money for coffee in the new and thrilling coffee bars with their handsome exotic waiters.
“If I wanted clothes I had to make them – apart from the vital layers of net petticoats. It was all wonderful, but it wasn’t enough. After college I took temporary jobs with an agency, being fired by the AA and RAC in quick succession, as I was unable to get my shorthand back accurately.”
Her funds, however, bought her a ticket to a very post-war Paris where a friend was working in a parfumerie in the Rue Scribe. “How elegant were the elderly hard-faced manageresses in their perfectly cared-for black suits. Anne lived in the centre of the city in what had been a maid’s room under a mansard roof, with a shared basin and loo in the corridor. Oh, the thrill of it all.”
Back in London, Maureen’s shorthand improved and she returned to temporary work, before having an amazing stroke of luck. She was introduced to a female paediatrician who, although single, had adopted three children and needed an au pair. The extended family spent part of the year in Paris in the rue de Varenne and Sucy en Brie and an ancient farmhouse in Normandy. The parents were rich, artistic haute bourgeoisie, who had known Proust and been friends with the artist Berthe Morisot.
“The practice of chamber music filled the old rooms Normandy and learned international people came and went. The kind of people I had never before encountered. What an introduction to France and, for this, I have never ceased to be grateful,” she recalls.
Marriage and life abroad
Maureen had already met her husband, Philip, at an Imperial College dance – dances or hops were generally how couples met in those days. He was studying geology and was sent to the Algerian Sahara while she remained in England “quickly becoming bored” and insisting she would visit him in Algiers. Maureen shares, “This was not encouraged, as the country was in the throes of a civil war. But the train from Victoria to Dover didn’t leave without me and I found myself at the Gare du Nord boarding another for Marseille. When we are young we have virtually no fear. It was the most sombre of journeys, being basically a troop train packed with enlisted young soldiers who did not want to be there. The death toll among French soldiers was extremely high in Algeria and their fear and unhappiness was palpable. It was the most silent train I have ever been on.”
In Algiers she found a job with the US Information Service for six months. “I rather pleaded with them to take me and how I loved working with those clever State Department people with their dry wit and love of an international life.”
The couple returned, in 1961, to a registry office wedding in Windsor, and a honeymoon at the Lygon Arms in the Cotswolds, followed by a journey in an Air France Caravelle back to an Algeria on the verge of a troubled independence. “My daughter was born a year later in the famous Clinique Laverne, now a deserted, echoing building in downtown Algiers, where I was attended by one of the very few remaining French doctors.”
Then it was on to lovely Tunisia with its kindly people, empty golden beaches, sparkling pure sea and blue and white villages. Here Maureen and her husband watched a Principal Dancer of the Béjart Ballet perform the Firebird Solo on the top of the remains of a floodlit Roman column in Carthage. “Unforgettable. We love North Africa, Algeria is beautiful too and we feel for all of it.”
The following years brought two boys born in Crawley, Sussex, then it was Beirut for two years (“Lebanon also has a special place in our hearts and we think of its people and hope for peace there”), Dallas for another two years and then a posting to Singapore. As Maureen recounts, “In those halcyon days one was allowed to take every stick of furniture, down to the last teaspoon. The packing team came in, packed and sent it all off to the next posting. After a couple of months another team came and undid it all again. For the children it was always an extra Christmas. Now, though never a good coffee party wife, I also became an international house frau, in a bubble bringing up three much-travelled children and becoming slightly brain dead.”
Posted in Provence
Philip, having by then “converted from digging power wagons out of the sand to management,” was asked how they would feel about being posted to Provence. “What could we say? Philip had been born in Bordeaux, having been evacuated on one of the last British ships leaving in 1940. We tumbled over each other to say ‘yes.’”
Near the village of Valbonne, they found a small converted farmhouse set in ancient, open terraces, where, in spite of “three, very neat, burglaries” she never felt unsafe.
This was 1977, as Maureen describes, when the two great plane trees were still in front of the Café de la Place in the village. “These had seats around them and in the afternoons the elderly ladies in their long black dresses and cone-shaped straw hats, would sit and murmur to each other in Provençal. How lucky we were to have known this, for we just caught the flick of its skirts as pre-war Valbonne disappeared around the corner. My brain, formally mired in domesticity, began to show signs of life. It was the hills that entranced me, they were then quieter and gentler.”
During this time, along with many friends, Maureen worked as a local representative in the television festivals held in Monaco and Cannes. For CBS, she “had the great fun” of organising large receptions at the Musée Massena in Nice and the Château de la Napoule. Then on to NBC, which had a more serious, less flamboyant, profile.
Moving back and forth between England and France, she had always done voluntary work with the donated books at the old Sunny Bank Hospital in Cannes. “And what stories that little hospital was able to tell,” she reveals. “In the early years, as the great villas changed hands, many of the books were a bookseller’s dream. Often very old and very learned. Among them was one by an author I had never heard of, and that book changed my life. Who was Winifred Fortescue and what was this book Perfume from Provence? Did she really write five other books on Provence? I must find them, I must find the two houses she lived in, her friends and what happened to her during the war.”
Just who was Winifred Fortescue?
It would take pages to describe the journey from the dusty book room at Sunny Bank to the end of the research eight years later, which enabled her to write the biography of Winifred, her friends and adventures, about her Perfume From Provence house in Magagnosc and her second and last house on the Colline des Anglais in the village of Opio. “I discovered this was the next village to ours, which she had moved to as a widow and where she lived a bucolic existence until the war turned all their lives upside down.”
Maureen adds, “Many biographers say, whether they are spiritual or not, and I am not, that your subject often guides you. Winifred certainly kept an eye on me. But I must tell the truth, that was the condition. During those years the research on the book became a spider’s web of information. Sunset House, set in Opio, said much about an American called ‘Elisabeth,’ no surname. She too, had to be discovered. During those years of research I found that, metaphorically, every relevant door in France, America and England was flung open and my questions and enquiries always eagerly responded to. The generosity was extraordinary. Letters, even original documents from Elisabeth’s family, were sent across the Atlantic from New Jersey. I did send them back.
“The 7th Marquess of Anglesey at Plas Newydd in Wales repeatedly allowed me free range of the exceptional family archives kept two stories deep under the house. Here I found letters, both sad and amusing, full of history, from everyone on the hill in Opio, which had been sent to each other over the years and were now gathered there. I found Fay, ‘the daughter Winifred never had’ living in Petworth, which is not far from us in Sussex. We became great friends and she gave me copyright permission to use Winifred’s writings.”
Sitting under an apple tree in Amberley village in Sussex Maureen read letters from the Front from Elisabeth’s cousin Dillwyn Starr, written during the Great War. Dillwyn was an American who had joined the Coldstream Guards. The letters were written before he died leading his men “over the top.” She met Claude Marcus in Paris, a French gentleman who had escaped from Opio when the Gestapo’s black Mercedes roared up the hill to arrest a Jewish family who had sought sanctuary there. “Claude allowed me to devote an entire chapter to his account of those terrifying years. There were many martyrs in Provence during the war and I visited a boarding school in Ascot in Surrey where one had once been a happy young girl.”
Researching Elisabeth’s years as an ambulance driver in the Great War took Maureen to the Franco-American Museum at Blérancourt in the Aisne, in Paris to the Hôpital Militaire at Val de Grace, the Bibliothèque National and the Archives Diplomatiques on the Quai d’Orsay. The Musée de la Résistance in Nice was the hardest of all to access. The Archives Municipales at Nice and the Archives de Cannes followed. These visits were interspersed with numerous trips to the British Library in London to search their wonderful French collection, which included many books on the Resistance.
She discovered coincidences, too. “In Perfume from Provence, Winifred wrote of the two Italian cypress trees that flanked the entrance to La Domain, her first house in Provence. These were often planted at the entrances to farmhouses and named Peace and Prosperity. According to Winifred, Peace was usually on the left and never as strong and healthy as ‘there was never peace in the world.’”
One day, house hunting in England, she and her husband drove up to a house in a small street in a Sussex village and there, either side of the gate, were two tall Italian cypresses, Peace and Prosperity. “We had to have the house – and liked it anyway. We have lived here for 20 years and three years ago “Peace” slowly died and had to be removed. So now there is only one.
Maureen had discovered Winifred lived in Opio, the next village to us in Valbonne. When she fled France, in her book Trampled Lilies she described escaping to a woodsman’s cottage in Sussex where she would spend the war giving talks on the plight of France in order to raise money for the Free French. “Sussex is large and she named no villages but only her journey from the local station to the estate where the cottage was situated. I recognised her landmarks and found her cottage in the woods, deserted and just as it had been left. I was able to explore it and see some of the small amendments she had described, before it was finally pulled down. The cottage was, once again, in the next village to ours, but this time in England.
“I have touched on just a fragment of Winifred’s beautifully written and evocative books. The pleasure of working with this departed lady has been a privilege. Her first house, La Domaine, is now owned by Valerie and Pierre who have kept Winifred’s garden design but improved and embellished it so that it is now a garden paradise and has been included as a ‘Jardin de France.’”
Barry Dierks and the rich expatriate community
So that was all about her love affair with the hills of Provence. But what now? “I felt a little adrift. I asked the advice of the biographer Hugo Vickers, who knows the history of, and often met, many of the most interesting personalities in Europe and America, and with the kindness he has shown to so many other authors, suggested someone I had never heard of – an American architect named Barry Dierks.” Hugo told Maureen that Barry had built and/or designed many houses for rich expatriates during the 1920s and 1930s and that he himself had stayed in three of them. “This would be a story of a sophisticated and elegant world, so near and yet so far from Opio. A world from which Winifred and Elisabeth fled at every opportunity until the time they would join the many charity committees at the threat of a Second World War.”
She began with the local archives on the Riviera once again, feeling “rather like a guest” in these new surroundings. Research brought her to discover the first of Barry’s houses, high on a cliff face at Miramar, near Theoule. “It seemed to be closed up so I trawled the surrounding area asking if anyone knew who owned it. This produced two gentlemen who owned a nearby hotel and had known both Barry and his partner Eric. Here was a well of information scarcely hoped for.”
Maureen was then able to contact someone who became my knight in shining armour, the great nephew of Barry’s partner, Eric Sawyer and the godson of both men. Andrew not only gave her, over the next five years, every scrap of information he possessed but also pleasant meals at the Garrick Club and a very clever deal with Taurus/Bloomsbury which enabled the book to be published as a hardback.
Barry and Eric, who was English, had met in Paris in 1921 at the beginning of les anées folles. Barry, from Philadelphia, was studying architecture at the Beaux Arts School and Eric was working In a Paris bank. They would remain partners for life. Their club was the Ritz Bar, a sophisticated American enclave during those years. Eric had been a young officer during the Great War. He was an engineer, which would become vital for the career they would decide on. Helped financially by Eric’s mother, they travelled to the Riviera to form an architectural practice. Now the Carlton Hotel would become both their club and post box and Cannes, to the east, their hometown.
“They were humorous and urbane, ‘those two charmers.’ Accompanied by the frisson, which went with their relationship, they were immensely sociable and accepted virtually everywhere by the international set, if not by the French bourgeoisie. They were also extremely hard working. Le Trident, the iconic house they would build into the cliffs at Miramar, near Theoule, would be a template for their work and their home for life. Here handsome young men, shielded from view, would sunbathe naked on the tiny beach far below. They could not know it, but this happy place would also become the setting for future, very different, events.”
The story of the couple’s work, their clients, friends and adventures, meant that this book would need to be a series of chapters, each telling the story of the person who commissioned the house and the house itself. “A fascinating project. Barry’s clients were drawn almost exclusively from the rich expatriate community, those who had either moved there permanently or wished to have an exotic holiday home to travel to from their own countries,” Maureen says.
Among these were the writer Somerset Maugham, the American actress Maxine Elliott, Lord Cholmondeley from Houghton Hall in Norfolk, the film producer Jack Warner, Paul Louis Weiller, an aviator and one of the founders of Air France, Eric Dunstan with a fascinating background who, through a tragedy, came to wealth late in life, and Beatrice Cartwright of Standard Oil, the mother of Dallas Pratt the founder of the American Museum of Britain. “There were many others, for Barry and Eric would build or remodel around 70 houses on or around the coast. Strangely, they never appeared to work in Nice.”
The architectural practice weathered the Depression – there are always the rich – but the Second World War changed everything. As almost all the expatriates fled, Barry and Eric stayed on. Barry working with the American Red Cross until he was arrested by the Germans who had now occupied the south and sent, on a crowded train, with around 127 other Americans and their dependents to a comfortable, but guarded, hotel at Baden Baden. Eric joined the Resistance, an experience both exciting and frustrating, before escaping to England over the Pyrenees.
“Research for this book was involved more with people than archives. But I did turn up again at the Musée de la Resistance in Nice, where I was no more welcome than before. Again I made many visits to the Archives Municipales and those in Cannes and, back in England, once more to the British Library for their books on the French Resistance. As for people – I chased them everywhere. The affair of the Martinez Hôtel for example, brought me to the family, which had been tricked out of its possession in 1945. Again there was an abundance of help and generosity.
“Riviera Dreaming – Love and War on the Côte d’Azur is now out in the world, and I must pay tribute to Peter, my wonderful and creative web master of 10 years, whose expertise has enabled the books, pictures and Riviera Stories to be found at the touch of a button.
“But the history of life on the Riviera with its glamour, intrigue and often drama will not leave me alone. The area has changed fundamentally since the Second World War but the stories of it all are as fascinating as any prize-winning novel – more so as they really happened. And I really should keep telling them,” says Maureen Emerson.
Lesley Blanche, the girl from Chiswick in London, who became an Arabist, an adventurer, enamoured with Russia, and best selling author. She ended her long life in a small villa at Garavan in the hills above Menton.