I’ve by no means finished with my posts on Australia but I thought you might appreciate a bit of a change. So I’m heading much closer to home for this post.
It’s right on our doorstep but we’ve not visited Cagnes’ medieval old town, Le Haut-de-Cagnes, for several years. We’d previously dined its main hotel and restaurant Le Cagnard on a number of occasions, sitting out on its restaurant terrace with a painted retractable wooden roof and admiring the splendid views back down to the coast.
The name Cagnes is of Ligurian origin and means inhabited place on a rounded hill. Haut de Cagnes is a rocky outcrop, 91m above sea level, which offered our ancestors a lookout, somewhere easy to defend, near to good agricultural land and water. First occupied by the Celto-Liguries and then by the Gallo-Romans, in 1388 the river Var became the natural border between Provence and Nice, of which the latter was under the control of the Counts of Savoy.
Cagnes, which had about 1,200 to 1,500 inhabitants, became a border town on the Var river. When Provence became part of France in 1483, Cagnes was on the only road leading to France from the Savoy States. From the 16th century, this border zone featured in the cycle of great European wars and was often looted and sacked.
Cagnes enjoyed a glorious period in the reign of Louis XIII, when its castle was transformed by Jean-Henri Grimaldi in 1620 into a sumptuous seigneuriale residence and one of the busiest of the region, whose descendants today reign over the Principality of Monaco. Consequently, there’s a special link between the “Rock” and the town of Cagnes. HRH Prince Albert II of Monaco regularly honours Cagnes-sur-Mer with his presence at major events.
Sadly, the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV saw even more wars and more multiple invasions in the area – and I don’t mean tourists! At the time of the French Revolution, in 1790, Cagnes still had only 1,388 inhabitants, mostly peasants who cultivated olives, hemp, citrus fruits and vegetables.
Thanks to an influx of artists, at the beginning of 20th century, Cagnes was known as “The Montmartre of the Côte d’Azur”! By that time, Cagnes had grown to around 3,000 inhabitants and, following in Renoir’s footsteps, many other painters and entertainers fell in love with the Mediterranean light and settled in this picturesque village which offers great views and a magnificent panorama of both the sea and the surrounding hills.
Today only around 650 live in this ancient hilltop town which was classified a historical site in 1948 and provides a delightful setting for several museums and and a church (St Pierre) with a beautiful Baroque ceiling. In 1960, the famous cabaret singer, Suzy Solidor (1900-1985) set up her cabaret-restaurant and café (now an antique shop), in one of the houses at the corner of the chateau square. The cabaret is now L’Espace Solidor which houses contemporary jewellery exhibitions. As a consequence, Cagnes sur Mer was awarded the label of “Villes et Metiers d’Art” (town of arts and crafts).