Nicole was talking in French class today, about how the French are not impressed by those who earn large sums of money, especially if they are entrepreneurial. There is a suspicion here, of a capitalist economy, or perhaps self-made wealth is just not in the spirit of égalité.
Which reminded me of the fascinating story of Lacoste, a mediebal village in Provence. Picture this: a pretty but faded perched village in the now-trendy Luberon, parts of it nearly in ruins and mostly untouched since the 1930’s, with no sewage system to speak of, and certainly no job opportunities. With a bit of a dark history: The Marquis de Sade built his castle here.
Then in 2000, to the rescue comes that famous French entrepreneur and design icon, Pierre Cardin. He buys and restores the castle, he starts a music festival, he slowly buys up houses in the village as they come on the market, until he owns over 40 of them. He invests 30 million in the town; he creates 80 or so jobs in this community of 450. The Savannah College of Arts and Design open a campus in the town. The French should be happy, non?
Non. We are talking, you will recall, about the quirky, passionate French, unmoved by this splashy outlay of cash. The fussing began: there are too many young people in the village now; too much change and upheaval; Monsieur is a wealthy snob; it has brought in all those foreigners; real estate prices have gone up; etc. etc.
But it’s true that where there is gentrification, there is usually a downside. So I decided to have a look at this town myself, predicting that it would have gotten the Disney treatment. Over-polished, with all traces of Reality scrubbed off.
This is a design master we’re talking about though, and the evidence of that good taste was everywhere. The old patina remained intact, and the town was charming and peaceful. Here and there he had placed some very contemporary and tasteful statuary, which added intrigue. It was a beautiful day in June, and we expected it to be overrun, but there was barely a tourist in sight; we hiked up the narrow medieval streets to the castle, accompanied by a couple of cats and a stray tourist or two. I never saw the old Lacoste, but the new one is certainly lovely.
Monsieur Cardin says he did it all for his love of the village, not for himself. After all, he is 92 years old, and Lacoste, for better or worse, will be part of his legacy.
Headed for the Luberon? For a good home base at a reasonable price for exploring Lacoste and nearby Bonnieux and Ménerbes, see this post. Or If you too have made your millions, go upscale and stay at the Domaine de Capelongue, A Relais and Châteaux property with a 2-star restaurant; or Bastide de Marie in Ménerbes, complete with spa.
In the COMMENTS: Jeff, of Americans in France, shares a little Beaune history. Diane will be in Beanue next month (see her beautiful paintings of France at her website). Frank, you're right about the wine in Beaune! Cynthia of The Daily Basics if packing her bags too, if only in her dreams. Julie, yikes, hope your summer improves!
Favorite Reads: My friend Bennett, the lucky devil, just spent a day in Provence with Patricia Wells an her husband Walter. She of course is the author of The Food Lover's Guide to Paris: The Best Restaurants, Bistros, Cafés, Markets, Bakeries, and More , and several excellent cookbooks. She runs a beautiful cooking school in the Vaucluse. I also learned from Bennett that she has an app, which I immediately bought. It not only has great Paris restaurant recommendations, but it has THE most thorough FOOD GLOSSARY you will find anywhere, indispensable for puzzling out a French restaurant menu. A bargain at $4.99!
PHOTO LEFT: My friend Sandi adds yet another dash of style to the village of Lacoste.