They say that luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
We’re feeling pretty lucky these days. My sister-in-law Britt calls it our “pinch me” year.
Our most recent “pinch me” moment was two days ago. We woke up to the golden light of the South of France in a beautiful villa in the hills above Saint-Tropez. Like a Cezanne painting, it overlooked fields and vines, and stands of les pins de parasol, a local pine tree that looks like an umbrella.
How we got here is a typically French story.
I was visiting my friend Alexandra’s pop-up shop in the Marais, where she was doing a fundraising workshop for children with her travel-themed fashion brand Kilometre. While Emmanuelle and Charlotte sketched their designs, we got to talking about our next vacations—a national pastime in France. I mentioned we were dying to get back to the South of France, where both Murray and I have lots of special memories. “Why don’t you come down at Easter?” said Alexandra casually. “My boyfriend has a place and there’s lots of room.” Never mind that I had only met “B” (what she calls her boyfriend) only once as he was rushing off to work. And at this point, Alexandra had never even met Murray. “I hope you’re serious,” I said, “because we will come.”
Murray was back in Canada shooting a commercial that week, but I knew I could speak for him too. When he checked in from the -40 degree February situation in Toronto, he was thrilled at the news.
On Easter Monday we hopped on an Air France shuttle to Nice and two hours later were hurtling down the Promenade des Anglais in our Fiat 500 toward Villefranche Sur Mer. It was a pilgrimage of sorts, since we’d been there together almost 25 years ago, and Murray had done a year at the Université Canadien en France, up at the top of the Grand Corniche, where Grace Kelly had met her fate.
After a few hours at the busy local beach and a glass of rosé (yes, it was 25 degrees in April) we headed back towards Saint-Tropèz with a very long text of driving instructions from Alexandra.
The villa was located in Plan-de-la-Tour, a tiny commune in the hills of the Côte D’Azure. If the name sounds familiar, it might be because Johnny Depp famously bought a tiny hamlet located here, just behind the villa where we stayed. If you have 60 Million Euros weighing you down right now, it could be yours, as he has just re-listed it.
One by one we met the family as they emerged from different rooms of the villa: patriarch B, his daughter and her boyfriend, another daughter and her husband and newborn baby, and a younger son in university. We dropped our bags and headed straight to the pool. “Are we speaking English or French?” asked B. “French” Murray and I replied in unison, while Charlotte wrinkled her nose.
“We’ll have dinner not too late,” said B. “Maybe 9:30?”
Just after 10:30, we sat down at the table, another guest having arrived late by train. B had dug deep in the cellar for some special bottles and Alexandra had prepared a delicious piece of cod and round courgettes stuffed with ricotta. We automatically felt part of the family and did our best to keep up with the fast-paced French banter. Later, there was salad, a cheese course, and finally strawberries. We repaired to the living room for Limoncello, and even Murray, ever the bon-vivant, admitted he was so mentally exhausted he could not put another sentence together. In English or in French.
The next morning’s adventure was planned for 10 am. Did we walk into the kitchen and say “Bonjour”? Or “CouCou!” which is the greeting for close friends? We opted for “CouCou!” and were cheerfully reciprocated. We jumped into the Fiat, direction St. Tropez market. Murray would be the chef today.
Later that afternoon the whole group rendez-vous’ed for lunch at the famous beach club Plage des Jumeaux where B’s daughter had been married a few years earlier. Everyone ordered the same thing: steak tartare done “allez-retour” which means “there and back.” It is quickly grilled on each side to create a crispy crust leaving the middle raw and is to be highly recommended. It came with French fries.
We agreed dinner would be mostly vegetables.
We then walked along the beach to the amazing beachfront shop at Club 55 (the original canteen for Brigitte Bardot’s vehicle When God Created Woman) before driving home through the hills.
Later that night, we reassembled for Murray’s dinner, a trip across the Med with fare from the market and Alexandra’s well-stocked kitchen: fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with buffalo mozzarella, a raw salad of white asparagus, fennel, peas and radish, grilled baby artichokes, pasta and tuna. There was a lots of “C’est dingue!” from B (which means “it’s crazy,” but in a good way) and “Ooh la la la la la la,” (yes, six la’s) from the youngest son, Gaspar.
The next morning everyone went their own way - to Paris, Monaco, or wherever busy lives took them. Murray, Charlotte and I, “the vacationers,” as they called us, headed back to the beach for a picnic, this time to Les Salins, a secret beach with an amazing casual restaurant whose patio on the sand literally disappears into the tide in the afternoon. On the way, we stopped for a rosé tasting at the famous Bertaud Belieu winery where Leo DeCaprio has his annual fundraiser in July that brings in 600 Million euros. “They come to save the planet,” grumbled our pourer. “On their private jets!”
We did the 3.5 hour coastal route back to Nice, encountering traffic jams and a massive thunderstorm along the way and were sure we would miss our 8 p.m. flight. As we panted up to the gate we learned it was delayed due to the weather. We sat down in the café, ordered a rosé, and recalled just how lucky we were.