Friday 7 January 2011

Red rocks at Cassis

Anyone for an infusion of sunshine while all is rain and gloom? Here is Cassis on a summer’s evening: pastel stucco buildings along the waterfront; boats lined up in the marina. Dominating the eastern side of the bay, a medieval chateau-fort sprawls across the towering rock of Cap Canaille, which surrounds the town like a huge protective arm. As the sun sets over the sweetly curving harbor, the castle catches flame from the west, and burns blood-gold for up to an hour each evening.
This classic old fishing village on the Provençal coast has a rather different feel from the internationally fashionable resorts like St Tropez further to the east. It’s much more relaxed and less crowded, though you’ll need to get up at dawn to park in August. The atmosphere is arty-bohemian, though leavened by the sailing crowds and families. This has always been a resort where the French themselves come on holiday.

It’s also a place for anyone who enjoys a good book trail, because among the foreign visitors down the years, there are plenty of stellar literary associations.

Virginia Woolf travelled here to be with her sister Vanessa Bell, Vanessa’s husband Clive Bell and her lover Duncan Grant in 1925, and wrote after spending her days wandering on flower-edged footpaths through the woods and tiny beaches amid red rocks: ‘No-one shall say of me that I have not known perfect happiness.” For the next few years it became a veritable Bloomsbury-sur-Mer.

It’s a wild, rocky coastline here, a far cry from the white marble and manicured lawns of the palaces near Nice, where we picture F Scott Fitzgerald and Somerset Maugham. This is closer both geographically and in spirit, to tough, earthy Marseille.

In the 1920s a desperately-ill D H Lawrence came to try to calm his tuberculosis at Bandol, yet another stop among so many increasingly frantic attempts to find a climate kind to his failing health. Katherine Mansfield came for the same reason. Aldous Huxley lived at Sanary-sur-Mer, another small seaside town – very pretty but not over-glitzed even now. Sanary would become the chosen place of exile for a group of German writers fleeing Hitler’s fatherland during the Second World War, most notably Thomas Mann.

A little further round the coast is Hyères, once home to Robert Louis Stevenson, and where Edith Wharton had a house for many years and wrote several novels, including The Age of Innocence. She also wrote the lovely lyrical poem In Provence, which begins:

Roofed in with creaking pines we lie
And see the waters burn and whiten,
The wild seas race the racing sky,
The tossing landscape gloom and lighten.

With emerald streak and silver blotch
The white wind paints the purple sea.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

a lovely lyrical post about some great people, your posts are like lots of little short stories and i am enjoying reading them all

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