Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cascading in yellow fragrance

"Preceding the happy and busy months we spent in Paris each year were lovely months of winter sunshine on the Riviera, where our life, though equally social, was more informal. Some years before Jacques and I were married, I had, while recuperating on the Riviera, been attracted by its beauty and its climate. Soon after our marriage we decided to buy a property and to build a house there.

"Between the Upper and the Lower Corniche - the former built by Napoleon to lead his armies to Italy, the latter following the contours of the coast - there were beautiful slopes where peasants grew vegetables and flowers for the markets below. "

"Our house was built in stone and had an inner garden on which cloisters opened. We chose the Convent of Le Thoronet in Provence as inspiration; it had been built by Cistercian monks in the eleventh century. The fortressed Village of Eze, which stood across a ravine from us, had once been a shrine to the moon goddess Isis and ever since a stronghold of those who ruled the Mediterranean. We called our place Lou Sueil, which in Provencal means the Hearth, for it was thus identified on local maps."

"Our house was built by six brothers who were stone-masons. Every Monday they walked over the mountains from Italy, returning to spend Sundays with their wives. They were accomplished artisans and quick workers, and they built our house within a year. We made our own plans, and Duchêne, who had designed Sunderland House, was again the architect. Only two rooms were finished when we moved in. The others were being panelled as a background for the period furniture we brought from Crowhurst. When it arrived in vans we spent joyous weeks making the rooms comfortable as well as beautiful, for we disliked a house that looked like a musuem rather than a home. Deep sofas heaped with cushions abounded, lamps placed near easy chairs made pleasant seats for reading, and there were writing tables in every room.
There were petit point chairs fit for kings, but one sat in them unmolested; beautiful Isphahan rugs covered the floors, and the house was gay with flowers. The scent of tuberoses, lilac and lilies filled the air. When one entered the cloisters, a succession of flame-coloured azaleas was a lovely sight."

"In the garden we planned terraces; for our grounds, like the hanging gardens of Babylon, hung in mid-air and unless terraced on stone walls would have crumbled down the steep mountainside. Under the olive trees the grass was carpeted with hyacinths and bluebells. The spring brought its seasoned order of tulips, peonies and daffodils. Almond trees bloomed first, in pink and white showers; then came the prunus and the Judas trees with their bronze and scarlet foliage. Every month had its particular mimosa cascading in yellow fragrance."

Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, The Glitter and the Gold. 1953.

Photos from Villa Gardens of the Mediterranean: From the Archives of Country Life, Kathryn Bradley-Hole, 2006.


  1. I'm charmed even though the lifestyle is a bit beyond me. Thanks.

    "...Our house was built by six brothers...Every Monday they walked over the mountains from Italy, returning to spend Sundays with their wives."

  2. She makes Italy sound like a next-door village.