A cyclist’s guide to the art of the South of France

Simon Carr takes us on an inspired journey

November 16, 2021

Thanks to the threads of art and culture, you may find links to the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region throughout the world. Many of the most prestigious galleries and museums include works inspired by this corner of southeast France. Growing up as the child of two art graduates, I was perhaps more aware of the artistic side at first.

Thankfully for me, the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, or Région Sud, was a place where I could enjoy both art and cycling. Though you may get a taste of this amazing area in an art gallery halfway across the world, there’s really nothing that compares to seeing it for yourself. Perhaps even on two wheels.

However, if you’d like to take a trip there through art, then we can do that too. Without further ado, here’s my guide to the Région Sud through art.

Nice – Henri Matisse

Seated Woman, Back Turned to the Open Window; 1922

Perhaps best known in our world as the home to many professional cyclists, there is in fact more to Nice than Col de la Madone and Col de Turini. In the early 20th century, Henri Matisse spent most of his later years in the city and painted some of his best works, including his series of women sitting on balconies overlooking the sea. Anyone who has been to Nice will recognize these views along the Promenade des Anglais. And if you’re really interested in retracing his steps, you could also visit The Matisse Museum or the nearby Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence that he designed and that many consider his “chef d’œuvre”.

Aix en Provence – Paul Cézanne

Mont Sainte Victoire; 1886/87

Aix en Provence is a city I know well, having raced for the local club before turning pro. I have especially good memories of the nearby Grand Prix de Puyloubier, where in 2019 I had one of my first big elite level results. That race takes place in the shadow of the Montagne Sainte Victoire, which was the subject of more than 80 works by Paul Cézanne. I would recommend the hike up to the top as you’ll get a feel for why he was so obsessed with the mountain. Picasso was also a great fan of Cézanne’s work, so much so he purchased the nearby Château de Vauvenargues in 1958 where he is now buried. As for Cézanne, he spent his entire life in Aix en Provence. Today you can see a collection of his works and visit his studio at the Musée Granet.

Antibes – Pablo Picasso

La Joie de Vivre; 1946

Picasso is a household name, however you may not know of his association with the Côte d’Azur. In fact he spent many years there, including time in Antibes after the end of WWII. Here he painted works in sharp contrast to what he had during the Spanish Civil War. La Joie de Vivre (The Joy of Living) is the antithesis of perhaps his most well known work: Guernica. And demonstrates what a happy time he spent in Antibes. Today you can visit the Chateau Grimaldi at Juan-les-Pins which houses the Picasso Museum. There are also many other sites around la Région Sud that are linked with the great artist.

Saint Rémy de Provence – Vincent Van Gogh

The Starry Night; 1889

Travel to the western side of Région Sud and you will arrive in Arles. Located on the Rhône river, this Roman city and its surroundings have inspired many renowned artists, including Vincent Van Gogh who lived there from 1888 to 1889. He actually painted this work while at the Monastery of Saint Paul de Mausole asylum in Saint Rémy de Provence. Which he voluntarily committed himself to in the aftermath of the self-mutilation of his left ear in late 1888. Today you can visit the monastery and Van Gogh’s appartements. Or take a tour of Arles to see many of the places he painted during his time there. These are just some of the artists associated with Ma Région Sud, but there are many more: Gauguin, Signac, Renoir, Braque, Bonnard…

This isn’t just the place to be if you’re into cycling, but perhaps even more so if you’re into art. There’s nowhere better to metaphorically immerse yourself in it. Or even better literally immerse yourself by visiting the Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux de Provence. Région Sud really has got it all!

Article by:
Simon Carr, EF Pro Cycling rider

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