BY CHERYL ANDERSON
Forever curious about the family that owns the iconic La Colombe d’Or in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, I had the extraordinary pleasure to interview Mme Danièle Nöel Roux, wife of François, who is the grandson of Paul and Titine Roux, founders of what is considered one of the most legendary restaurants and hotels in the South of France.
Paul and Titine opened the small auberge in 1920 with its original name, À Robinson. It began as a ginquette, where the smart set came to mingle with the people of the village to enjoy the music, regional cooking, to play cards, to dance, or to enjoy a game of pétanque across the way. Chic Parisians came to La Colombe from the Riviera hotels to gather and have a great time.
Paul Roux passed away in 1953. Immediately, Roux’s “unique” son, François took over with wife Yvonne. The Rouxs had three children: François, who has run Colombe for 25 years; Pitou, who until 2016 arranged all of the stunning bouquets of flowers; and Helene, who was a ballet dancer. Danièle has always been François’s
“right hand,” even taking over the arrangements of flowers once Pitou stepped down and handling all decorations. Her artistry comes through in both.
“My father-in-law, François, and his wife, Yvonne, like us, try our utmost to keep the same spirit,” says Danièle. For a short time you will feel joy, relax, and enjoy the beautiful and historic surroundings. “It doesn’t change and that’s what makes it,” says Danièle. One is apt to want a stay at the hotel or for a meal there to last forever: you will have been drawn into its congenial atmosphere and beauty. Danièle was once told by an elderly artist who had stayed there for three weeks that it felt like home. A much appreciated compliment, indeed.
The restaurant’s menu was designed by founder Paul Roux—the fare offered today remains the same. I find it unpretentious and always a memorable experience. As for their 100th anniversary just around the corner, there are no plans being made to mark the occasion. But who knows, plans do change!
Months before I left Chicago, I contacted the restaurant via email to see if it would be possible to interview Mme Roux. No specific time was settled on. Instead, I would be in touch with them when I arrived in France. I was fortunate to go to the restaurant twice that summer—the first for my birthday and then again at a farewell lunch for family returning home. During the second visit, I went into the reception area to arrange a date to meet with Mme Roux. There was some confusion at that moment, the staff thinking I had just shown up for the interview. Of course that wasn’t the case and a date was set.
The day of the interview arrived, and I became worried. What am I doing presuming I could interview a lady that is part of such a legendary restaurant, firmly ensconced in the annals of French culinary history? Well, it was too late for that—she would be arriving soon.
It was a perfect sunny September afternoon. The azur sky was cloudless. Honestly, isn’t that how you always envision the Côte d’Azur? The weather was nothing short of flawless. As we walked around the property in Cap Martin, she remarked about the quiet and that I had been very fortunate to find such a place.
So, it was behind the gate in my sunny garden, sitting under the shade of an umbrella in Cap Martin on that glorious September afternoon, that what was to be simply a professional interview turned into a delightful conversation.
The Roux family members are not ones to seek publicity, nor give many interviews. So, for that reason, I was pleased to have this rare privilege and honor to sit down to interview Mme Roux. When asked if the family reads the many items written about the restaurant and hotel in the press or on the many food and travel blogs across the internet, her answer was a definitive “no.”
Danièle’s pride in La Colombe d’Or was evident, especially in discussing its history. I asked about the origins of its name, which translates to Golden Dove. To my amazement, and hers, too, I believe, that fact is not known! Wherever it came from, it’s quite a lovely name, and the sense of peace the space brings is certainly in keeping with the spirit of the dove, and as far as the restaurant and dining experience, it is the gold standard.
Occasionally, the family is asked if it’s for sale. It is not. Rumors in the wind, mere rumors. Our conversation brought to light what I thought all along: it’s the family and their philosophy how to treat people that makes it such a welcoming, comforting space with true staying power. Discretion is important when notable people come to dine—the staff does not impose, so everyone is guaranteed a relaxed, enjoyable visit.
She regards the delighted look on people’s faces as they enjoy their meal as “normal.” Nor is it unusual for for the words “it feels like home” to be uttered as its unpretentious atmosphere is undeniably comfortable. Upon leaving, one vows to return for another glorious experience.
Although they try to meet every wish of every visitor, it’s not always possible to provide them with the same hotel room or table each visit, though I am assured by Danièle they do try. Oft times, when the guest’s request cannot be met, and perhaps have objected strongly, they come away having discovered maybe it wasn’t so bad after all for there to have been a change!
When asked if there was a particular place on the grounds she favors, Danièle shares that she loves sitting under the Miro, adding, however, that the terrace, with its very old fig trees, is “remarkable” when it is all lit up at night. Her advice, if she were to give any, is to be to look around, take it all in. I agree that it is a magical place.
As did Picasso, who also loved to sit under the Miro, and to enjoy the restaurant’s poulet. He quite liked the bar nestled in a corner. The Prince of Wales was a frequent visitor as was Churchill during the tumultuous years. Paul Roux would sit in a limo and have tea with Matisse. It is no wonder that guest books from the past are closely guarded—Charlie Chaplin left a charming drawing in one of these precious volumes.
Given that the space has welcomed so many artists within its walls, it should come as no surprise that the family possesses a remarkable art collection, which is thankfully not hidden away. It’s all around you at La Colombe. César’s sculpture of his thumb greets you at the door. One can sit on the terrace and marvel at the beauty of Léger’s masterpiece on the wall. Danièle’s enjoyment of discovering new talent carries on the family’s love of art from the days when artists left their works in lieu of payment. Pressed into the Couëlle fireplace facade are the handprints of the workmen that built the stone wall—stones taken from an old chateau in Aix-en-Provence surrounds the property.
This artistic spirit is alive and well in Danièle, an artist herself, frequenting her studio in Genoa, Italy, as often as possible. Though Moroccan-born, she speaks Italian—along with French, German, and English—a skill that comes in handy during her visits to favorite getaway destination, Sardinia, a place she loves for its simplicity of life. She loves to discover new talent and is fascinated by other artists. Making copper-plate prints is of special interest and expertise. Just last month she had a very successful exhibition at La Galerie Couteron in Paris.
I was happy to hear that Danièle loves Chicago, having visited with her sister that lives in Charlottesville. I hope that someday she visits again so I can share the sights of our amazing Chicago!
But in the meantime, a visit to La Colombe during the holidays is a must. The month of February brings Valentine’s Day. For the past fifteen years, Danièle has created handmade, oh-so-charming valentines for her best friends and the couples dining there February 14—these special works of art are treasured by their recipients and collected by some. These special treasures along with festive décor and spirit bring many couples back year after year.
At this time of year, the space is decked out in holiday finery. Christmas trees abound, dazzling in ornaments Danièle has collected over the years during her travels—Strasbourg a particular favorite destination for adding to her collection. The holiday decorations throughout are kept simple, enhancing La Colombe d’Or’s existing coziness—candles glowing and a crackling fire all make for a delightful Christmas experience in the South of France.