Cagnes-sur-Mer - from swashbuckling to silent cinema

Cagnes-sur-Mer – from swashbuckling to silent cinema

The Côte d’Azur has its fair share of picturesque towns and villages, with the port of Cagnes-sur-Mer famous for its connections to painters including Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who lived at Domaine des Collettes.

Watch my tour of Cagnes-sur-Mer:

Renoir is remembered by Cagnes-sur-Mer thanks to a museum in his name, featuring his furniture, studios and paintings/sketches/sculptures from his time in the area. The Renoir Museum reopens 26 July 2013.

Outside the Renoir Museum

Outside the Renoir Museum

A new film depicting a period of the artist’s life, Renoir by Gilles Bourdous, was shot in 2012 and is being released in 2013.

Watch the trailer for Renoir

Renoir’s second son, Jean Renoir, is of course known as the director of films such as La Grande Illusion (1937), and in 1924 he married in Cagnes-sur-Mer. He also made 1959’s Picnic on the Grass in the grounds of Domaine des Collettes.

Haut-de-Cagnes is a small village which lies above Cagnes-sur-Mer and I had it in my sights because of the graveyard, which has entered into movie history thanks to its inclusion in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 film, To Catch a Thief.

I soon discovered it had a few more film connections hidden among its winding streets. The graveyard has changed little since Cary Grant and Grace Kelly were seen visiting it in To Catch a Thief for the funeral of Foussard.

The graveyard at Haut-de-Cagnes

The graveyard at Haut-de-Cagnes

Grant can be seen walking through the gates above and sitting on the wall bebeside them, before heading over to meet Grace Kelly. Interestingly, in the film it looks like there’s open space across from the graveyard but in reality there are only trees.

I stepped inside the graveyard and tried to find the same spot where the funeral took place and wasn’t entirely successful.

Inside the Haut-de-Cagnes graveyard

Inside the Haut-de-Cagnes graveyard

I’m pretty sure that the cross high on the right of the above picture can be seen behind Danielle (Brigitte Auber) as she shouts at John Robey (Grant), but I probably needed to head further to the right of the graveyard to find the exact spot. Still, it’s fascinating to see that Hollywood didn’t simply recreate everything on a soundstage in LA!

Heading up the hill and into Haut-de-Cagnes, I was soon met with a large cross at the Wéry Square. On closer inspection I found that the name « Segnac », an anagram of « Cagnes », was written on the side of the cross and it turns out to be the remains of Edmond Gréville’s 1953 film, The Other Side of Paradise.

The cross in Haut-de-Cagnes

The cross in Haut-de-Cagnes

It’s thought that the title of the film is a tribute to Scott Fitzgerald’s book of the same name, written in 1920. Scott Fitzgerald lived in nearby Juan les Pins at the same time and there’s a good chance he visited to Haut-de-Cagnes. The film’s actors include Jacques Castelot, Jacques Sernas, Etchika Choureau and Erich von Stroheim.

Walking further into Haut-de-Cagnes, I found The Chapel of Our Lady of Protection, which can be seen in the 1942 comedy, Simplet, starring Fernandel, Andrex and Edouard Delmont.

The Chapel of our Lady of Protection

The Chapel of our Lady of Protection

The film revolves around two villages in Provence, Miejour and Rocamour, whose inhabitants are feuding with each other. It seems that the children of the village appeared as extras in the film, with the Chapel visible in some scenes.

Another film which used local children as extras was 1951’s historical swashbuckler, Adventures of Captain Fabian, starring Errol Flynn as the titular hero. Filming took place in the Place Chateau…

Adventures of Captain Fabian was filmed in the Place Chateau

Adventures of Captain Fabian was filmed in the Place Chateau

The swashbuckling film was shot in various parts of France, including Villefranche-sur-Mer for the scenes by the harbour, and some of the village’s older residents still remember the filming taking place in the square.

My guide stopped me at one stage to point into the distance, to a hill opposite Haute-de-Cagnes with various buildings atop it. Pointing to three in particular, he noted that the French director Abel Gance had used this spot for his 1919 film, J’Accuse, recreating First World War trenches for the silent classic.

The location for part of Abel Gance's J'Accuse

The location for part of Abel Gance’s J’Accuse

Haut-de-Cagnes also played host to the author Georges Simenon, who created the fictional French detective Jules Maigret in 1930 and who lived in a small apartment on the narrow Montée de la Bourgade which runs up to the Château du Haut-de-Cagnes, though he didn’t write about Maigret while visiting.

Georges Simenon's home

Georges Simenon’s home

Interestingly, the first appearance of Maigret on the cinema screen, 1932’s Night at the Crossroads, was directed by Jean Renoir and starred his brother, Pierre Renoir.

Montée de la Bourgade is also the location for the Boules Carrées World Championships, which has taken place sine 1980. Teams of three are invited to take part in this game of square boules – because they’re square they won’t keep rolling down the steep hill! The 2013 championships take place from 17 to 18 August.

Playing Boules Carrées

Playing Boules Carrées

Once again I’d discovered some film connections in a town which has welcomed its fair share of movie stars but which doesn’t boast about them. Until now.

Next time I’ll be visiting St Paul de Vence, home to a legendary hotel where the stars come to play throughout the year.

Visiting Cagnes-sur-Mer

The Côte d ‘Azur, within three hours of over 30 European destinations, offers a wide range of themed stays all year round. With France’s second airport, Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport, the French Riviera is within reach of over 33 countries, 103 destinations and served by 56 airlines.

The 2013 schedule is available at Visit the Côte d’Azur Tourist Board website for more information on the region. Cagnes-sur-Mer is located approximately 10 kilometres from the town of Nice. Visit the local tourist office at

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Top image, Place Chateau and Boules Carrée photos © Service communication de la ville de Cagnes-sur-Mer

Renoir museum photo: © CRT Riviera Côte d’Azur – Photographer: Georges Veran