Areas Loved by Writers, Painters and Artists

Originally posted on & updated on 10th May, 2024

For centuries, writers and artists have taken creative inspiration from France. It’s hardly surprising. The landscape, the chateaux, the coastline, the cities, the culture, the history, the boulevards, the cathedrals, the light, the climate… whatever it is that sparks the imagination, it’s sure to be found somewhere in this diverse and beautiful country.

France has been a source of literary and artistic inspiration for talent both home-grown and from further afield. Great writers whose genius has flourished in France include Molière, Hugo, Dumas, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Louis Stevenson, Dickens, Wilde, Joyce, Nietzsche and Turgenev. And among the artists to be inspired by this amazing country are Monet, Cezanne, Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse and Braque.

Disregarding Paris for now (it could fill a blog by itself), let’s take a tour around some of the well-known - and more obscure – places in France that have inspired a host of writers and artists.

Normandy Inspires Artists

The Normandy area of northern France has a milder climate than further south and is known for its lush green meadows, farmhouses, apple orchards and varied coastline.

•    Giverny: This picturesque village on the border of Normandy is well cited as the birthplace of Impressionism. The artist Claude Monet (1840-1926) lived in Giverny for more than 40 years. The walled water garden, planted by Monet himself, was the subject of many of his paintings, including his famous Water Lilies series.

•    Rouen: This port city on the river Seine features Gothic churches, medieval timber houses and cobblestone streets. The city and its harbour were the subject of Monet’s paintings, but he was particularly inspired by the imposing Cathédrale Notre-Dame, depicting it at different times and seasons in a series of 30 paintings.

•    Normandy coastline, Etretat: The striking chalk cliffs of the Normandy coastline have provided creative inspiration for many writer and artists, and the agricultural town of Etretat was a particular favourite of Monet, as well as the French landscape painter Eugène Louis Boudin (1824-1898) and painter Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) leader of the Realism movement in 19th century France. The writer Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893), best known for his short stories, also spent most of his childhood here.

The Light of Provence

Loved by artists for the quality of its light, the South of France has provided creative inspiration to writers and artists for centuries.

The Côte d’Azur in particular has attracted a plethora of creative types, including many from less balmy climes such as Robert Louis Stevenson, HG Wells, DH Lawrence, Aubrey Beardsley, James Joyce, Berthold Brecht, Vladimir Nabokov, Georges Braque and Friedrich Nietzsche.

•    Aix en Provence  - One of the French Post-Impressionist movement’s leading artists, Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), was born in Aix en Provence and lived most of his life in this cultured and cosmopolitan city, where the sun shines 300 days a year. Visit Aix – as it’s simply known – and you’ll understand why it held Cézanne in its thrall. It’s a real image of Provence, with sparkling fountains, tree-lined thoroughfares (including the famous Cours Mirabeau, said to be Europe’s most captivating street), Roman ruins and bustling markets. The stunning landscape around the city features the Montagne Sainte-Victoire, painted no less than 87 times by Cézanne. Another famous son of Aix is the writer Emile Zola, who spent his youth in the city.

•    Nice and the French Riviera: The awe-inspiring coastline and sparkling azure water have been the inspiration for many writers and artists. Henri Matisse (1869-1954) spent more than 40 years in Nice and many of his paintings capture the bright, colourful beauty of this sunny part of France. The city, which features the stunning, palm tree-lined Promenade des Anglais, was also loved by many other artists including Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).

•    Arles : This city in Provence was once a provincial capital of ancient Rome but is perhaps now best known as the inspiration for many of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings. Located on the river Rhône, sun-soaked Arles has plenty of Roman treasures and lovely little cobbled squares, and has hosted an annual art celebration since 1970.

•    Antibes: Monet, to mention him again, came here for four months between January and May, 1888, and in that time painted 40 landscapes of this pretty. Picasso also spent a very productive year here. About 12 km from here is Cagnes sur Mer, where Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) had his home.

Historic Occitanie

Part of the Occitanie region, Languedoc-Roussillon stretches from Provence to the Pyrénées and the Spanish border. It includes the cities of Montpellier and Toulouse but includes some lesser known places that inspired creativity over the centuries.

•    Collioure : The artist Henri Matisse was a fan of this little fishing port on the French Mediterranean near the border with Spain. Shortly after arriving here in 1905, he was joined by his friend, the fellow artist Andre Derain. They embarked together on a painting spree of the town, revelling in its intense light and colours.

Writers and Noirmoitier

This island lies off the Atlantic coast of France in the Vendée department, within easy reach of the UK. Its charm and temperate climate is a modern day favourite with Chocolat author Joanne Harris. Some say the Island inspired one of Tintin’s stories.

French Gardens and Parks

Known as the garden of France due to a tradition stretching back to the Renaissance, the Loire Valley’s landscape is dotted with the impressive chateaux that make the area one of the most recognisable in France.

•    Nantes  : The writer Jules Verne (1828-1905) was born in Nantes, and the city and its environs continued to inspire him throughout his life. The Loire river held a deep fascination for him, and its bridges and quays, and the maritime hustle and bustle, inspired his popular Voyages Extraordinaires series of adventure novels which included Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in Eighty Days. My son is reading one of these at the moment, can’t wait to watch the flim again.

•    Touraine: Writers have long taken inspiration from Touraine’s tranquility, romance and elegance. Touraine is a popular tourist destination, surrounded by chateaux and located in the Loire Valley vineyard. Famous literary fans have included René Descartes, François Rabelais and Honoré de Balzac.

Boost Your Artistic Style

This list is far from exhaustive, but we hope it’s been an enjoyable read. Why not channel your inner creativity with a visit to France? Check our properties and immerse yourself in this inspirational country, perhaps we can help find that inspirational retreat in a corner of France that may just change everyhing, ask Leonardo da Vinci! You won’t be the first film producer, actor or musician planning to find a base to live, work and embrace French culture, with the rest of Europe on your doorstep.

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