“I love Paris in the springtime. I love Paris in the fall. I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles.”

But in the summer, when it sizzles, I love the South of France! During my recent two week trip, I was truly craving a more meaningful experience. For me, that meant to think about more than just the surface and beauty of the South of France but also about the history of the region, the people who live there, and the values of the region. I wondered if with this frame of mind, my trip would somehow be different.

The South of France is not full of ruins or the visible destruction of war, especially World War II, but natural beauty from quaint flowering gardens in every village to the spectacular lavender fields flowing like the waves of the ocean throughout Provence. Yet this area has been inhabited since the iron age! We first arrived in Saint Tropez, the Hamptons of France. It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of very luxurious living and the ancient stone architecture of the town. In 1055, Saint Tropez was known as Ecclesia Sancti Torpetis, named after one of Nero’s centurions. A Provençal fishing village with very narrow cobbled streets, you will see Chanel and Gucci boutiques where there once were fish mongers and open markets. It was amazing to walk around and envision these things and see how much has changed.

I really enjoyed how modernity had somehow grown but not crushed what once was. Saint Tropez was made famous by Bridgette Bardot and the movie star glamour definitely still exists in the nightlife. Clubs there felt very different than the ones I’ve experienced in New York City, LA, and Miami. In the states, most clubs have thumping music and the VIP rooms are packed with celebrities, but there is no real show taking place (unless you go somewhere like The Box or a musical night at Rose Bar). In Saint Tropez, there were several dinner clubs with live performances every 15 minutes as well as areas to dance and it was really about being entertained and letting loose.

Next, we stayed at the Chèvre d’Or in Eze for a week. To say this was the treat of the century would be an understatement. Imagine if the characters of Alice in Wonderland took over a medieval fortress and appointed a top hotelier to run the place — then you would have this amazing gem. Our suite had two walls that were glass and looked out on an ocean of yachts. Every day took away my breath. When you walk through the Chèvre d’Or there are beautiful ancient characters — busts of goddesses, samurai, dragons, griffins — next to oversized storybook characters — oversized turtles, gigantic elephants, reindeer, life-sized giraffes. My heart filled with joy, watching the multitude of characters and the backdrop of the sea. It is an experience of the senses that can’t be tied to word or sentence but must be experienced in this lifetime!

I was also particularly moved by my visit to the Jardin Exotique d’Èze. Set on the site of an ancient medieval fortress above the Mediterranean, in the “perched village” of Èze, the Jardin Exotique is full of cacti and succulents including agave and aloe. Again, the view of the astonishingly blue the Mediterranean Sea added so much to the experience of walking around in this lovely place.

But it’s more than the visual beauty that awed me, it’s the human history of the place and the way that the people in Èze decided to turn the ruins of a 12th century fortress (that was for centuries part of Èze’s  bloody history involving the Dukes of Savoy, Moorish pirates, Turks and even the Romans) into something more than a monument to wars, and the men who wage them.

After the World War II, dozens of men carried large bags of soil and plants on their backs (and, mind you, these are steep and windy paths) up to the ruins and its few, crumbling, remaining walls. That dirt, plus the protection from the north winds, and the drainage provided by the downward slope of the rocky outcropping, created a place where exotic plants could flourish. They did, and they still do, and that is amazing! Because, if it’s possible to plant and nourish beauty where there was, previously, ruins and rocks and wind, it seems like it’s possible to cultivate natural beauty almost anywhere. While in the garden I imagined all these men toiling to create beauty and it was very humbling.

We just have to put our time, energy and creativity into creation instead of conflict and destruction.

There is so much I loved about my trip. But I really enjoyed seeing beyond the surface and really feeling as well as experiencing the landscape. I’m glad I tried this new way of seeing the world as I walked through it.