Salernes, a pretty neighbouring village, located in the sheltered Bresque valley is world famous for it’s authentic terracotta tiles and a lively artisanal community based on traditional ceramics. The area was mainly agricultural, but during the 1800s the discovery of local iron rich clay led to the village developing a vibrant industry based on the production of floor and wall tiles. The typical shape is hexagonal and is called the “tomette”, this can be found in many houses in the area and was exported all over France, Europe and Africa during the last century. These days a lot of the tiles are glazed with vibrant colours to add interest as fashion has fallen out of love with the very natural look of those materials. The 15 ceramics factories that keep up the tradition, have suffered from intense competition from abroad and France’s relatively expensive labour has made the products affordable to only the very few.
One notable ceramics house in Salernes is the family business of Alain Vagh, an artist at heart, he is also a producer of beautiful floor and wall tiles in the most vibrant colours imaginable, as well as the traditional terracotta one in many original shapes and sizes. Alain is renowned for his crazy, colourful artworks and for tiling every possible surface, amongst others a tractor, a Corvette and an ancient Vespa. He was a contemporary of the artistic community of southern France that included Picasso and Chagal. Alain has bucked the trend by developing artistically and being commercially savvy (he has won a big contract kitting out all the beautiful L’occitane shops around the globe), but he has also created a genuine family enterprise, where his sons continue the tradition and both run the factory on the outskirts of Salernes.
One of his sons, Olivier has developed a specialism in enamelling huge slabs of Lava stone with their unique colour schemes, so if you are looking for a big splash of colour and a durable worksurface this is the perfect product. Olivier’s wife Veronique has her own charming artistic studio in the old town of Salernes, where she sells unique pieces for garden and home, which are all 100% hand made. Veronique has worked with me on a capsule collection of locally-made home authentic ceramics for the Mirabeau showrooom, all the pieces were made in Vallauris (the other capital of southern French ceramics), and hand enamelled in Salernes. The colours we chose for this year will transport you into the blue skies, green waters and lush fauna of this area of Provence.
You can visit the extensive Alain Vagh showroom on most days and you will always find a friendly welcome, usually by Alain’s wonderful, eccentric wife Jacotte. There’s also a modern Salernes ceramics museum, Musée Terra Rossa, in one of the old factories that is worth paying a visit to if you are interested in the history and some early pieces. The museum also hosts periodic exhibitions by ceramic artists.
Salernes is a charming village to visit and stroll around in, with a very good quality market on Sundays and an excellent tiny restaurant called “Food D’Amour” (booking essential!), as well as an old fashioned river lido on the outskirts of town towards Sillans-La-Cascade.