The cliffside is alive ... with artwork

©Warren Nunn, 2004

IF ever there were an artist’s utopia, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is it. Perched on the cliffside overlooking the Lot River in southwest France, the once-deserted village first became a haven for struggling artists in the 1950s.

More recently it attracted one of Australia’s finest, water colour artist Nerida De Jong who, after first leading “painting tours” to the region, convinced her husband Henk they should buy and renovate one of the stone houses.

They picked the best-located house next to the church and on the edge of the canyon wall. “It’s something we never tire of,” Nerida says of the views out over the village, the river below and the valley beyond.

Something we never tire of? The views are so spectacular that any description is inadequate.

Nerida de Jong
Nerida De Jong at her Saint Cirq Lapopie studio in 2004. More images below.

Nerida has a studio on Rue de la Pelissaria, one of the many narrow, cobblestone streets that snake around the hillside village.

But the de Jongs and many others have war stories about local opposition to their restorative efforts. “Once they (previous owners) see you renovate, they say, ‘we sold it to you too cheap’,” Nerida says.

They can now laugh at the pitfalls of renovating in another country— tradesman are nigh impossible to get and will often ask for 12 months’ notice to do anything.

But Henk’s background as a builder helped cut through those potential problems. They now want to further contribute to the village’s image and have bought another place on which to work.

“We’ve made it our duty to find the worst property in the village and restore it,” Nerida said.

The inspiration Nerida gets from the surrounds brings out her best work, she says. After each summer she heads back to Australia with another series of works with which she is highly satisfied.

They go to her gallery in Melbourne, The Windows on Church in Richmond.

But her most satisfying recent venture was on a book called Vegetables published in 2001 for which she and her sister Rosemary Stanton collaborated.

When the de Jongs aren’t at Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, they rent their property exclusively to Australians.

And in the four years they’ve lived in the village, they’ve noticed an increasing number of Aussie visitors.

“They mostly come in April and May and we’re starting to see some in September too,” she said.

After each annual visit to this fascinating place, the de Jongs endless summer continues at their beachside home in Lennox Heads, northern New South Wales.