Frida Ivarsson is a warm and vivacious personality from the moment we meet in the former dining room of chevaliers. This 35-year-old Swedish business woman took on the hotel and restaurant in 2011 then spent an entire year renovating the property, restoring the existing architecture and modernising for comfort (including flying in beds from Sweden, which her guests compliment frequently). Today’s Château Le Cagnard is a homage to the artists who once called Haut-de-Cagnes - the ‘Montparnasse of Provence’ - home.
Frida, how did you come to be the manager of Château Le Cagnard?
After I finished school at 19, I decided to take a year abroad so I could figure out what I wanted to do as a career. I got in my car, came down to Nice and worked in the Radisson hotel for 18 months. By that time, my father with his now-wife were coming to the area. They rented a flat then bought a house and my father met the Barel family, who owned Château Le Cagnard at the time. I was studying for an International Business degree with a focus on marketing in Cheltenham in the UK when my father called and said, “I’ve got a project for you…” I managed all the renovations and carried on living in the south of France until it was time to move back to the UK to be with my husband and daughter. I get down here every six weeks now and hopefully it’ll be more in summer.
The renovation works you’ve achieved have made this a beautiful hotel that’s well-worthy of its boutique status. What was your main goal in its décor?
This place has been a hotel for almost a hundred years, but it dates back to the 13th century. Part of it is ‘old city wall’! The renovations were a good learning curve.
There are a lot of ‘flashy’ hotels in the French Riviera and I wanted to parr it back, to create something different. So many artists have spent time here and I’ve named each of the 28 rooms for an artist who painted Cagnes-sur-Mer. There’s a print of the painting in the bedroom as well as personal touches such as a book, an ornament, a special piece of antique furniture… Guests appreciate the connection to the artist. Renoir actually sat on the terrace of the suite named for him because it used to be part of a restaurant! There’s so much charm and authenticity about Château Le Cagnard. I felt it when I first came inside. Something about this place encourages creativity to grow.
What type of clientele do you attract and how would you describe the Château Le Cagnard experience to a first-time visitor?
We have very international guests: the British, North Americans, Swedes, the French and also the Japanese, who love our room dedicated to Fujita. We have people who come back year after year and others who are just discovering us. We are now hosting weddings; I actually got married here to my Indian-English husband and it made a lovely Indian wedding setting!Our restaurant and chef Stéphane Laurin are excellent and people are starting to talk about us. I want it to grow like that, naturally and on recommendation. To me, it’s not about selling a night’s stay in a hotel, it’s about the experience our guests have.