WITH SUMMER TOURISTS THRONGING the Côte d'Azur, Princess Caroline of Monaco has been spending long weekends with her children at a secluded 19th-century stone farmhouse near the historic French city of Avignon, two hours northwest of the principality. It is the country home that she and her late husband, Stefano Casiraghi, decided to lease for themselves last September, less than a month before he was killed at 30 while powerboat racing.

The 34-year-old Caroline, her newly cropped hair accentuating a dramatic weight loss since the accident, has resumed some official duties. But she was thought to be crying on few male shoulders—until French actor Vincent Lindon, 31, was spotted at the farm and shopping with her kids in a nearby village.

The son of a Parisian industrialist father and a journalist mother, Lindon has worked his way up to costar-ring roles in Gallic flicks like Quelques Jours avec Mol ("A Few Days with Me") and Gaspard et Robinson. Though some of his pals insist Lindon has known Caroline since 1989, the semiofficial line is that the two met last summer at a literary lunch in Paris, and that their budding friendship was set back by Casiraghi's death. Part of the attraction, says one Parisian source, is that "Vincent is really good with the children [Andrea, 7, Charlotte, 4, Pierre, 3], and that is important to Caroline."

Reports a workman who was refurbishing Caroline's farmhouse when Lindon was a guest: "They were not making a public spectacle of themselves at all." If the relationship is indeed platonic, Lindon is paying a high price for friendship; stalked by paparazzi at the recent French Tennis Open, he had to flee the VIP enclosure via a back door.