Antibes Juan-les-Pins is located in the heart of the French Riviera, between Cannes and Nice and unlike either of them. Antibes is home to the Picasso Museum, a fabulous Provençal market and a stunning old district while the famous Jazz in Juan festival takes place in Juan-les-Pins. With 24km of coastline and picturesque rampart walls which flush coral pink at dusk, Antibes stands out against the backdrop of the Alps.
Paradise on the French Riviera
Antibes is one of those places that you stumble upon and realise that you’ve found a sun drenched French corner of paradise. Of course others have found this too, Picasso, Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway all fell in love with its charms. They would probably recognise its famous sites today, almost a hundred years after they partied here in the roaring twenties.
Take a dip in the sea. Wander the old district of Antibes and the scent of orange blossom, lavender and jasmine fills the air. Narrow winding roads with ornamental cobbles lead you past tall old houses dripping with bright pink bougainvillea. In the centre, numerous bars, restaurants and shops lead off from the central Cours Masséna where the market is held and wind around the port. It’s a smallish town but there’s plenty to see and do…
The former Grimaldi Chateau which houses a permanent exhibition of Picasso’s works as well as temporary exhibitions, is the number one attraction in Antibes. You don’t need to be a Picasso fan to enjoy it. The castle is lovely with fabulous views over the sea from its statue-strewn terrace. If you are a fan, you’ll love the sense of the artist that you get here. He had a key to the castle and spent from September to November 1946 creating huge paintings in the vast space. A display of black and white photos portray his time in Antibes.
Le Marché Provençal
The daily covered market in the centre of the walled old city is one of the best I’ve ever been to. Tables groan under the bounty of Southern France: spices and lavender, olives and oils, fig vinegar and jams with violet, hibiscus and lavender. Amazing vegetables of jewel-like colours, glistening celery, dried fruit, salt from the Camargue, colourful Italian pasta. Don’t miss the gold medal winning saucissons from Corsica on the stall of “Tony and Nadia.” Skewers strung with meat, peppers and onions, slathered in fresh pesto that make you long to light the barbecue. Cheese and yoghurts. Giant courgette flowers ripe for stuffing. Truffle-everything from mustard to oil and pasta. Macarons in every colour, flowers and berries. Nature is clearly kind in this part of France and the bounty is well… bountiful.
For the best bread, it’s a stone’s throw from the market to Boulangerie Veziano (2 rue de la Pompe). Baker Jean-Paul Veziano made the bread for the wedding of Prince Albert of Monaco. And he is famous for this Main de Nice bread. Literally translated as ‘hand of Nice’ this once traditional bread is rarely to be seen in the south of France.
And when the market ends around mid-day, the square is covered in table and chairs from the surrounding bars and restaurants. Or you could head to the absinthe bar!
Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder
Absinthe was a favourite drink of many artists from Van Gogh to Picasso. Find out what they loved about it at the fabulous absinthe bar (25 Cours Masséna). Three generations have run the bar and serve 50 varieties of the “green fairy.” I have to say, it was my first time and it was much nicer than I expected. Slightly liquorice-y, sweet, refreshing and rather surprisingly not strongly alcoholic tasting! It’s served the correct way. Ice cold water drips from a fountain on the table, through a lump of sugar on a flat silver spoon to dilute the pure absinthe. And all this inside a former Roman well where you are encouraged to wear an old-fashioned hat from a selection – just as they did in the old days!
A town of art and culture
Antibes has lured many artists. Graham Greene lived in a modest apartment here for 24 years. He lunched most days at Café Felix (still there) by the archway to the port. Russian-born artist Nicolas de Staël lived and worked here. Unhappy in love and lacking confidence in his own talent, a dawn to dusk painter, he jumped to his death from his studio. The spot is marked with a plaque, overlooking the beach.
Antibes is still very arty. All along the Boulevard d’Auillon, the former casemates, rooms in the rampart wall, have been converted to artists ateliers. Here’ you’ll find potters, painters, ceramicists, and master glassblower, Didier Saba.
Fulfil your literary desire for English language books at Antibes Books. It’s a lovely bookshop and my opinion has zero to do with the fact that I did a double take when I went in and saw all three of my own books in the best sellers and new releases sections!
There is a flowery little corner of Antibes known as the Safranier district which is a ‘free commune.’ Created in the 1960s, this small area has its own Mayor who is powerless but whose job it is to organise festivities year-round! This includes the making of a record-breaking yule log at Christmas which measures some 14 metres. It’s a great place to go for a meal or an aperitif and soak up the fun atmosphere. Head to café Lilian Bonnefoi, the restaurant of head pastry chef at the very prestigious hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, in Place Safranier. It’s also a cake-making laboratory, where you can take cookery lessons and or enjoy a gourmet coffee break treat.
You can walk to Juan-les-Pins from the centre of Antibes in around an hour. Or just hop on the train for a couple of euros and be there in minutes. There’s a very different vibe here, it’s buzzy and more commercial. The beaches are fabulous, but head around the bay to see the swanky homes of former artists, writers and the great and good of the day. And treat yourself to a cocktail at the Belle Rives Hotel. It was once the Villa St. Louis, home to Scott Fitzgerald and his troubled wife Zelda.
Looking rather like a repurposed post office building, the Peynet Museum is a hidden gem. Raymond Peynet is famous for his whimsical drawings of a young romantic couple, but at the museum you see more of his artwork which reveals an artist who had a deft touch, delicate drawings and a droll sense of humour. Sometimes his art is sneaky, sometimes lustful, other times witty. His commercial posters and illustrations are beautiful.
A place to enjoy the good life
This isn’t a place for racing around. Here you relax. Take your time. Swim or sunbathe on one of the long sandy beaches. People watch. Sit at bars where 6pm is celebrated with a glass of wine brought to you with a smile and a cheery ‘avec plaisir.’ And petanque games go on from morning to nightfall.
Where to eat: There’s a fabulous choice of restaurants here but don’t miss Restaurant Bistrot Margaux. Just a few minutes’ walk from the centre, it faces Port Vauban and chef Frédéric Buzet creates mouth-wateringly memorable dishes. www.bistrot-margaux-antibes.fr
Where to stay: I stayed at the lovely Hôtel La Villa Port d’Antibes & Spa**** which opened in June 2020. It’s ideally located a stone’s throw from Port Vauban and the ramparts of the old town. www.villa-port-antibes.com
Practical information: Antibes-juanlespins.com