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The forgotten treasure of the French Riviera

Posted on July 26, 2017 by VINGT Editorial
IMAGE: View of Fort Carré and Antibes' harbour from the water

The historic Fort Carré as viewed from Antibes’ harbour (Photo © F. Trotobas)

Located on the Cote d’Azur coastline between Cannes and Nice, Antibes is sometimes overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbours – but this charming Riviera resort is a real gem… 

Words: Caroline Harrap

If you’re lucky enough to arrive at Antibes by one of the luxury yachts that regularly pull into port, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d travelled back in time. Characterised by its historic stone ramparts, sun-kissed sandy buildings and quaint cobbled streets, the old side of the town has barely changed in centuries.

Dating back originally to the early Iron Age, this rocky headland haven has variously been a Greek colony, a Roman settlement and a medieval walled city. Perfectly situated between the sea and the mountains, it later came to prominence when wealthy people from across Europe discovered its natural beauty and began building luxury homes here. Today, Antibes still retains that glitz and glamour, but in a less showy way than its more famous neighbours of Cannes and Nice, therefore making it the perfect holiday getaway.

Maze of streets

IMAGE: View looking down small flower-covered street in Antibes (Photo © F. Trotobas)

One of the pretty floral streets in Antibes (Photo © F. Trotobas)

For the authentic Antibes experience, start off in the old town where you can explore the maze of narrow streets, bedecked with colourful shutters, cute cafés and white cotton clothing – something of a local speciality. With a plethora of independent shops, you’ll also find everything from fine wines and jewellery to artworks. For pastries and breads, be sure to visit the legendary Boulangerie Veziano, regarded by many as the best bakery on the French Riviera.

The local market, the Marché Provençal, is another must. Situated on the cours Massena in front of the Mairie, and open every morning during the summer, traders from across Provence ply their wares here. With fruit, vegetables, cheese, olive tapenades and charcuterie from Corsica, it’s the perfect place to pack up a picnic for the beach.

Speaking of which, if you’re a fan of soaking up the sun on soft golden sand, you’ve come to the right place. Situated at the far side of the long sweep that is the ‘Bay of Angels’, Antibes marks the end of the pebbled beaches that dominate much of the French Riviera and the start of sandy shores. What is more, there are several beautiful beaches from which to choose – one of which, Plage de la Gravette, is conveniently situated next to the ramparts of the old town.

For some exclusive private beach clubs, pop across the headland to Antibes’ little sister village, the chic resort of Juan-les-Pins. Alternatively, to escape the crowds altogether, retreat to Cap d’Antibes where you’ll find secluded rocky coves with hidden bathing platforms cut into the rock. At several places around the headland, it is also possible to try water-skiing – regarded as the ‘national’ sport of Antibes – as well as wakeboarding and kite surfing.

If, on the other hand, you prefer the gentler exercise of walking then you must add the Cap d’Antibes coastal path to your itinerary. Taking around two hours at an easy pace, the trail includes the old lighthouse where you’ll find one of the best views in the area. It’s also worth doing the detour along the ‘Sentier des Douaniers’ where you’ll pass by lovely landscaped gardens filled with fragrant flowers.

IMAGE: Aerial view of Port Vauban in Antibes

Antibes’ Port Vauban is one of the largest in Europe (Photo © Vertige)

Be sure to make the time for a tour around the magnificent marina, too, the largest in the Mediterranean – and famously one of the most expensive. Dating back to Roman times, Port Vauban is now home to superyachts of jaw-dropping dimensions that dazzle in the southern sun. Even if the budget doesn’t quite stretch to the millions (with the moorings costing almost as much as the boats themselves), they make quite a spectacle – especially contrasted against the backdrop of the star-shaped garrison, Fort-Carré, the scene of many important moments in Antibes’ maritime history.

Mecca for artists

With its beguiling mix of ancient architecture, azure-blue water and the pine-forested peninsula, it’s no surprise that Antibes has long been a mecca for artists too. Among those to capture its Côte d’Azur colours were Monet, Renoir, Signac and, most famously, Picasso, who featured the town in many of his masterpieces and has a museum here dedicated to him. Located just inside the ramparts, in the beautiful castle in which he once stayed, Château Grimaldi, it houses one of the greatest collections of his work in the world.

IMAGE: View of the Nomade sculpture in Antibes

The contemporary sculpture Le Nomade (Photo © J. Brosset)

For some more modern artwork, a visit to the former casemates within the rampart wall, bordering on boulevard d’Aguillon, comes highly recommended. Here, some 20 artists and artisans display their wares. Also, for an excellent photo opp, check out the contemporary sculpture by Jaume Plensa, Le Nomade, on quai Henri Rambaud. Finally, the Musée Peynet et du Dessin humoristique is dedicated to French cartoonist Raymond Peynet, a one-time resident of Antibes.

Other must-see museums in the area include the Musée d’Archéologie, showcasing fascinating items found across the area, and offering spectacular views of the sea and mountains; the Espace Mer et Littoral, which teaches visitors about the natural riches of the Mediterranean, and Cap d’Antibes in particular; and the bijou Musée de l’Absinthe, with its atmospheric bar, dedicated to the appreciation of this infamous French spirit.

Ready for some sustenance after all that exploring? Well, the Michelangelo restaurant is a popular choice with movie stars, no less (check out their website for a ‘who’s who’ of Hollywood). Tucked away under old stone arches, ‘Mamo’ cooks up some of the best pizzas in Provence. For a place that’s a little more ‘in the know’, head to locals’ favourite, Restaurant Le César, located away off the main tourist trail on Plage Keller in the heart of the Cap d’Antibes. Well worth the journey, it offers reasonably-priced regional specialities on a pontoon overlooking a private beach. Finally, in the same area, the Michelin-starred Les Pêcheurs is another superb restaurant, anchored at the water’s edge, with a menu that showcases the best Mediterranean seafood.

The latter is actually the restaurant of the renowned Cap d’Antibes Beach Hotel, combining contemporary five-star lux with its own private beach, so book a room for the full heavenly experience. Another hotel that comes highly recommended is the iconic Cap-Eden Roc, one of the most luxurious five-star hotels in the south of France. Unveiled in 1870, this grand 19th-century mansion is set among nine hectares of lovely landscaped gardens. Finally, the four-star Royal Antibes Luxury Hotel, Residence, Beach and Spa offers state-of-the-art contemporary design, inspired by the town’s sailing heritage, combined with a vibrant beach scene.

Exploring further

IMAGE: View looking down at the Belles Rives hotel in Antibes

The terrace at the Belles Rives hotel (Photo © Susie Hollands)

If you can spare the time, it’s also well worth exploring the wider region. Certainly, a visit to the aforementioned Juan-les-Pins, known as much for its buzzing night life as its beautiful beaches, is an absolute must. Famously the home of American novelist F Scott Fitzgerald, the villa where he lived for two years with his wife Zelda, is now a five-star boutique hotel, Hotel Belles Rives, with its own Michelin-starred restaurant, La Passagère. The hotel is also renowned for its annual literary prize, the Prix Fitzgerald, awarded to the author whose book best brings to mind the work of the great American writer, while the wider town plays host to the annual Jazz à Juan music festival.

In summary then, from medieval architecture to Michelin-starred meals and sensational superyachts to some of the most beautiful coastline on the Cote d’Azur, there’s an awful lot more to Antibes, and the surrounding area, than many people realise. Just don’t tell the tourists at Cannes and Nice…

PICK OF THE HOTSPOTS

WHERE TO SHOP…

Boulangerie Veziano
2 rue de la Pomp
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 34 05 46

Old Town
Office du Tourisme,
42 avenue Robert Soleau
Tel: +33 (0)4 22 10 60 10

Marché Provençal
Covered Hall,
cours Masséna


WHERE TO VISIT…

Cap d’Antibes coastal path
Garoupe beaches (car park),
Cap d’Antibes

Les Casemates
Boulevard d’Aguillon

Espace Mer et Littora
b
atterie du Graillon,
175 boulevard JF Kennedy
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 61 45 32

Fort-Carré
avenue du 11 Novembre
Tel: +33 (0)4 92 90 52 13

Le Nomade
q
uai Henri Rambaud
Port Vauban

Musée de l’Absinthe
25 cours Masséna
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 34 93 00

Musée d’Archéologie
1 avenue Général Maizière
bastion Saint André
Tel: +33 (0)4 92 90 53 36

Musée Peynet et du Dessin humoristique
place Nationale
Tel: +33 (0)4 92 90 53 36

Musée Picasso
place Mariejol
Tel: +33 (0)4 92 90 54 28

Plage de la Gravette
promenade Amiral de Grasse

Port Vauban
avenue de Verdun

Water-skiing
Hôtel Belles-Rives,
33 boulevard Baudoin
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 74 45 54


WHERE TO EAT…

Les Pêcheurs
Cap d’Antibes Beach Hotel,
10 boulevard Maréchal Juin
Tel: +33 (0)4 92 93 13 30

Restaurant Le César
Plage Keller,
1035 Chemin de la Garoupe
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 61 33 74

Michelangelo
2 rue des Cordiers
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 34 04 47


WHERE TO STAY…

Cap d’Antibes Beach Hotel
10 boulevard Maréchal Juin
Tel: +33 (0)4 92 93 13 30

Cap-Eden Roc
Boulevard JF Kennedy
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 61 39 01

Hotel Belles Rives
33 boulevard Edouard Baudoin
Tel: 
+33 (0)4 93 61 02 79

Royal Antibes Luxury Hotel, Residence, Beach and Spa
16 Boulevard Maréchal Leclerc
Tel: