You could drive the entire Côte d’Azur (aka the French Rivera) and see all the towns along it, but it would take you forever and all the traffic would drive you crazy. We didn’t have the time (or stamina) to do it all. Instead, we picked a few of the best towns on the coast: Antibes, Nice and Villefranche-sur-Mer. Antibes has sandy beaches (many on the Côte d’Azur are rocky), an agreeable old town, and a nice Picasso Museum.
Antibes’s port is filled with enormous luxury yachts. We watched crews getting the yachts ready for the start of the season. We didn’t see anyone famous, but in the past few days Jennifer Connelly, Princess Beatrice, Hayden Panettiere and Petra Nemcova have all been sighted there.
Before joining France in 1860, nearby Nice was under Italian rule. Antibes was the last French town before the Italian border. As a result, the French built a fort and some major ramparts. From the harbor, you can see Fort Carre, in the center of the port. We strolled the ramparts, enjoying the sun and the beautiful views.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote one of his best known works, Tender is the Night, based on life in Antibes. Judging from the story, we thought Antibes wouldn’t be too laid back or plebeian. Nevertheless, Antibes has a down-to-earth ambience. Well, at least it’s more down to earth than many of the neighboring towns (Cannes, I’m looking at you). Ramparts and towers wrap the old town and guard its medieval streets.
It’s not some dour medieval town. Party animals like Rudolf Valentino and Charlie Chaplin partied here in the roaring 20’s. Legend has it that water skiing was invented in Antibes in the 1920s. In 1946 after World War II, 65-year-old Pablo Picasso moved there with 23-year-old lady friend, Françoise Gilot. He experienced a surge in creativity, painting like a madman and partying hard. The merry, festive atmosphere continues. We saw lots of Brits enjoying a pint in the sun.
The 12th century Chateau Grimaldi, an old town mansion on the edge of the Mediterranean, houses the Picasso Museum (it’s where he stayed while in Antibes) and has stunning views. We took a minute to enjoy the sculpture garden on the terrace before checking out the museum’s paintings, sketches, and ceramics.
Picasso said that if you wanted to see work from his Antibes period, you’d have to do it in Antibes. Picasso was prolific. One of the best parts about the museum was being able to see several versions of a painting or idea. For example, we saw about 10 platters on which he’d painted bulls. You could see his experimentation with styles and subjects. Fascinating.
The old town is charming, sunny, relaxed and filled with Brits. We wandered the craft market and the antique sales. I know, I am such a sucker.
On the way back to the car, we noticed the yacht store had a Che painting on the door. Where do I begin?
- Yes We Cannes-ed (schwingeninswitzerland.wordpress.com)