Once a haven for artists, Antibes Juan-les-Pins is quite unique on the French Riviera. It combines a charming, typical old Mediterranean town boasting museums and nice beaches with a modern, upscale resort where the parties go on 'til dawn. The Cap d’Antibes peninsula also offers walking trails that take the rambler past spectacular coastline and luxurious villas.
[ Practical ]
Getting there - By road
915 km from Paris on autoroutes A6 and A8 then on D 35.
- By train
TGV Paris Gare de Lyon – Antibes. Journey takes from 5 hours 15 mn to 5 hours 50 mn.
Night train Paris Austerlitz – Antibes. Duration of the journey : 8 hours 50 mn.
- By plane
There are flights to Nice from Paris as well as from many French and international cities. Bus from Nice airport to Antibes.
Lodging - Hotels
Le Relais du Postillon
Le Grand Pavois
Hôtel Baie des Anges
Hôtel Sainte Valérie
- Bed and breakfast
Villa « Carpe Diem »
La Bastide du Bosquet
Pierre et Vacances
Restaurants Le Figiuer de Saint Esprit
Le Golden Beef
Le Comptoir de la Tourraque
Taverne du Safranier
Information Office de Tourisme et des Congrès
Tel : 0497231111 www.antibesjuanlespins.com
The French Riviera is worldwide known for its beaches that attract every year millions of holidaymakers. But autumn, late winter and early spring are probably the best periods to discover this region. Sunny days are common, temperatures are generally mild – much more than in the North of France – the light is luminous and the number of tourists is less excessive. That allows to immerse oneself more easily in the local life and to discover peacefully the little coastal towns that seduced so many writers and painters.
Large marina Roughly situated half way between Cannes and Nice, Antibes is one of them. Founded by the Greeks in the 4th century BC, across the Bay of Angel from Nice – hence its name that comes from Antipolis, “the town opposite” –, it is today a well known seaside resort. However, before that, it was for centuries a fortified town protecting the coast against the Italians, the Muslim pirates and the English fleet. Numerous fortifications remain from that era, for instance the imposing Fort Carré. 47 m high, it dates back from 1550 but was extensively reshaped by Vauban. Built on a rocky spit of land, it still watches over the harbour of which the most ancient quays are also protected by walls and turrets. It’s now one of the largest marinas of the Mediterranean sea and it shelters luxury pleasure yachts and sailing boats as well as a few fishing boats. It is one of the most popular strolls among holidaymakers. They also like to watch the locals playing pétanque - the traditional Provence game of boules - at the feet of the ramparts surrounding the old town on the seaside.
Romanesque towers Having lost their defensive purpose, their sentry path has been transformed in the enjoyable Promenade Amiral de Grasse that overlooks Nice, the Alps and the Cap d’Antibes. It runs southwards till the Bastion Saint André, another work by Vauban, now an archaeological museum displaying Greek and Roman artefacts found in local excavations and in shipwrecks. In addition its terrace provides a fine view of the ramparts and of the old town topped by the hill where the Greeks first settled. There stand two Romanesque towers. One serves as steeple for Notre Dame de l’Immaculée Conception, a church with a nice ochre coloured façade blending mingling neo classic and baroque style. The other is the keep of a medieval castle once owned by the Grimaldi family, the sovereigns of Monaco, and converted into a museum in 1925. When he came to town in 1946 Picasso was invited to set up his studio in the castle and stayed there for three months painting and drawing many pieces of art - of which “La Joie de Vivre” - as well as crafting ceramics and tapestries.
Painter’s trail After his stay he donated 23 paintings and 44 drawings to the town and the museum was renamed Picasso Museum. Enriched by purchases and additional donations it now shows the many sides of Picasso’s art and also houses works by other 20th century painters who lived in Antibes such as Nicolas de Staël and Hans Hartung. But many other artists stayed here since the middle of the 19th century : George Sand, Flaubert, Maupassant, Meissonier, Monet, Dufy, Van Dongen, Picabia, Chagall,… A painters’ trail allows to walk on their footsteps and reproductions of few of their paintings are installed on the exact spots they were done.
Below the church and the castle spread a maze of quiet lanes and narrow shopping streets lined with colored and flowery quaint houses giving a feel of what Antibes was like in the past. They lead to small squares adorned with fountains quite often taken up by bar terraces where it’s enjoyable to have a drink and to rest while looking at the local life. One of the most lovely is Place Safranier where a free commune was set up after the Second World war on the model of Montmartre. Nearby, rue du Bas-Castellet is the house where the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis lived.
Colourful market His most successful book “Zorba the Greek” was written there. Far larger, the Place National was developed on the site of the Roman forum. On one side, an old 19th century school houses a museum devoted to artist Raymond Peynet worldwide known for his drawings of lovers. It also hosts temporary exhibitions displaying works by cartoonists.
But the real heart of the old town is the Cours Massena, so called because Napoleon’s famous marshal lived there. Surrounded by beautiful buildings and restaurants, this esplanade hosts every morning an animated market full of typical Provencal products, flowers, colours and scents. A must-see tourist spot. Just beside stands the La Tour museum devoted to daily life and popular arts and traditions in Antibes at the beginning of the 20th century. Among the collection are the first water skis ever made because this sport was invented in the 20s in Juan-les-Pins. In 1880 this neighbourhood was still a fishing hamlet nested in the pine trees along a three kilometres long white sandy beach.
Hectic nightlife But came the Duke of Albany, Queen Victoria’s son, who decided to vacation there. Then, in the 20s, the American millionaire Frank Jay Gould opened there the first summer casino that immediately attracted his fellow countrymen and celebrities including Rudolph Valentino while Europe’s golden youth came to bath and have fun. Several buildings remain from this splendorous era. The Hotel Belles Rives, where stayed the writer Scott Fitzgerald, the hotel Juana, La Vigie, the former Villa of Frank Jay Gould.
Eighty years later Juan-les-Pins is still a fashionable seaside resort as well as a destination for the wealthy people and the elite with a busy and hectic nightlife. Restaurants, bars, night-clubs, casinos,… Night owls find plenty of haunts. Every year in July a worldwide known jazz festival is also organized.
In stark contrast to this festive and trendy atmosphere, the nearby Cap d’Antibes is a haven of peace with typical Mediterranean landscapes. It’s a peninsula with a rugged rocky coastline scattered with charming coves and small beaches. A number of really nice walking trails go around and lead to few points of interest.
Sumptuous estates Thus, on the west coast a lonely tower still watches over the sea. Now a useless sentinel, it has been transformed in a museum honouring Napoleon who briefly lived in Antibes and came ashore on the beach of Golfe Juan when returning from exile in the Elbe island. Inland, on the heights, the two chapels of the Garoupe sanctuary hold hundreds of ex-voto left by sailors who asked for the Virgin protection before taking the sea. Lastly, the Thuret botanical garden will delight the nature lovers with its collection of 1200 species of subtropical plants and trees. Being so beautiful, the Cap d’Antibes of course attracted the super-rich and the peninsula is studded with their villas and outdoor pools. Villa Eilenroc is one of the most beautiful and is open to public. Built in the second half of the 19th century, this neo-classic estate was designed by Charles Garnier, who created the Paris Opera. Equally luxurious and from the same era, the Cap Eden Roc hotel welcomed Rita Hayworth and counts Clint Eastwood, George Clooney and Brad Pitt among its nowadays guests. But don’t dream… These are not easy to spot and you might prefer enjoy the old town authenticity.
Europe’s longest running jazz festival, Jazz à Juan has hosted the most celebrated jazz musicians in the world and takes place in an idyllic setting, on the Pinède Gould stage, which directly faces the Mediterranean. This year edition takes place from July 14th to 24th and offers concerts by BB King, Santana, Gilberto Gil, Keith Jarret Trio, James Hunter, Manu Katche Project, Jamie Cullum and Raphael Saadiq among others. It also features a selection of special events, tributes, exhibitions and film screenings commemorating the 20th anniversary of the death of Miles Davis, who played at the festival from 1963 to 1984. A “Fringe” festival runs parallel to the main program and presents many orchestras reflecting the diversity of jazz music.