The prospect of a long week-end on the French Riviera can only enchant. I was however, left worrying that a certain Icelandic volcano might spoil the party. Luckily the skies were clear and a short flight later, we were greeted with the breath taking view of Nice- the low Alpine mountains, the sea and the town itself nestled neatly in between. After a hassle-free car hire we set off to our first destination: the glamorous St Tropez, via the new motorway. We seemed to have coincided with the Harley Davidson Euro Festival 2010 which takes places in the Saint Tropez bay, meaning we were rubbing shoulders with (and overtaken by) roaring motorbikes along the way.
Once in St Tropez, we decided to sample the local seafood and watch the afternoon promenaders, which lead us to the marina. We were not disappointed, washing down seafood pizza with a dry and fruity rosé. Now that our stomachs were full we headed along the coast, meandering around Port Grimaud and Sainte Maxime. The former is known as a private lagoon pleasure city, full of waterways, yachts and houses in tasteful Provencal style. The brainchild of an Alsatian architect who wanted to recreate the feel of Venice, the town only arose from the sand dunes in the 1960s. Owners here are more than a little wealthy, and include Joan Collins. Sainte Maxime, often called St Tropez’s poor and less fashionable neighbour, was a pleasant surprise. The shaded streets were well worth a visit, including the 18th century church, colourful facades, cobbled alleyways and numerous squares with fountains.
We bought some souvenirs of course. I was told that in the area one is never more than 20 minutes away from a golf course! This is just as well, as it is such a popular sport and I for one wouldn’t want too many eyes watching as I retrieved my ball from yet another bunker.
It was getting late by then, and we decided to head back to our hotel in Nice, via the Esterel Massif, a coastal, rocky mountain range. It was however, too dark to see much by this point and we decided to explore further the following day.
The second day saw us visiting some new build developments. In Antibes we checked out the Perle de Jade Residence and The Antibes-les-Pins Residence which has been completed and boasts contemporary design and stunning sea views. In Nice we saw the Jardin Pastorelli Development of apartments and townhouses, which is situated at the heart of Nice old town yet still feels remarkably tranquil once inside. On the way to St Raphael we decided to take a better look at the Esterel, marvelling again at its wild, untouched beauty, with rugged red cliffs jutting into the sea and lush greenery.
On Saturday morning we decided to get up early and make the most of the covered Marché Provencal in Antibes. Here one finds the freshest produce you’ve ever seen, prawns, langoustines, crab, tomatoes, peppers (both far redder than the pale sorts one finds in supermarkets here), courgettes (bigger than any I’ve ever seen), lemons, salads, fresh herbs and spices in yellow sacks, and olives, stuffed with all sorts of heady ingredients- garlic, nuts, peppers, anchovies or marinated in thyme and lavender. We even spotted a celebrity, the Welsh footballer Robbie Savage, browsing the stalls with his wife.
As we were in Antibes, we decided to visit the Picasso museum in the Grimaldi Palace where we saw the resplendent “Joie de Vivre”, celebrating happiness regained (post World War Two), and the radiant Mediterranean light.
Continuing the arty theme, we then headed to Vallauris, west of Antibes, where Picasso lived for seven years. He practically single-handedly brought about the renaissance of the Vallauris pottery industry and his presence is felt and evoked continuously (he was allowed to decorate the chapel in town and created a bronze statue for the local children to climb on in Place de la Liberation).
Biot was the next destination on our map, a former pottery centre but now renowned for its glassblowers and bubble glass products. The glass factory is open year round to the public who wish to see the craftsmen create their masterpieces. Following on in the arts and crafts vein we ventured 25 minutes up the road to Grasse, the world capital of perfume. There are plenty of old perfumeries one can visit though we didn’t have the time. Still, you can wonder and wander to your heart’s content in between the 17 and 18th century buildings, under arched tunnels, up and down ancient steps and then unexpectedly come upon a square with a three-tiered fountain, a Cathedral or a watchtower.
On the way back from Grasse we decided to stop in Valbonne, a picturesque town which retains a familial, village atmosphere. We sat in a square and sipped a hot chocolate-coffee drink in a picturesque cafe, utterly delicious, as we watched the world go by again- children playing, parents sipping wine and watching, tourists like us basking in the last rays of the day.
Our final meal of the trip took place in Antibes, and we feasted on Aioli Provencal- vegetables (carrots, potatoes, green beans) with fish served with the aioli sauce, heaven for garlic lovers like us, but not quite as enjoyable for anyone stepping within a few feet of us. We then ambled along into Juan les Pins, which really comes alive when the sun goes down, with its giddy mix of casinos, clubs, live music and late night shopping. Watching the beautiful people drift past as we sipped a beer, it was hard to imagine that within 24 hours we would be back in less Mediterranean climes, contemplating another week in the rat race.
In three days, we saw plenty, and yet only briefly. What struck me above all were simply the colours- the blueness of the sea (it isn’t called the Cote d’Azur for nothing), the arresting old town of Antibes with yellows, reds, greens; quaint yet not overly so. And then there is the culture- for all the sunbathing, jet setting crowds, the Cote d’Azur is also a place of overwhelming creativity and artistry, from perfumery to glassware, Picasso to pottery, it is truly a feast for the senses.
If you’re still unsure where to buy on the Cote d’Azur, and weighing up the pros and cons of Nice, Antibes, Cannes or any other town, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Direct line: 020 7428 4915