Travelogue French Riviera 3: Antibes

19 June 2019
Where we were staying, Juan Les Pins, was essentially the beach suburb of one of the famous towns on the Cote d’Azur, Antibes.
We’d left our city tour of Antibes until the last day since it was up the coast toward Nice so we figured it would be the first hop of the next stage in our roadtrip which was to take us in that direction.
Since in real-life Antibes was less than 2km away and we were so close to the station, it now made more sense to take the one stop on the train rather than battle (and pay through the nose) for parking in Antibes.
We navigated the train service easily – even managing to grab a curry poulet baguette at the legendary Juan Les Pins train station coffee shop in the process – and were soon (really really soon) stepping into the Antibes sunshine and making our way down to the Place Charles De Gaulle for the walking tour we’d booked.
Our guide, Cederic, was already there along with 2 other tourists, a Mom and daughter combo from Norwich. Minutes later we were joined by a student from Colombia and a woman from Las Vegas who was already flustered from leaving her sunglasses in her Uber. With her dramatic entrance and so very American accent, if this was an Agatha Christie murder mystery character intro, you just know Hercule Poirot would discount her immediately for falling short on the requirements for strategic villainy.
Cederic was born and raised in Antibes and it was clear that his love for his home town ran deeply and sincerely. He shared enthusiastically the long history of the own from its formation in 5C BC – then called Antipolis the Greek for “facing the town” – and its historical significance in production of wine, ceramics and oil.
Nice was in the neighbouring Kingdom of Savoy and Antibes was the door to France and the military town protecting her border. Until 1860 when the border moved up to Menton, which gave relief to Antibes and allowed removal of the landside walls so that the now-cramped city could expand, including the addition of the seaside suburb of Juan Les Pins.
Cederic delighted in sharing with us the old-world mysticism and magic. First at the Chapelle Saint Bernardin with its unusual fully painted ceilings and walls, gallery, and massive wooden door that inexplicably wasn’t damaged in a fire that burns most of the church to the ground.
We wound through the old town and he marvelled at the regeneration of old town, the creation of pedestrian-only areas, commitment to artisanal shops and refusal of chain stores of any sort and the recreation of the town’s old bandstand that would serve as the social meeting point it had in day’s gone by.
His favourite part of the tour was an Absinthe store which had a vintage display in the window that he used to explain how the locals used to drink wine almost exclusively because of so much bacteria in the water. And then, when a bad crop made wine too expensive, they turned to absinthe!
Absinthe, when prepared in the traditional manner, is served as 2cl in bottom of tumbler, with a slotted teaspoon over the top of the glass through which cold water is dropped until all the sugar is melted; the perfect ratio being about 5:1.
We sampled and it was indeed really refreshing – and not as manic as some of the crazy absinthe we’ve sampled elsewhere in Europe. Van Gogh was notoriously a big fan of the stuff… but he mixed using cognac instead of water, so it’s no wonder he went crackers. And he and his Bohemian friends ruined the fun for everyone, since absinthe got banned based on reputation, in the early 1900s.
Left with some ‘free time’ to wander around the fruit and veg Marché, we sampled with reckless abandon, appreciating the French’s ability to cure meat and mature cheese, wondering why there wasn’t representation of wine ‘degustation’ from a nation that had visibly displayed no need for planes to fly overhead for daily indulgences to be partaken.
Apparently the Marché is all edibles in the morning and then arts and crafts in the afternoon, blending in live music as the sun goes down. It all sounds quite lively, as Cederic described it – and ultimately culminated as the best evening experience in Antibes, the piano lounge under the Absinthe place we’d been at earlier. Only open on weekends, the lounge is allegedly unmissable.
It was impossible to miss the artistic influence in Antibes. Picasso moved to Antibes, bought the Grimaldi Chateau as his residence and workshop and produced countless works of art there and it remains today a museum dedicated to the legendary artist.
Understandably. The setting is picture perfect, as we moved from quaint narrow and winding ancient roads, adorned with draping grapevines and curtains of Bougainvillea, onto the seafront with the stark contrast of green to blue, from the natural tones of yesteryear to modern shiny yachts. All inspirational in their own way.
We walked along the seafront to the marina and then parted ways with the group, us finding our way back up the hill to the train station to head back to Juan Les Pins to claim our car and conclude our roadtrip.