Antibes Juan-les-Pins READ THIS : The French Riviera in the 1920's by Xavier Giraud (Assouline) captures the creativity and spirit of the post WWII paradise when it was a burgeoning art scene, inspiring famous talents from Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald to Picasso and Cocteau. A firsthand exploration, the images come from the author's personal archives.
A quick 12-minute ride on the local TER train landed me in Antibes Juan-les-Pins, situated halfway between Cannes and Nice. Antibes enjoys one of the most extensive coastal stretches in France, with seven-and-a-half miles of shoreline and its ancient ramparts snaking along the crystalline sea. Within its walls is a city of narrow lanes, charming boutiques, sidewalk cafes and an impressive arts and culture scene that includes the oldest European jazz festival Jazz à Juan, held in an alfresco venue that’s seen the likes of Ray Charles and B.B. King and the recently reopened Picasso Museum, which houses a collection of works the artist created during his time in the city. While I enjoyed ambling around the cobblestone streets and sinking my toes into the soft sand at Plage de la Gravette, it was France’s only dedicated absinthe bar that topped my list of city favorites. You would never know when passing the storefront selling olive oil and ceramics that the Absinthe Bar was tucked below in a ninth-century cellar complete with a Roman well. After descending the curved stone staircase, I first noticed the abundance of hats strewn across the small space, which I’m sure patrons are wont to don once drunk on the green goodness that Van Gogh famously imbibed. Then I enjoyed a proper absinthe tasting, learning how to dilute the alcohol by slowly dripping water on a sugar cube perched on a slotted spoon set atop the glass. The 10-year-old bar hosts gatherings every Friday and Saturday night, and as I sipped the licorice-flavored libation, I wished it were the weekend. It crossed my mind that Antibes originally seemed quieter than its neighboring Riviera cities, but outside appearances sometimes belie what’s within.
S a i n t Pa u l d e V e n c e As my driver wound his way through tree-lined streets, I saw the walled city of medieval Saint Paul de Vence from a distance. Perched on a hill, its fortifications were clearly delineated against the blue sky behind and the green grass below; its single bell tower rose majestically from the middle. It was only in the 19th century that the surrounding hills were covered with flowers, vines and olive trees, and the streets actually remained bare until the 1950s when Mayor Marius Issert had them laid with cobblestones. I was immediately enchanted once inside the walls, and I watched locals play boules, also known as bocce ball, on a dirt expanse outside a restaurant. I smiled as they went about their game without giving a second glance to the centuries-old city they called home. Saint Paul de Vence’s innate beauty has attracted numerous ac-
tors, writers and painters, a few of whom chose to settle like Marc Chagall—as such, the area is heavily influenced by art. This year marks the 50-year anniversary of the Maeght Foundation, the second largest contemporary art museum in France after Paris’s Centre Georges Pompidou. The uniquely designed space features a sculpture garden and a restored chapel dedicated to Marguerite and Aimé Maeght’s late son Bernard. It also showcases one of the largest European collections of graphic works from the 20th century with pieces by Chagall, Calder and Léger. As I wove my way through the garden labyrinth, I thought how strange it was that in a city dating to medieval times, I was standing in front of Miró’s 14-foot-high marble l’Oiseau Lunaire statue—which in English means “moon bird.”
Above: Photo courtesy of ASSOULINE available at www.assouline.com | Right: Thinkstock
Night view of Hotel Du Cap-Eden-Roc
Published on Jul 25, 2014
Explore France, Italy, China, Maldives and some of the best places to travel this summer in Ker & Downey's Summer issue of QUEST magazine.