Mountain sports: cycling, golf and major events
The Côte d’Azur is an amazing playground for sporty types, especially half an hour’s drive inland from the coast in the Alpes-Maritimes foothills. Here there are opportunities for hiking, canyoning, cycling and mountain biking, rafting, paragliding, speleology… you name it, it’s probably here!
While many prestigious golf courses can be found beside the sea on the Côte d’Azur, there are several others worth noting further inland in the Alpine foothills, particularly around Grasse. Among the most picturesque are the Golf d’Opio-Valbonne (18 holes set across a staggering 220 hectares); the Golf de la Grande Bastide in Châteauneuf-de-Grasse; and the Golf du Claux-Amic in Grasse (don’t miss the view of the Lérins islands from the 12th hole). Even higher up are the Valberg Golf Club and Golf Rustique d’Auron, both boasting breathtaking mountain panoramas.
Spectator rather than participant? The Côte d’Azur is also home to around 40 different high-level sporting events every year. There’s the Transvésubienne in May, a 75km cycle race connecting la Colmiane to Nice on a super technical and physical trail, and the Cannes Royal Regattas in September which bring together some of the world’s oldest and most beautiful sailing boats. There’s also the Monte-Carlo Rolex Tennis Masters in April and the Marathon des Alpes-Maritimes in November, France’s second greatest long-distance run after that of Paris. Whatever you’re into and whatever time of year you visit the Côte d’Azur, there’s something to watch and a team or talented sportsman to cheer on!
Wander around any of the Côte d’Azur’s towns and villages and you’re bound to spot groups of French residents enjoying a lazy game of pétanque (a form of boules), in village squares such as in St-Paul-de-Vence and on park pathways in Nice, Cannes and Antibes-Juan les Pins. It originated in the Provençal village of La Ciotat in the early 1900s, with the goal of tossing or rolling hollow steel balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet, while standing inside a circle with both feet on the ground. It’s relaxing to watch and will get you truly into the spirit of this leisurely-paced part of France – but better still: integrate with the locals, pick up a ball and try your hand at the game! Don’t miss the Original Boules Carrées world championship, held in the Montée de la Bourgade, a lane running up to the Château du Haut-de-Cagnes.
The enchanting village of Biot, lying a few miles inland from Antibes, has been associated with arts and crafts for centuries – and in particular, glass blowing. On the village outskirts, the Verrerie de Biot is a family-run business dating back to 1956, when the first of its trademark ‘bubbled glass’ was created. Bubbles are a decorative technique and the effect can be achieved by adding chemicals to a glass batch, which reacts to produce random air bubbles during the melting process. Special tools allow the glassblower to manipulate the bubbles (normally considered defects) into certain deliberate designs. The Lechaczynski family took up the torch of the bubbled glass tradition here in 1973 and maintain a high standard of production today.
The Verrerie has been open to the public since its inception, where they can watch the glassblowers and purchase their creations. Many French and international glass artists now train in Biot and set up their workshops there. Visit the Verrerie to admire, touch, choose and buy unique hand-blown pieces for your home – there’s everything from plates and glasses to vases and paperweights. Many of these can also be bought from the numerous galleries lining the main areas of the village.
Another tactile craft on the Côte d’Azur is pottery, concentrated in and around the village of Vallauris near Cannes. Due to the area’s rich natural supply of clay, pottery has been made here since Roman times – but the village really grew as a pottery centre in the late 19th century and many producers have flourished here since then, notably Massier and Foucard-Jourdan. An influx of potters from all over France gravitated to Vallauris in the 1940s, drawn by the attractive conditions of a small village with availability of material, workshops and cheap living costs.
Pablo Picasso and Roger Capron both contributed significantly to the ceramics trade in Vallauris, while other artists including Marc Chagall and Edouard Pignon were first introduced to the craft here. Modern Vallauris pottery is lead glazed, brightly coloured earthenware, often heavily influenced by its Mediterranean homeland. The majority of items produced are domestic tableware and cooking pots.