The power of three: Nice, Cannes and Antibes-Juan les Pins
Unofficial capital of the French Riviera, Nice is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Most visitors arrive on the Côte d’Azur at its busy international airport. An elegant city with a distinctly Italian flavour, Nice only became part of France in 1860 and boasts an elegant tree-lined seafront, the Promenade des Anglais, looking out across sparkling turquoise water in the Baie des Anges. Away from the shore is a quaint, ramshackle old town, a busy food and flower market on the Cours Saleya, bustling restaurants, bars and shops as well as a number of important museums and galleries. Scores of artists were attracted to Nice for the quality of the light on the Riviera, which has inspired hundreds of canvases. Thanks to the French Riviera Pass, you can obtain discounted entry to many of the museums for either 24, 48 or 72 hours. Don’t miss the Musée Matisse, MAMAC (Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain), Musée Marc Chagall, Musée des Beaux-Arts and Musée d’Archeologie in Cimiez. Guided tours of the old town leave from the Tourist Office every Saturday at 9.30am.
Museums: Marc Chagall, Matisse, MAMAC (Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain), Beaux-Arts, Arts Asiatiques, Arts Naïfs
Thanks to the French Riviera Pass, you can obtain discounted entry to many of the museums for either 24, 48 or 72 hours.
Vieux Nice (the old town)
A ramshackle tangle of old ochre buildings lining narrow shaded alleys, Nice’s old town is a delightful place to get lost. The Cours Saleya is one of the liveliest areas of Old Nice where the famous flower, fruit and vegetable market takes place. Here you get an unmistakeable taste of the Mediterranean – a riot of scent and colour in the shade of pretty striped awnings. Hundreds of flowers vie for your attention; it’s hard to resist the brightly-coloured geraniums, intense mauve fuchsias and exotic dahlias being sold. It’s also a great opportunity to ask around 30 exhibitors,florists and horticulturists for advice.
Guided tours of the old town leave from the Tourist Office every Saturday at 9.30am.
The Promenade des Anglais
Nice’s sweeping seafront boulevard stretches for 7km from the airport in the west to the Quai des États-Unis. This two-way street is lined with attractions but is in itself one of the top tourist sights in Nice. The south side is laid out with cycle paths and footpaths and dotted with kiosks, pergolas and palm trees. The legendary blue lounge chairs of the promenade give strollers the opportunity to sit, relax and enjoy the view of the sparkling Baie des Anges.
La Colline du Château
For the best views over Nice’s red-tiled rooftops, climb the winding staircases up to this lush wooded outcrop on the eastern edge of the old town, occupied since ancient times. Shaded from the Mediterranean sun, you get up high enough to benefit from a cool breeze and enjoy showstopping views of the bay. The château ruins are open to the public and there’s a lovely network of secluded paths to wander. Find the large waterfall that cascades down over the cliff; you can walk up to the base of it and feel the cool spray, or stand at the top and watch the torrent come crashing down from the viewing balcony.
The arenas and gardens of Cimiez make up a hilly district in north-east Nice. The ‘arenas’ refer to the vestiges of an ancient Roman amphitheatre, forming part of Nice’s Musée d’Archéologie, and the surrounding gardens contribute to the visual appeal of the district, providing a beautiful location for a peaceful stroll.
Cannes has an international reputation as a resort of glitz and glamour, a celebrity playground home to the famous film festival every May and lined with designer boutiques, expensive cars and yachts. But it’s not all frivolity and an obsession with red carpets and evening gowns: Cannes has a more serious face too, hosting business conferences and events for a large portion of the year. Its modern, trend-setting image is at the forefront, but it has also preserved its heritage and traditions, and an authenticity that can be enjoyed by the visitors that slip away from the main thoroughfares and into the older part of town to savour the views and old-world French charm. Don’t miss…
Le Suquet and Musée de la Castre
The old, elevated quarter of Cannes, perched on a hill with breathtaking views of the port and out to the Lérins islands. You can reach it from various angles, taking steeply sloping narrow streets criss-crossed with picturesque flights of winding steps. Visit the ancient ramparts, the Musée de la Castre with its interesting display of artefacts, the tower and the church.
Le Marché Forville and Rue Meynadier
Lose yourself amongst rows of food shops: butchers, bakers, fishmongers, cheesemongers and wine merchants. The scent of thyme, basil and verbena fills the air and market sellers sing out the virtues of local produce in their lilting Provençal accent.
A spectacular sight, especially viewed from Le Suquet, where you can feast your eyes on a whole lot of waterborne wealth. Quai St-Pierre dates from 1838 and accommodates old sailboats – which set out from here for the Royal Regattas in September – as well as modern speedboats.
The Palais des Festivals et des Congrès
Containing Cannes’ tourist office, this building’s history is closely linked to that of the film festival. An initial building was constructed on the Croisette to host the event in 1947 (where JW Marriott currently stands), but in the light of the increasing success of the festival and the emergence of business tourism, the decision was made in 1979 to construct a new conference centre on the site of the town casino. In total, the Palais des Festivals now boasts 44,000m² of exhibition space and 15 auditoriums. Each year it hosts over 50 international trade events and 300,000 delegates, making Cannes the second most popular business tourism destination in France.
The star-studded walkway
Film directors, actors and other international celebrities have left their handprints and signatures in the stone on the Allée des Étoiles du Cinéma, in similar style to those on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. Over 300 handprints have been made so far, to the delight of movie fans and visitors. Admire them in front of Palais des Festivals on Esplanade Pompidou.
In 1850, Cannes’ sweeping main thoroughfare bordering the sea was nothing more than a path running across sand dunes. It’s now an avenue renowned for its prestigious shops and the luxury hotels that have established Cannes' history, including the Carlton, the Martinez and the Majestic.
This former imperial royal road linking Toulon to Antibes is the ultimate shopping street! To attract English colonists many shops – such as chemists, greengrocers and tailors – adopted a Franco-English style, and today all the major international high-street names are to be found on Rue d'Antibes. You can also admire its attractive 19th-century architecture, with doors bearing the initials of their first owners, ironwork, and sculptures by Pellegrini dating from 1883 – as well as the former Cannes theatre with its facades decorated with masks.
Located at the real heart of the Côte d’Azur between Nice and Cannes, Picasso’s favourite town of Antibes has become another popular holiday destination. Twinned with the neighbourhood of Juan-Les-Pins (hence often referred to as ‘Antibes-Juan-Les-Pins’), there are some truly luxurious properties here, both along the seafront – particularly on Cap d’Antibes, the pine-clad promontory jutting out into the sea – and in the residential areas. Throughout the year the city hosts a vibrant calendar of events, the highlight of which is the international jazz festival Jazz à Juan, held in July in a pine grove (pinède) overlooking the sea. Ray Charles and Miles Davis made their European debut here and today the festival welcomes stars such as Diana Krall and Marcus Miller.
To fully appreciate the wealth that Antibes attracts, take a walk around Port Vauban (the Mediterranean’s largest marina in terms of total boat tonnage) and out to the Quai des Milliardaires, where the world’s most luxurious private yachts are moored in all their glory. A mooring here can cost up to €1.5m and it’s always interesting to make a note of the yachts’ names to look up their owners and next destinations! Stroll around Fort Carré, which immortalises prestigious episodes in Antibes’ history, and the terrace of Bastion Saint-Jaume, from which Jaume Plensa’s 8m-high sculpture Nomade looks out to sea. Don’t miss the Musée Picasso, formerly the Château Grimaldi, built upon the foundations of the ancient Greek town of Antipolis. The château was Picasso’s studio in 1946 and now houses a fascinating collection of his paintings, drawings, lithographs and ceramics, as well as photographs of the artist.
A lovely way to see old Antibes and Juan-Les-Pins is on the Petit Train, making the most of the stops in the heart of the town – the Provençal market, Picasso Museum, Peynet Museum, Archeology Museum, Juan-Les-Pins, beaches and shops – and returning on the same ticket. You can also head out to Cap d’Antibes in an open-top bus, or discover the town on foot with a guided tour: choose from ‘Old Antibes Step by Step’ (Tuesdays at 10am in French; Thursdays at 10am in English), ‘The Painters’ Trail’ (Fridays at 10am) or ‘Juan-Les-Pins: from the Belle Époque to the Roaring Twenties’ (dates dependent on the season).