I wrote the following travel log on Antibes in 2009 following a trip to that part of the world in 2007. I shall be heading back in September 2012 and can’t wait. Both my mum and elder sister live in Golfe Juan, where today the town is celebrating the feast of St Pierre. Yesterday they held the annual Sardines Festival and according to my sister the town was close to bursting with locals and tourists alike. Golfe Juan is minutes away from Cannes and not too far from Antibes – my favourite of all the coastal towns along the Côte d’Azur.
Antibes – A Traveller’s Guide
Antibes is located 11 km northeast of Cannes and 15 km southeast of Nice, on the Côte d’Azur. Whether you approach the waterfront from the Gare d’Antibes at the Place Pierre Sémard, or park the car along the Avenue de Verdun, you cannot help but notice the Fort Carre which dominates Port Vauban. It stands majestically as though protecting the vast array of luxury yachts.
To visit the old town stroll across the Avenue de Verdun where you enter via Rue Aubernon. Here, near the old city gate, is Heidi’s English bookshop, where Dame Vera Lynn held a book signing of her memoirs: “Some Sunny Day”. To your right is Boulevard d’Aguillon, where Geoffrey’s of London provides English and American foods to ex-pats.
Antibes Food Market
As you walk up Rue Aubernon you enter the open air food market at the Cours Masséna. No sooner do you pass beneath the wooden roof than your senses are assaulted by the various produce of Provence. The bustling market offers an abundance of vegetables and fruit to delight your eyes and taste buds, whilst the aroma of fresh lavender, wild herbs and exotic spices tease your nostrils. The choice is vast and diverse – from honey to goat’s cheese, olive oils to olives, freshly caught fish to dried meats and sausages, jams and chutneys – the market is open daily until 1pm.
Leaving the market you meander through a maze of narrow cobbled alleys, giving the feeling of walking through an Arabian bazaar, filled with tiny art galleries, boutiques, and curiosity shops. On the Place Nationale an antiques and flea market takes place every Thursday and Saturday from 7am until 6pm.
Antibes was founded by the Greeks in 4BC, but only flourished during Roman occupation, when an amphitheatre, aqueducts and baths were built. In the middle ages kings of France began fortifying the town due to its key position on the Mediterranean coast. During the reign of King Louis XIV this culminated with the construction of distinct star-shaped ramparts designed by the military architectural engineer, Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban. This stronghold was once headed by a young general Napoleon Bonaparte, who lived with his family in a humble house in the old town.
Antibes’s Fort Carre and Port
From the narrow alleyways you emerge into the large, bright square of Place des Martyrs. At its centre, the heroics of the Resistance Fighters of World War Two are depicted in a remembrance memorial. Around the square are numerous shops of every variety. Restaurants and cafes, with tables spilling out on the footpath, offer the tired shopper a chance to sit, rest and have a meal whilst watching others walking to and fro. During the summer months, children can have fun on the carousel rides set up in the square.
Walking further uphill, you soon reach the Place General De Gaulle where you are awakened from the sleepiness of the old town and, somewhat, rudely brought back to the reality of modern France. Nearby, the bus terminus which connects to other towns and cities along the coast, as well as to Nice Airport, adds to the hustle and bustle of a very popular town. There is a regular bus, the number 200, which runs between Cannes and Nice via Antibes.
During December, the square is transformed into a winter wonderland, where surrounding a Christmas tree numerous stalls sell a variety of goods and rides, attracting tourists and locals alike. In the evenings the aroma of roasting chestnuts brings warmth to the cold night air. The Pièce de résistance is the son et lumière show which is performed nightly where coloured lasers light up the surrounding buildings.
Off the square, tree-lined avenues with prestigious apartment blocks, commercial and office buildings, add to the diversity of Antibes and contrast to the beauty of the old town. It is little wonder Pablo Picasso was attracted here and was invited to stay at the Chateau Grimaldi in 1946. He remained for six months, painting and drawing numerous pieces of art, including some ceramics and tapestries of the surrounding area. On his departure he left all his works behind, and the Chateau became officially known as the Picasso Museum.
Visitors can use Antibes as a base or stay in one of the nearby towns, such as Golfe Juan or Jaun-les-Pins. At the southernmost tip of the Cap d’Antibes the five star hôtel du Cap Eden is situated in a private 9-hectare park and offers a superior room for €670 per night during autumn. The hôtel de la Mer, Golfe Juan is located only 5 minutes walking from a fine sandy beach and offers accommodation from €72 a night at low season. Regardless where you choose to stay there are a vast array of hotels to suit any budget.
Along 25 km of coastline between Antibes and Juan-les-Pins there are some 48 beaches. Antibes has three public beaches – La Gravette is situated below the port and is a tiny sandy inlet protected by a breakwater making it safe for children. Another 1.5 km further on the larger beaches of Plage de Ponteil and Plage de la Salis are good, but get crowded during peak season. Many beaches are privately operated, renting parasols and sun loungers. Fees average between €6 – €10 for a changing room and lounge chair and €2 – €4 for a parasol. Juan-les-Pins is one large beach, lined by a promenade which is dotted with cafes and restaurants. Most are open only from April to October.
Leaving it all behind and heading off to other destinations along the Côte d’Azur, you will long for the day when you can return to wonderful Antibes.
RLB – Tomewriter