LIGHT-FILLED COASTAL ART ENCLAVE - ANTIBES-JUAN-LES-PINSANTIBES JUAN-LES-PINS is a more reticent jewel that sparkles on France's rather glitzy Cote d'Azur, writes JOY DODDS.
JUAN-LES-PINS - the place was indelibly etched in our minds through Peter Sarstedt's classic, "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)" and yet it and neighbouring Antibes are far more than topless swimsuits and even suntans in the heart of the French Riviera between Cannes and Nice!
Nowadays, Antibes Juan-les-Pins is a unified seafront town which offers every luxury as well a rich historic, artistic, cultural and lifestyle tradition.
This ancient Provencal town dates back to the 4th Century BC when the Greeks founded it en route to North African trade. Developed by the Romans and then devastated by the Barbarians, it was later fortified by French kings Henri IV and Louis XIV. Today the town's medieval walls with towers and ramparts overlook the oh-so civilized and elegant town, defining its presence.
Fort Carre, the defensive complex that evolved over the centuries and stands proudly over the port and the town, was built by French King Henri II in the C16th and updated by famed French architect Vauban. Once a line of defence against the [then] enemy, the Comte de Nice, it now houses a museum and overlooks the town like a benign guardian.
Yet Antibes Juan-les-Pins is not all knights and armour. It offers so many other features. Writers such as Graham Greene flocked there, along with a throng of artists, the most well-known being Pablo Picasso. Little wonder that the Picasso Museum, the first one dedicated to the artist in his lifetime, is located among the medieval ramparts of Antibes in the old Chateau Grimaldi of Monaco fame. Picasso's Antibes' period, from autumn 1946, is displayed here as a rich creative chronology of these years, of which "La joie de vivre" (1946) is a classic symbol.
In fact, Antibes Juan-les-Pins is renowned for its rich and varied artistic heritage, its artists lured by the unique light and physical beauty. A walkway of reproduced paintings by artists who lived in Antibes, called "The Route of the Painters", has been recently erected along the waterfront, on the very sites where the original works were painted, outlooking to such stunning and unforgettable landscapes as the snow-capped lower Alps and the Mediterranean shoreline.The walkway gallery includes reproductions of "The Lovers on the Ramparts" by Raymond Peynet and "The Port of Antibes" by Eugene Boudin and these and other artists' fascination with the area's light and magical colours becomes easily understood.
The prehistoric elements of Antibes are recognised and exhibited in its Archaeology Museum which displays remnants of Greek and Roman civilization when the town was known as Antipolis. Bastion Saint-Andre, which was designed by Vauban in the C17th, guards the remains of ancient Antipolis, found on land and sea, thanks to the number of Etruscan, Greek, Phoenician and Roman ships wrecked in storms and war. The collection includes ceramics, amphorae, mosaics, coins and everyday objects, all of which attest to the prosperity of what was formerly known as Civitas Antipolitana. The Archaeology Museum in Bastion Saint-Andre is very near to the former home of :"Zorba The Greek" author, Nikos Kazantzaki.
Back from the Promenade Amiral de Grasse, between the Vieux Port and the old Chateau Grimaldi, is the oldest part of Antibes, containing three millennia of history including remnants of the ancient Roman walls, as well as the Cathedral, the Saracen towers and Portail de l'Orme, the gate and remains of the Greco-Roman wall.
In more recent history, the town was hailed by French royalty for repelling Napoleon Bonaparte's efforts to land on French soil after his escape from the island of St Elba. The Napoleon Museum and its collections evoke the career of the enigmatic ruler who once lived in Antibes as General Bonaparte.
The markets of Antibes Juan-les-Pins are not to be missed. The Provencal Market on Cours Massena each morning offers a smorgasbord of fresh produce, accents and fragrances, surrounded by medieval buildings known as La Bourgade. The markets at Place du Revely near the Town Hall and church teem with fresh produce, hams and other charcuterie and flowers.
Antibes Juan-les-Pins is also a green ecological environment, its pristine coastline and seafloor carefully preserved. There is a coastal underwater trail in the Bay of Juan as well as a footpath around Cap d'Antibes, surrounded by luxuriant vegetation. Beyond, the magnificent estates and villas on Cap d'Antibes owned by the world's celebrities and very wealthy bear testimony to its beauty and privacy.
Port Vauban,the largest and most advanced yachting harbour in Europe, has its "Billionaires' Wharf" (Quai des Milliardaires) accommodating the likes of James Packer and company while the wharf of Fort Carre was home to the likes of writer/sailor Guy de Maupassant on his boat,"Bel Ami".
In the historic centre, Bastion Saint-Jaume with its vaulted ramparts has sheltered the defensive tower, and the fort, Anse St-Roch, from the Barbary pirates and other foes. It was from here that knights left for the Crusades.
Chateau de Juan-les-Pins was the Riviera home of screen idol Rudolf Valentino, and the area was the haunt of the Fitzgeralds in the 1920s. Today, luxury hotel Le Belles-Rives has retained its 1930s feel in decor and atmosphere, recalling such illustrious guests as Picasso and Edith Piaf.
The temple of the International Jazz Festival, the pine grove known as Pinede Gould, on the waterfront near Port Gallice, is its "La Scala", the stage for world-renowned jazz singers, including Ray Charles. In fact, the area's annual calendar of events reads like a "Who's Who" of culture and entertainment, including the Festival of Sacred Art and Vieil (Old) Antibes Antique Show, to name just a few.
The hilltop of Cap d'Antibes is the location of Chapelle de la Garoupe, its nave full of votive plaques in memory of sailors lost at sea, and nearby La Garoupe Lighthouse. On the western side of Cap d'Antibes is one of the world's most luxurious hotels, Hotel du Cap-Eden Roc, inaugurated in 1870, and host to such colourful identities as Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, Charles de Gaulle, Alain Delon, Clint Eastwood, Brad Pitt, and many more stars.
It may not be Cannes, nor Nice but it's the ideal base to enjoy these more crowded cities - and, thankfully, return to the arms of a historic medieval town with a hip presence. Despite attracting the international jetset with its glitz and glamour, Antibes Juan-Les-Pins manages to exude great soul and authenticity.
THE ANTIBES HINTERLAND
Picturesque tiny villages in its hinterland and Mediterranean islets off the coast make yet another enticement to this light-filled region.
The Isles of Lerins have witnessed Spanish and English invasions, the landing of Bonaparte and the ¡°royal¡± incarceration of the enigmatic ¡°Man in the Iron Mask¡±. Today, thankfully, the action is more peaceful and private.
The medieval village of Biot, with its old parapet walk and gates, is surrounded by olive and mimosa trees and renowned for its craft (pottery and glass blowing) and art, while Vallauris-Golfe-Juan's old castle is now home to the Picasso National Museum with its famous mural, "War and Peace", and a famous pottery centre. After Picasso painted in his Madoura studio, he was followed by other great masters such as Matisse and Chagall. The adjoining seaside town of Golfe-Juan was the site of Napoleon's landing in 1815 at the start of his illustrious "Hundred Days" and today offers pretty seaside villas and yachting harbours.
Villeneuve-Loubert dates back to the 11th Century with its castle, keep and tower. The village is the birthplace of chef Auguste Escoffier and a museum attests to his gastronomic brilliance. Stretching down to the sea is the luxurious coastal complex of Marina Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) and yachting harbour.
Le Rouret is a classic Provencal village with fragrant gardens that supply the perfumeries of Grasse while Roquefort-les-Pins is a former "castrum" with ancient remains from the Bronze Age.
Of particular interest is Gourdon, located on an isolated peak which was a place of refuge in ancient times. Occupied by Celts, Ligurians and Romans, who left vestiges of their presence in this feudal village, it became an impregnable fortress during the disputes between the Counts of Provence and Ventimiglia. Queen Victoria came there to paint watercolours on the square that now bears her name. Today it is the base of many craftspeople, from glassmakers to painters on silk and bakers, and well worth a visit.
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Holidays Away is published by Fairfax Media
Telephone: 02 9478 1200
Holidays Away is published by Fairfax Media