There are enough things to do in and around Antibes to keep even the most energetic of tourists busy for weeks, but if there’s one thing you absolutely must not miss it’s the famous Marché Provençal. Every morning the market traders fill their stalls with all the fragrant and delicious produce that Provence is famed for – mountains of fresh fruit and vegetables, sparkling coloured salt crystals, towering sunflowers, row upon row of different types of saucisson sec …
It is both heaven and hell all at once. Because everything looks and smells amazing, but if you’re only in Antibes for a week, you can’t possibly eat your way through it all. And as we only managed to visit on our penultimate day, walking around and looking at all the things we could have bought was utterly torturous. I mean …
Apricots! Cherries! Figs!
But mostly … macarons!
My mouth is watering just at the memory.
And I never got the chance to find out why there was such a queue for this chap’s flatbreads.
Still, it’s a very good reason to go back another time. As if we needed one.
So many delicious possibilities, so little time.
And we couldn’t hang around sniffing the air like hopeful, hungry puppies any longer, because we had a date with this guy …
Antibes has been inspiring creative minds from across the globe for hundreds of years: some of its most famous residents are the great and the good of art and literature. Aldous Huxley, Graham Greene, Henri Matisse, Jules Verne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Louis Stevenson and W. Somerset Maugham have all called this city home at one time or another. And of course a rather talented Spanish artist you may have heard of …
Pablo Picasso spent six months in Antibes in 1946, during which time he was the artist in residence at what was then known as Château Grimaldi, the imposing 14th-century castle that stands majestically atop the ramparts of old Antibes looking out over the Baie des Anges. He produced a great number of works in his time there, and left more than 70 for the museum when he departed. 20 years later, the castle was renamed the Musée Picasso, as it is today, and now contains around 250 works by its namesake. It may not be one of the largest collections of Picasso’s works in the world, but it was the first ever museum dedicated solely to him.
I’d urge you to go and see it for yourself if you are on the French Riviera and have even a passing interest in art. Photography isn’t really allowed inside the gallery (although I did get this sneaky one), so you’ll have to if you want to see what all the fuss is about, including a painting Picasso made directly on the walls of the castle. There’s a wonderful playfulness to many of the paintings and sculptures you’ll find here, and the artist’s love of Antibes is clear. But for me, some of the most fascinating and delightful exhibits were the photos of Picasso at work taken by his friend Michael Sima – some showing the artist creating the very works hung on the walls around you; some of Picasso and his pet owl that will just make you squeal.
And if you have a chance, take a sneaky peek behind the blinds and have a look at the views that the Grimaldi family would once have enjoyed (although probably with fewer yachts littering the bay) …
Not bad, huh?
By this time our hunger had caught up with us, so we left the cool sanctuary of the museum and wound our way down to what had become a favourite pavement bistro just off the main square. Anywhere that serves a €7 Aperol spritz on the Riviera is bound to become a favourite pretty quickly …
It may have just been the hunger, but I still think this bruschetta was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Sliced mushrooms, lardons and two kinds of cheese piled on top of a perfectly-toasted slice of good French bread … Simple but effective, and just the fuel I needed.
And I did need it, because in order to find dessert, we were going all the way to Nice.
I say ‘all the way’ … it’s a very short train ride in reality.
I wish we’d been able to spend more time in Nice, but it was a bit of a last-minute trip so that my mum could see the city where her dad grew up. Although his family was originally from Lancashire, he suffered from a childhood illness that could only be made better by living in a warmer climate. So the family packed up and moved to the south of France. We don’t know where exactly in Nice he lived, but just to get a feel for the city he called home until he left to join up in the Second World War was enough this time.
But I had also promised a certain little someone that we would go and find the best ice cream in the whole Riviera.
A tall order, you might think. But I had done my research, and we soon found ourselves outside one of Nice’s most famous foodie destinations.
The Fenocchio family of maîtres glaciers has been serving its homemade ices to the sweet-toothed and hot under the collar of the Côte d’Azur since 1966 from its flagship shop on the Place Rosetti in Nice’s Old Town. But we sought out its smaller but no less wonderful sister shop on the rue de la Poissonnerie near the famous Marché aux Fleurs (which we sadly missed as we arrived too late).
The next bit was tough. Because how do you even begin to choose from a menu that boasts nearly a hundred flavours?!
Seriously. There are 59 ice creams and 35 sorbets in Fenocchio’s repertoire, and some of them are highly unusual … Cactus, anyone?
Of course, it wasn’t a difficult choice for Miss France. She just goes for whatever looks like it will make the stickiest, chocolatiest drips.
But for me, it was torturous. In the end, I chose an aromatic trio that seemed a fitting in a region that is famed for producing some of the world’s most revered perfumes: lavender, jasmine and orange blossom.
We walked through the gorgeous streets of the old town back towards the sea front as our ices rapidly became delicious puddles in the bottoms of our tubs and cones.
It was a glorious afternoon, and the beach was packed with bikini-clad tourists soaking up the sun.
It was good to see so many people relaxing and enjoying themselves in the time-honoured Riviera fashion, since only two weeks before we arrived on the Côte d’Azur, the city of Nice had suffered something unspeakably awful. Had it not been for the unmissable blanket news coverage of the incident at the time, we would hardly have known as we strolled along the Quai des États-Unis and the Promenade des Anglais, where the terrible events of Bastille Day occurred. The only signs around the city, and the surrounding towns, was a very visible armed police presence and black notices in almost every shop window declaring “Je Suis Nice. Sieu Nissa.” Sieu Nissa is ‘I am Nice’ in the local Niçard dialect.
Just off the boulevard, the noise of the city stilled to a gentle hum in the special area designated for tributes to the eighty-six people who lost their lives and the hundreds more whose lives will never be the same.
I hope it won’t be often that I will ever include anything like this here. But visiting this site was a deeply moving experience which will stay with me forever, and I wanted to share it with you. I was struck by the tremendous fortitude of a people who can experience such an atrocity and get right back up again, and I feel it is an important reminder that if we allow fear to win, we all lose.
These pictures say more than I ever could, so I will leave you with these and a few translations.
“You are angels up in heaven. We now have a good reason to call it the Bay of Angels. Rest in peace. Allah have mercy. Peace / Love / Fraternity / Compassion / Empathy / Courage / Liberty.”
“A thousand thoughts to all the little angels.”
“The Niçois are strong and always will be.”
Liberté, égalité, fraternité.