The towns and villages between Nice and Cannes are part of an extensive metropolitan area, vast suburbs and exurbs with some very pretty historic town centers and forested hills in between. This contiguous urban area of separately incorporated towns stretches along the coast from Nice to Théoule sur Mer southwest of Cannes and inland to Grasse. With a fast growing population - a bit like France's version of California - this area probably has by now close to 1 million inhabitants. If it were officially regarded as a metropolitan area, which it is not, it would be France's 5th largest.
Do not expect the quaint Provençal landscape and easy pace of life you find further west in the Var, Vaucluse and parts of the Bouches du Rhône departments. Nevertheless, the historic significance of this region, when it was still quaint and pretty, when the likes of Picasso, Renoir and other 20th century artists worked here, merits a visit.
Here is a short description of the towns, villages and sights we recommend in the area (in alphabetical order):
Antibes has one of the prettiest historic towns on the Côte d'Azur: Vieille Antibes with narrow cobble-stoned streets and the aura of "Picasso once lived here". Driving west along the coast you will reach Le Cap d'Antibes, one of the most exclusive areas on the Côte d'Azur. Juan les Pins lies on the next bay west, the Golfe de Juan. It is a rather plain looking concrete jungle with a narrow beach, a pretty ....... read more about it here.
Driving from the coastal road inland past Marineland, the Aquasplash amusement center, supermarkets, building supply stores and endless lotissements (the French version of suburban housing development) you will eventually reach Biot (pop. 7.500), a beautiful historic village situated on a hill - a gem. It has a history which stretches back to Celto-Ligurian times, perhaps even longer. It became a Roman oppidum 42 A.D - there are vestiges of a Roman mausoleum outside Biot, the so called Chèvre d'Or. In the 13th century Biot was a stronghold of the Knights Templar. At the end of the 14th century practically the entire population was wiped out due to the pest. It was resettled with people from Liguria and became a prosperous town.
It is a pleasure to walk the cobbled streets from Rue de la Calade to the Place aux Arcades with buildings dating back to the 14/15th century. Église Sainte Marie Madeleine was built on the foundations of an earlier church. Inside are two altarpieces attributed to one of the Bréas from Nice, a 17th century reliquary of Sainte Magdalene and procession crucifixes from the 15th and 17th century.
Biot's tradition of making pottery goes back many centuries. In the 20th century Biot became famous for its artisanal glass, typically a bit rustic, slightly blue and with little bubbles. There are a number of "verreries" (glass workshops) below the old village and on the outskirts where you can watch the glass making process. La Verrerie de Biot, founded in the 1956 is one of the largest workshops. You can visit their gallery, see glass being blown and take lessons. If you find La Verrierie de Biot a bit too touristy, there are other master glassmakers and several glass galleries, such as Verrerie du Val de Pôme, Verrerie du Vieux Moulin, Verrerie du Village, Verrerie Farinelli, Verrerie Luzoro, Verrerie Saba and Verrerie Silice Creation. The Musée d'Histoire Locale et de Céramique Biotoise exhibits the historical and contemporary work of glassblowing artists, potters and ceramists from Biot.
Biot's other major attraction is the Musée National Fernand Léger in the newer part of town, below the old village. The French painter, sculptor, mural mosaic maker and film producer Fernand Léger (1881-1955) was a contemporary and friend of Picasso and Braque. Today Léger's works sell in the multi-millions. The artist's widow, Nadia Léger donated the collection to the French government after the artist's death in 1955. On the façade of the museum are huge mosaic murals in the style of Léger. On the grounds is "Le Jardin d'Enfant", a polychrome ceramic sculpture. Inside the collection includes Leger's paintings, tapestries, sculptures and ceramics. The museum was opened in 1960 in the presence of Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Georges Braque. The museum is currently undergoing major renovation and is scheduled to reopen later in 2008 - check their website first or call 01 40 13 49 13.
A sprawling, modern and very busy town (pop. 44.500), the western exurb of Nice, crossed by Autoroute A8, major highways and the train line. The most important racecourse, l'Hippodrome de la Côte d'Azur is located near the pebble beach. But the reason Cagnes is of interest to visitors is the Renoir Museum and Le Haute de Cagnes, the old village on top of a hill further inland. The Musée Renoir on Avenue des Collettes is the house and garden where Renoir (1841-1919) spent the last 12 years of his life. It appears that everything has been left pretty much as it was, his studio, a painting, some drawings and sculptures, correspondence, photographs and his wheelchair. Outside, overlooking the beautiful garden with its olive and palm trees, stands the Venus Victrix, the large bronze statue, one of Renoir's most famous sculptures. Further inland is Haut de Cagnes, a smaller version of Saint Paul de Vence, but equally pretty. The ancient village with narrow alleys, archways, stone houses and fountains backs up to the feudal Château de Cagnes, where the Marquises de Cagnes et Antibes resided from 1608 - to the French Revolution, when they were chased away. The last Marquis died in Brussels in 1940 and with him this branch of the Grimaldis, going back to the 14th century, became extinct. The château fell into disrepair until it was acquired and subsequently restored in 1875 by a private individual. Today it is owned by the town of Cagnes. It has an elegant Renaissance interior and houses Château Musée Grimaldi with a collection of modern art (Dufy, Vasarely, Cocteau and others) and exhibits about local history, fishing and olive cultivation.
A very pretty hilltop town (pop.16.300), an exurb about 7km (4miles) north of Cannes. It can be reached via the Pénétrante Cannes-Grasse, the busy 4-lane highway connecting Cannes with Grasse and the Autoroute A8, which passes the southern parts of Mougins. The municipality of Mougins actually covers an area larger than Cannes and it has resisted urbanization. Once you have made it up the hill and parked your car - most of the old village is pedestrian only - you enter a different world.
Mougins is one of the prettiest "Vieux Villages" in this part of the Provence, a tasteful and immaculate place with ancient houses and cobble stoned streets. Everything is carefully arranged: floral displays, manicured hedges, pretty shops, cafés and art galleries, lots of them. Mougins is known its fabulous restaurants - one of the gourmet places of pilgrimage in France.
Before it became such an immaculate medieval showcase, Mougins was the favorite haunt of artist and bons vivants. When surrealist painter Francis Picabia moved here in the 1920s his friends soon followed: Fernand Léger, Man Ray, filmmaker René Clair, Isadora Duncan, Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso. There is an anecdote about young Picasso painting the walls of his hotel room in the 1930s. The owner was quite upset and made him whitewash them. But Picasso seemed to hold no grudge against Mougins, he returned in the 1950s to spend the last 15 years of his life here. Picasso lived next door to Notre Dame de Vie, a 12th-century chapel. The small, but noteworthy Musée de la Photographie (Museum of Photography) on Place de l'Eglise has a interesting permanent collection of photographs of Picasso by André Villers. Over the years more celebrities vactioned in Mougins, such as Winston Churchill, Catherine Deneuve, Édith Giovanna Gassion (better known as Édith Piaf), Jacques Brel and Christian Dior.
Walk the cobblestone streets past the neatly restored village houses and sit in one of numerous cafés and enjoy life. Modern Mougins is still an artists' colony with many studios and galleries tucked away in the ancient houses. Le Lavoir, near the main entrance to the village, is a free exhibition showing the works of local artists. South of the old village is the Musée de l'Automobiliste, an absolute must for old car aficionados with an impressive collection Bugattis, Hispano Suizas, a Rolls Royces and many other classic cars. The museum has an enormous collection, a few cars can be rented (with a professional driver) for weddings and other celebrations.
The Parc Départemental de la Valmasque north of the old village has marked botanical trails. In the park is a large pond, l'Etang de Fontmerle, with an unusual variety of giant Asian lotus, probably unique in Europe.
Just in case you wonder about all these road signs pointing to Sophia Antipolis. You find this large and leafy community 8km (5mi) inland from Antibes along the Route D103 to Valbonne. The Sophia Antipolis Industrial and Technological Park has been developed by the French government since 1972 as an industrial and science park. It includes a university, living quarters for students and employees of scores of companies offering mostly white collar type jobs.
Between Antibes and Cannes a few kilometers inland lies Vallauris (pop. 26.000), the pottery and ceramics town. It is best known for the Musée National Picasso La Guerre et la Paix and the adjoining Musée Municipal de la Céramique et d'Art Moderne. A bronze statue by Picasso named "l'Homme au Mouton" stands on the main square, Place de la Libération next to the church and the 16th century château, once belonging to the monks of the Lérin Islands. The Picasso Museum is housed in a Romanesque chapel in the courtyard of the château. The mural, La Guerre et la Paix, was painted on 125 sq m (150sq yards) of plywood between 1952 and 1959. It recreates the horrors of war, pretty much like Guernica. The Musée Municipal de la Céramique et d'Art Moderne, located in the château, displays modern and contemporary art, including many ceramics by Picasso and works of by the Florentine painter Alberto Magnelli (1888-1971). Vallauris was once a major pottery centre and Picasso's work here revitalized the industry. He used to work in the Madoura pottery workshop, which still has sole rights on reproducing Picasso's designs. They are sold - at a price - at the Galerie Madoura. Picasso would have strongly disapproved of what is for sale in many stores in Vallauris, which is garishly glazed pottery for tourists and vacation home owners. The Musée de la Poterie (Pottery Museum) in Rue Sicard in a still-functioning workshop explores the trade's history and techniques.
The town (pop. 13.100) was created by the joining the old village of Villeneuve inland and the village of Loubet on the coast. It has two totally different souls: the modern, very busy coastal area with some questionable architectural excesses and a lovely old village further inland. Loubet on the coast is a continuation of Cagnes sur Mer, its neighbour to the northeast. On the Route du Bord de Mer is the Marina Baie des Anges, a huge apartment and marina complex in the shape of white waves. It was built in the 1960's and looks somewhat out of place on the Côte d'Azur, where building codes are rather stringent. The four pyramid type buildings house 1500 apartments. There are various pools, a 550 berth marina, shops, cafés.
A totally different story about Villeneuve inland. The old village is very pretty with its ocre colored houses nestling below the château dating from the 13th century. In the Middle Ages it changed hands various times. It was here that the Truce of Nice was signed on June 18, 1538 between Francois I, King of France and Charles V, King of Spain. In 1690 Auguste de Thomas, President of the Provence Parlament, purchased the castle and started major renovations. In 1742 it was inherited by the current owners, the Panisse Passis family. The castle, which underwent another major restoration in the 19th century, has recently been opened for visitors.
The village has an excellent culinary art museum housed in the home of Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935), one of the most renown chefs of his time who simplified and modernized the "Haute Cuisine". He introduced modern management techniques in professional kitchens and published "Le Guide Culinaire", containing over 5,000 recipes. The Musée d'Histoire et d'Art displays artifacts and documents from France's war in Indochina and North Africa.