ANTIBES - Insight Guides: Explore Nice & the French Riviera (Insight Explore Guides) (2015)

Insight Guides: Explore Nice & the French Riviera (Insight Explore Guides) (2015)



Historic Antibes is a year-round destination with its busy yacht harbour, one of the best food markets on the Riviera, and a fascinating collection of works by Picasso in the beautifully restored castle.

DISTANCE: 2.25km (1.5 miles)

TIME: A half day

START/END: Port Vauban

POINTS TO NOTE: If arriving by car, park along the port and avoid driving in Vieil Antibes itself, which is semi-pedestrianised and has a complicated one-way system.


Fortified Antibes


Layers of history are piled up in fortified old Antibes as its medieval buildings sit above those of its Ancient Greek and Roman predecessors. The town began life as the Greek city of Antipolis, “the town opposite,” facing Nice. The Greeks held only a narrow stretch between the sea and the present cours Masséna; it was a narrow enclosure filled with warehouses and only one gate, entered opposite the present Hôtel de Ville on the cours Masséna at the rue Pardisse. The settlement traded with the Ligurian tribes but did not allow them to enter the city so all dealing took place outside the city walls. The Romans later built an important city here.



Antibes was a keystone in French naval strategy against the Comté of Nice, facing it across the Baie des Anges, and powerful Genoa further east. Sacked twice by Emperor Charles V in the 16th century, Kings Henri II and Henri III added new fortifications, including the Fort Carré.

In 1680, Louis XIV brought in his brilliant military engineer Vauban to give the town the impressive set of star-shaped ramparts and bastions that line the shore, using stone from the ruins of the Roman town, which withstood sieges in 1707 and 1746.

Unlike the holiday hedonism of adjacent Juan-les-Pins (a favourite with F. Scott Fitzgerland and where the concept of summer holidays began) and the exclusive Cap d’Antibes, Antibes itself has a lived-in, all-year appeal with its cobbled shopping streets, lively cafés and a big expat community serving the yachting fraternity.


Now the largest yacht marina in Europe with berths for over 2,000 boats (including some of the world’s largest and most expensive yachts which line the east quay), spawning a whole industry of shipbrokers, outfitters and crews, Port Vauban 1 [map] gave Antibes its strategic importance, especially when Antibes was a stronghold of the French crown against Genoese-ruled Nice. On the southeastern corner of the Vieux Port, a small archway leads through the harbour wall to the Plage de la Gravette, a small sandy beach.


Plage de la Gravette

Sylvaine Poitau/Apa Publications

Porte Marine

Go through the Porte Marine 2 [map], long the sole entrance to the town from the port, through La Courtine defensive wall, which still has cannon barrels sticking out to sea, into rue Aubernon. On your left, the rampe des Saleurs, recalling the fish salting activity that used to take place here, brings you out to the rampart walk along promenade Amiral de Grasse; note the plaque on the house where painter Nicolas de Staël lived in 1954-5.


A little further on, go through the arch on rue des Arceaux to enter the pretty maze of small streets and houses of Vieil Antibes. Turn left down rue St-Esprit to the forecourt of the Église de l’Immaculée Conception 3 [map]. Its ochre and russet classical façade hides a much earlier structure, which even had the status of cathedral from the 5th century until 1236. The interior is surprisingly simple with no side chapels but plenty of gaudy gilded side altars and a Romanesque east end. The square Romanesque bell tower in front is a converted 12th-century ‘Saracen’ watchtower.

Cap d’Antibes

Jutting into the sea between Antibes and Juan-les-Pins, wooded Cap d’Antibes is a millionaire’s paradise, home to the famous Hôtel du Cap and the palatial villas of Arab princes and Russian oligarchs. At its summit, the Phare de la Garoupe lighthouse is a pleasant walk from Port de Salis up the stony chemin du Calvaire to the Plateau de la Garoupe, where the Chapelle de la Garoupe (daily 10am-noon and 2.30-5pm) has been a site of pilgrimage for centuries.

Be warned that the nearest you are likely to get to its luxury residences is their imposing gateways. One exception is Villa Eilenroc (460 avenue L D Beaumont; tel: 04 93 67 74 33; Wed 2-5pm, first and third Sat of the month 2-5pm; charge), which was designed by Charles Garnier. You can reach it via the Sentier Tir-Poil coastal footpath, which winds round tiny bays and rocky promontories from Plage de la Garoupe (allow about an hour). The villa’s gardens provide the stage for the Musiques au Coeur festival in July. An alternative is a cruise in the Visio Bulle (, which allows you to spy on fish through its glass hull and the reclusive residents of Millionaires’ Bay from the deck.


Musée Picasso

Sylvaine Poitau/Apa Publications

Musée Picasso

On leaving, take the steps to the side of the square up to the severe stone Château Grimaldi, now home to the Musée Picasso 4 [map] (tel: 04 92 90 54 20; mid-June-mid-Sept Tue-Sun 10am-6pm (July and Aug Wed and Fri until 8pm), mid-Sept-mid-June Tue-Sun 10am-noon and 2-6pm; charge). Built on the site of the Greek acropolis and Roman castrum, the castle was the bishop’s palace before becoming a residence of the Grimaldi family from 1385 until 1608, when it and the port were sold to the French crown. It then successively served as residence of the king’s governor, town hall, barracks, and then the city’s first archaeological museum. Many of the Romanesque features remain, including arched windows and the square tower which dominates the old town, though the building was reconstructed in the 16th century. Some of the tiny inner doorways have very attractive carvings. In 1946, curator and archaeologist Romuald Dor de la Souchère let Picasso, who was living in Antibes with his new companion Françoise Gilot, use the large room on the second floor as a studio. Between September and November, Picasso worked here frenetically. The light and intense colour of the south were incorporated into his work in a series of drawings and paintings of fish, sea urchins, goats, stars and the seashore. He was captivated by the antiquity of the Mediterranean. He invented a mythological cast of characters to inhabit his work: a faun, a bearded centaur (undoubtedly himself) and a beautiful nymph (Françoise Gilot). The fishermen provided another source of inspiration, as they had done before the war in his huge painting Night Fishing at Antibes. Some of these are on canvas, and X-rays have revealed that Picasso had raided the storerooms and painted over what he regarded as mediocre 19th-century paintings. It was also here that Picasso painted the Antipolis Suite, a series of highly stylised, pared-down nudes, often reclining.

Picasso left behind 23 paintings and 44 drawings, which form the focus of the recently enlarged and renovated museum.


Antique stalls

Sylvaine Poitau/Apa Publications

The collection

In the former studio are some of the main works Picasso created here, including his celebrated Joie de vivre (The Joy of Life), a cheerful frieze of music-playing animals and dancing goats, a monochrome triptych Satyre, faune et centaure, the gutsy Le gobeur d’oursins (The Sea Urchin Eater) and a study for his sculpture The Goat, as well as engaging animal-shaped pottery jugs. Other rooms include two striking, highly simplified reclining nudes, still lifes with fish and sea urchins, and numerous drawings.

Picasso was not the only artist drawn to Antibes, and the museum visit starts on the ground floor with the gestural abstraction of Hans Hartung (1904-89) and the more minimalist style, often combined with gold leaf, of his companion Anna-Eva Bergman.

On the first floor are powerful works by Russian-born abstract artist Nicolas de Staël (1914-55), including Le Grand Concert, left unfinished at his death, and Nude, showing his use of thinner paint and return to figurative elements at the end of his life. There are also contemporary works by Tapiès, Picabia and Léger, among others; note that these paintings are not always on view during temporary exhibitions.

Before you leave, go out onto the terrace, where bronzes by Germaine Richier (1902-59) gaze out to sea from the ramparts alongside sculptures by Arman and Miro.

Marché Provençal

Return down the steps and turn left beside the town hall into broad cours Masséna, where the iron-framed covered market is home to the wonderful Marché Provençal 5 [map] (June-Aug daily 6am-1pm, Sept-May Tue-Sun 6am-1pm), a rather upmarket food market full of tempting fruit and vegetables, goat’s cheeses, tapenades and dried sausages; in summer, there’s also an afternoon craft market (mid-June-mid-Sept Tue-Sun; mid-Sept-mid-June Fri-Sun; from 3pm).

The square is arcaded on one side, with small cafés and specialist food shops. Investigate the unusual Absinthe Bar (which is beneath olive oil specialist Balade en Provence), with its entrance round the corner on rue Sade, see 1.

At the southern end of the square, take the small flight of steps through the Portail de l’Orme into rue de l’Orme - the two round towers you can see are a remnant of medieval wall, built over Roman foundations - and head back to the ramparts.


Port Vauban in all its glory



Continue along promenade Amiral de Grasse, with views of Cap d’Antibes, to Golden Beef restaurant, see 2, and the 1698 Bastion St-André, the southern extremity of Vauban’s defences, which contains the Musée d’Archéologie 6 [map] (mid-June-mid-Sept Tue-Sun 10am-noon and 2-6pm, mid-Sept-mid-June Tue-Sun 10am-1pm and 2-5pm; charge). Finds from archaeological digs and underwater shipwrecks, displayed in two long barrel-vaulted gunpowder rooms, illustrate the past importance of Antibes; among them are the Galet d’Antibes (Antibes Pebble), a large oval stone with curious inscriptions dating from the 5th century BC, pots testifying to trade with Greece and Etruria, amphorae and ancient anchors, Roman stelae, funerary urns and a mosaic from a Roman villa.


From the museum, follow rue du Haut-Castelet left to place Nikos Kazantzaki, which honours the Greek author of Zorba the Greek who wrote many of his plays and novels in Antibes. Here, orange and yellow signs announce that you are entering the Commune Libre du Safranier, an arty, boho district, which proudly proclaimed independence in the 1960s and still elects its own mayor and councillors.

Take rue du Bas-Castelet, lined with picturesque small houses amid a profusion of creepers and window boxes, and turn right into rue des Pêcheurs and rue du Safranier to arrive in place du Safranier, where La Taverne du Safranier, for more information, click here, is popular for lunch.

Return to rue du Bas-Castelet, turning left at the end into rue de la Pompe, where, at no. 2, Boulangerie Veziano (Wed-Sun 6am-1pm and 4.30-7.30pm) produces superb tourtes de blettes - both sweet and savoury versions. Now follow rue des Bains into rue James Close; the latter is full of interesting restaurants, art galleries and craft and jewellery shops.


At rue de la République, Vieil Antibes’ main shopping street, turn left for a shellfish feast at L’Oursin, see 3, or right to reach place Nationale. The square is thought to be on the site of the Roman forum, busy with café terraces under the plane trees in summer and the Christmas market in winter. The column in the middle was a present to royalist Antibes from Louis XVIII in gratitude for keeping Napoleon out after his escape from Elba.

You may want to pop into the Musée Peynet et du Dessin Humoristique 7 [map] (tel: 04 92 90 54 30; Tue-Sun 10am-noon and 2-6pm; charge). The collection centres on drawings by popular cartoonist Raymond Peynet, best known for his whimsical Les amoureux de Peynet (Peynet’s Lovers), but also features the work of other caricaturists.


On the opposite side of the square, take rue Thuret and turn right into boulevard d’Aiguillon, a broad street running along the inside of La Courtine defensive wall, which is packed with restaurants and loud expat pubs, such as The Hop Store and The Colonial Pub, frequented by Antibes’ large British yachting set. Set into the casement wall, the Galerie des Bains Douches puts on exhibitions in the former municipal bathhouse. Go past the fountain at the end of the street to return to Porte Marine and the port.

Le Fort Carré

Crowning a promontory north of the port, the Fort Carré (avenue du 11 novembre, tel: 06 14 89 17 45; Tue-Sun 11am-5.30pm; guided tours every 30 mins; charge) is a masterpiece of military engineering. Begun by Henri II in the 16th century and improved by Vauban in the 17th, it has four pointed bastions around a circular central keep. No longer used by the military, it had a cameo role in the 1983 James Bond movie Never Say Never Again and the rampart walk offers superb views.

Food and Drink


25 cours Masséna; tel: 04 93 34 93 00; June-Aug daily 9am-midnight, Sept-May Tue-Sat 9am-midnight; €€

Located beneath a shop selling Provençal delicacies is this atmospheric cellar bar - complete with bits of Roman masonry - dedicated to the green fairy or absinthe, the favourite drink of the Impressionists. Dozens of varieties of absinthe and pastis are on offer amid a ‘museum’ of absinthe fountains, advertising memorabilia and strange hats to try on.


1 avenue du Général Maizière; tel: 04 93 34 59 86;; daily L and D; €€€

This fashionable steak restaurant and cocktail bar set into the ramparts has tables inside with views of the open kitchen and outside with views of the sea. As well as Charolais and Limousin, the menu includes beef from the US and Argentina. There are gourmet burgers too.


16 rue de la République; tel: 04 93 34 13 46;; Tue-Sun L and D; €€€

Big platters of shellfish are the speciality at this long-established fish restaurant, which has a nautically themed interior as well as tables outside on the square.