Launching headlong into the swanky Quai des Milliardaires port of call -- a
virtual Mediterranean Millionaire's Row -- I was shaken right down to my
boots -- umm, espadrilles -- having mistakenly bypassed this heavenly
stretch of Cote d'Azur legend in past pilgrimages to Provence.
Ablaze in the sun's glory, Antibes comes to life with the crash
of the ocean and a supernatural painter's familiar brushstrokes.
In life, we hope and pray we have experiences
we'll remember with clarity and precise mindfulness.
As we shoulder responsibility and the everyday routine of life itself,
many of us lie in wait for a chance to slip in a few carefree hours in the sun,
enjoy a drink under the stars and lazy days filled with delicious memories.
And then out of the blue comes Antibes,
the perfect place to celebrate all that's right with the world.
A springtime breeze, a market filled with all things fresh & impeccably
French, restaurant terraces lit up with the magical inventiveness of
Provençal cuisine.... and that's just the beginning.
its luxury -- the super-yachts, the chateau, the golden sand & gated
villas --- expected amenities in the fantasy world of the French Riviera.
But a deeper state of discovery of this ancient Greek trading port is readily
revealed once you catch a whiff of what's behind the legend.
This is a real town where you're just as likely to find an English pub serving
a half pint of bitter and a packet of crisps as the locals go about their
typical day, shopping for farm-fresh produce & swapping stories at the local café.
Antibes is authentic, vivacious and surely the best
damn smelling port city in the world.
"Antibes is haunted with the smell of carnations, roses, and gladioli, for this
is almost as concentrated a perfumery center as Grasse."
Samuel Chamberlain from "Bouquet de France"
who established Antipolis in 5th Century BC.
The Romans came and went until at last the French monarchy
saw the potential of the land.
King Henri IV and still later, the Sun King Louis XIV dreamed up
fresh possibilities for a city on the sea and officially reinforced
the old walls and fort to strengthen city defenses.
Military architect Vauban essentially created an impregnable eastern border
for France within his beautiful but muscular walled fortress.
A side note: Neighboring Nice -- just twelve miles to the east -- wasn't invited
to the party until 1860 -- and to this day Antibes seems more French
than its more Italian-influenced neighbor next door.
But it was a famous Spaniard who sought refuge inside the seawalls of Antibes,
one who brought prestige and an unmistakable joie de vivre to this part of the Med.
Pablo Picasso spent only about six months in this seaside city -- but oh what a
riot of color and form he produced during those heady days as he celebrated
the end of the war with his new lover, twenty-two-year-old Francoise Gilot.
The old Spanish stallion must have felt like a bull in a china shop.
Released from the dark days of WWII, Picasso emerged like a
butterfly -- and luckily for the city, Antibes came out a winner, too.
Antibes is the kind of place that brings out the artiste in you.
Scores of painters, sculptors and writers lived or worked here and nearby,
on Cap d'Antibes and Juan-les-Pins, all connected via the sea-soaked peninsula. Names like Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, the Goulds and the Kennedys,
Charlie Chaplin and Marlene Dietrich sought solace and inspiration here.
Writers Graham Greene and Nikos Kzantazakis ("Zorba the Greek") found
just the right words in Antibes while abstract artist Nicolas de Stael and
surreal artist Max Ernst took flight in their respective genres.
Impressionists Claude Monet and Eugene Boudin were drawn to the light,
no doubt, while beloved cartoonist Raymond Peynet found his inspiration
in the sun-kissed glow of the beach for his winsome "paper lovers" designs.
"Love is the greatest refreshment in life."
which was specifically cultivated in Antibes.
The legendary painter/sculptor/ceramicist's vision is complemented by other
artists tied to the town including Nicolas de Stael, Hans Hartung and Modigliani
as well as fellow Spaniard Joan Miró sculptures on the terrace.
Perhaps best of all is the museum's terrace -- its "frame" -- arguably the
best view of the coastline -- truly a picture within a picture.
In 1946, the castle owner, Romuald Dor, generously offered the
acclaimed artist a studio in his picturesque chateau on the sea.
Picasso, ever the overachiever, launched an unbelievably creative period,
creating hundreds of canvases, often with the help of some very creative supplies. The war, still in the rear view mirror, made artist supplies
like canvases and oil paints scarce.
Picasso "invented" his own methods, often relying on boat paint
from the locals and a cunning mixture of cement and asbestos
to ingeniously carry on his feverish production.
The shimmering light of the sea contributes to the emotion you'll absorb
from one of the 20th centuries most memorable and influential artists.
"My mother said to me, 'If you are a soldier, you will become a general.
If you are a monk, you will become the pope.'
Instead, I was a painter and became Picasso."
I live to eat -- and in this neck of the woods, my hunger is tenfold...
Markets, restaurants, and invigorating sea air contribute to a steady diet
of fresh fruit, vegetables and flavor-forward bounty from the sea.
Antibes' Marché Provencal is exactly what you think
a market in Provence should look like.
Open daily, the covered market sings with a chorus
of enthusiastic shoppers, farmers, chefs and merchants.
Stalls are packed with melons and artichokes, asparagus and tomatoes,
mysterious spices, cheeses and flowers -- an abundance that feels
as if it were truly sent from God's own green thumb.
Cafés and bars compliment the field of dreams and a quick stop
at the socca-maker's wood-fired stand gave me goosebumps.
Who knew so few ingredients -- chickpea flour, water, olive oil,
a little salt & pepper could taste so good?
"Why not make a daily pleasure out of a daily necessity?"
Peter Mayle, A Year in Provence
salt cod and potato/veggie/aioli mashup -- is truly the elixir of Provence.
And of course, ice cream just tastes better in this part of the world -- especially when it comes in threes like pistachio, chocolate and coffee....
In Antibes, you get Riviera style, the bold taste of Provence and
Cote d'Azur joie de vivre all for the price of a simple prix-fixe menu.
You'll be spoiled with many delicious decisions in Antibes.
Make sure you stay as long as you can.
"It's an open space, inviting people to enter it like a
grandmother embracing her children."
The Commune Libre du Safranier, established as a free-spirited community, sets
itself apart from greater Antibes, even electing their own mayor.
Just steps from the old town, the Commune Libre du Safranier is dedicated to
"freethinking" efforts to organize festivals and perpetuate treasured old traditions.
Take a little walk through the neighborhood to admire
all the prettiness that surrounds you.
It's as simple as a fountain, a washhouse, some colorful shutters
and quiet lanes -- in other words, piles of inspiration -- especially
if you happen to be an artist or a poet....
"I fear for nothing. I hope for nothing. I am free."
Nikos Kazantzaki, former resident, author of "Zorba the Greek" and "The Last Temptation of Christ"
to the yacht business in and around Antibes.
You can't turn a corner without running across a dozen
enterprises dealing in the yacht or sailing trade.
My jaw dropped to my toes when a certain boat -- more like
a floating hotel -- came into plain view.
Belonging to a certain Russian oligarch -- undoubtedly friends with
you-know-who -- the Dilbar surely tops any existing
my-boat-is-bigger-than-your-boat rivalry in Europe.
Allegedly, this floating chateau has eighty full-time staff on board its
41,000 square feet of living space as well as two -- yes 2! -- helipads
just in case the Kremlin needs to drop by
for a glass of champagne and a spot of mischief...
Valued at somewhere around $600,000,000, it doesn't take a great deal
of imagination to realize just how far a little filthy money can take you.
Geez, to be a fly on THAT wall for a day....
Antibes' Port Vauban is one of the largest marinas in the world.
The one word that comes to mind when you catch your first glimpse
of its sailing flotilla in the bright blue water is PRESTIGE.
Pleasure boats line every square inch, each one trying to display its
own unique personality and narrative on the high seas.
Located between the glamorous harbors of Cannes and Monaco,
Antibes gets my vote for best port of call in the Med.
"Money can't buy you happiness, but it can buy you
a yacht big enough to pull up right alongside it."
David Lee Roth, American Rock Star
The 16th Century Saint-Bernardin Chapel has been restored to its full glory. Breathtaking color pops underneath a star-filled ceiling.
Restored 16th century frescoes deliver you back to antiquity and the power
of craftsmanship when partnered with faith and vision.
Chapel Saint-Bernardin's hours are a bit spotty, so check back again
and again until you get a chance to see this gothic marvel.
Rich, poor or any stage in-between, Antibes offers mother nature's
blessing in combination with mankind's best effort to "work" it.
Although Peter Mayle's words below were not meant for Antibes itself, I think
his ode to Provence comes as close as it gets to the mind of a true native:
"The effect of the weather on the inhabitants of Provence is immediate and obvious.
They expect every day to be sunny, and their disposition suffers when it isn't.
Rain they take as a personal affront, shaking their heads and commiserating with each other in the cafes, looking with profound suspicion at the sky as though a plague of locusts is about to descend, and picking their way with distaste through the puddles on the pavement. If anything worse than a rainy day should come along, such as this sub-zero snap, the result is startling: most of the population disappears...But what did every else do? The earth was frozen, the vines were clipped and dormant, it was too cold to hunt. Had they all gone on holiday?...It was a puzzle, until we realized how many of the local people had their birthdays in September or October, and then a possible but unverifiable answer suggested itself: they were busy indoors making babies. There is a season for everything in Provence, and the first two months of the year must be devoted to procreation."
Peter Mayle, from "A Year in Provence"
'Nuff said. Go to Antibes.
Enjoy the sun, the moon, the stars and the wind in your hair.
Revel in its art & cuisine and adopt the relaxed joie de vivre
of the people who have made this lively port their home.
And say thank you for a life this good.
Look for more on this charming peninsula in future blogs.
Cap d'Antibes is worthy of its own discovery and I hope to see you again soon.