5 Days In The French Riviera
Day 1: Antibes
Today, we’ll spend the entire day exploring the old city of Antibes and touring the Cap d’Antibes. If you’re basing yourself in neighboring Nice, just swap today’s itinerary with tomorrow’s.
With its partially walled old city and scenic location overlooking the Cap d’Antibes and the Alps, Antibes is one of the most charming and laid-back towns in the Cote d’Azur. The town has mostly managed to escape the ‘overdevelopment pandemic’ that took over this part of France in decades past.
The story of Antibes dates back to a 5th-century Greek settlement. After the Greeks came the Romans and along with them, the rise of Antibes as a prosperous regional center. During the French Revolution, the town sided with France while neighboring Nice allied with Savoy – leading to a flare of tensions in this otherwise peaceful area. Since the mid 19th century, the weather and the charm of Antibes have drawn wealthy Europeans and artists such as Picasso. These days, the town doubles its population in the summer, and you’ll always bump into (mostly) English yachties hanging around its bars and restaurants.
Breakfast in the Old City
Place National in the old city of Antibes is where we’ll start our day. Head to Cafe des Delices for breakfast – opposite the water fountains and Theatre Antibea. I must admit that we didn’t find any ‘breakfast gems’, so at least this cafe is perfect for people watching (~€8 for simple French breakfast). Be sure to leave plenty of room in that stomach – because we’ll soon visit the market.
If it’s Saturday, head back to Place Nationale and check out the antique market, and if it’s Thursday – you’ll find the same market along Boulevard d’Aguillon. Even if you’re not on the hunt for crumbling books or 19th-century silverware – strolling around France’s superb antique markets is the best way to do a bit of time traveling.
Not too far away, make a detour and visit Atelier Jean Luc Pelé – a pastry chef whose chocolate creations are more like fine works of art.
Le Marché Provençal
No doubt the city’s number one attraction, the covered Provençal market on Cours Massena is not to be missed. From June to August, the action takes place every day from early morning until 1 pm (closed Monday from Sep-May). When the food stalls have packed up, a crafts market takes over the covered street, with beautiful ceramics, paintings, and woodwork on sale.
Though smaller than the Cours Saleya in Nice, the Marché Provençal in Antibes is considered the best market in the French Riviera. Up for sale is the finest produce from the south of France, including spices, fragrances, meats and of course – cheese and bread. Everything is of excellent quality, fresh and locally sourced.
Don’t miss a visit to the Socca stand. If you can’t find it – just look for people queuing up. Cooked in front of your eyes in a wood-fired brick oven, this pancake-like Nicoise specialty is made from chickpea powder, olive oil, water and salt. It’s absolutely delicious and a must if you’re visiting this part of France.
Other notable mentions include the local hangouts Bar Bacchus (drinks) and La Tour International (oysters). They are technically just outside the southern exit of the market (by the socca stand), and are both perfect spots for people-watching.
We’ll revisit the market for sit-down lunch a little later on, but you can also use this opportunity in the Antibes market to buy some local cheese, bread, sundried tomatoes, olive-spread (tapenade) and whatever else you fancy – as we’ll shortly head to a beautiful spot outside of town that’s just perfect for a picnic lunch.
Exploring the Old City
Though it’s very tempting to now head up the stairs towards the medieval tower, we’ll continue to Rue de la Pompe and pay a visit to Boulangerie Veziano. This tiny bakery is the best in Antibes and perhaps in the entire French Riviera. In fact, this bakery is so good, that it was chosen to bake for the wedding of Monaco’s Prince Albert II in 2011. Aside from its fresh baguettes and unpretentiously delicious pastries, this is your chance to taste another Nicoise specialty – the onion tart known as Pissaladière.
The last culinary pilgrimage we’ll make is to Fromagerie l’Etable on Rue Guillaumont – the finest cheese shop in Antibes and also one of the smelliest places in town (and I mean that in a good way in this case). So if you’ve opted for the picnic lunch – you should be all set to go!
Now it’s really just about strolling around the narrow alleys that make up this part of the old city of Antibes. If you’re in the mood for some coffee, step inside the secluded garden of the Cafe Jardin to soak up some sun. Otherwise, stroll along Rue du Haut Castelet and Rue du Bas Castelet – parallel narrow alleys where gardening is taken very seriously by homeowners.
You’ll eventually reach Place du Safranier, where locals like to dine at Restaurant Le Safranier, and begin walking along the old city wall towards the commanding tower. The views from here are spectacular, and the walk will eventually lead you to the heart of the old city – the Picasso Museum and the Cathédrale Notre Dame.
From here, we’ll head to the marina via the prettiest section of the old city. Here, there are no cars – just small squares, a few drinking fountains and lots of history!
The Antibes marina is a reminder for those who forgot they’re in the glitzy French Riviera. Among the ‘ordinary’ sailboats, there are some seriously oversized yachts that call this place home for a few weeks of the year. I mean – who really needs such a large vessel? Well, I’m glad you asked! As you’re walking down on the waterline or up on the ramparts, Googling “who owns + [enter the yacht’s name]” can be a lot of fun. My random searches have mostly yielded the names of Russian oligarchs…
The ramparts overlook the marina and Plage de la Gravette on one side, and Fort Carré on the other. This is a 17th-century fort that you can pay a visit to if you have the time and will (we didn’t).
For lunch, head back to the Provencal market and pray that there’s space at la Civette du Marche. Surprisingly, this part tabac part restaurant serves up the very best moule mariniere and french fries on the planet (~€12)! The mussels in wine and garlic sauce are super fresh, and I haven’t quite figured out the secret – but the french fries are like none I’ve ever tasted.
Alternatively, you can save the mussels for dinner and take all the goodies you bought earlier in the day at the market for a picnic lunch with a view at our next stop.
We’ll now head out of the old city and explore the beautiful peninsula that extends from Antibes. The Cap d’Antibes is home to some of the world’s wealthiest families, whose enormous walled mansions can only be comprehended in a Google Maps satellite view. But among the mansion and pine trees, there are a few highlights for us ‘common folks’ to enjoy. To properly explore the Cap d’Antibes, you’ll need a car or at the very least a good bicycle.
Head out of the old city along the western side of the peninsula. You’ll pass Plage de la Salis – the most popular (and crowded) beach in Antibes – and drive on the scenic coastal road to Pointe Bacon, with wonderful views of Antibes and the Alps.
Venture inland to the highest point in the peninsula, home to a lighthouse (garoupe) and the Notre Dame Cathedral (Chapelle de la Garoupe). If the weather is nice, this is a perfect spot for a picnic lunch or just a small break to enjoy the fine views.
Next up is Plage de la Garoupe, a popular beach during the summer, though nothing to write home about. Park your car or bicycle and pick up the trailhead for the Tour de Cap d’Antibes – a rewarding two-hour walk (return) along the southern shore of the peninsula. There are shorter walks along this trail if you haven’t got the time, and you can always simply turn around when you feel like it. Bring plenty of water, wear comfortable shoes and don’t forget a hat.
The trail winds its way on the water’s edge and close to all those mansions I mentioned earlier. Feel free to bring along swimming and snorkeling gear, as there are some excellent spots along the way with pristine waters (though take extra care!).
The trail ends at the scenic spot known as Le Sentier du Littoral. Venture back inland to the car, via streets lined with gated mansions that don’t appreciate tourists peeking through the cracks. You can now either visit Villa Eilenroc or Jardin Thuret if you fancy some more sightseeing or just park it at the local’s beach of Plage des Ondes. There’s a lovely narrow sliver of sand out here, with some decent snorkeling just off the beach.
Dinner & Drinks
To wrap up this busy first day in the French Riviera, book a table at La Taille de Guêpe in the old city for a dinner experience you’ll be talking about for a long time. Not only is the setting super romantic, but the restaurant’s specialty is high-quality French classics infused with flowers… that’s right! Sure, you can choose from the ‘regular’ menu, but if you’re already here, the €29 ‘flower menu’ is deliciously original. Reservations are a must.
If you still have some energy left, grab a glass of wine at L’Enoteca or Le Pimm’s – a famous local establishment. Other recommended dinner options in Antibes for tonight or the next (if you’re basing yourself in Antibes) are the awesome mussels & fries in la Civette du Marche or the restaurants in busy Boulevard d’Aguillon. Though geared towards tourists, they do offer a vibrant setting.