A Recreational Tour of the Riviera
By Justin Postlethwaite, Editor
Part Three – Into the Country
For part trois of my Riviera triple bill, a twenty-minute drive takes me past Antibes (delightful, historic, arty) and Cannes (obviously plush on the surface, and packed with great shops yet possibly a tad soulless for this day tripper) to another world, of peaceful villages and rustic seclusion. Turning off the A8 then up past Mouans-Sartoux towards Grasse, I find my tranquil base for the next few days. At the secluded, dreamy Villa Le Tignet, I combine some serious pool time with manful barbecue duties (langoustines and mackerel bought at the local poissonnerie in Peymeinade were huge, juicy and tasty). I decide that, if there is any single thing more life-affirming than the first sip of a 6pm gin and tonic on a secluded sun terrace in France, then I’m Carla Bruni’s bodyguard.
On the occasions that I yank myself away from the recliner to engage in proper travel journalism, I enjoy some really memorable first-time jaunts to the area’s most beautiful villages. Mougins, with its 13 fountains and 50 restaurants (yes, count them!) is picture perfect, a compact, gallery-filled haven. I sit with a café (a theme is emerging here) on Place Commandant Lamy, snapping pictures and wishing life could always be so relaxing. This is Cotes de Provence wine country and I stumble upon a charming wine shop, the Cave de Mougins, where the delightful owner offers a lovely chilled rosé and regales me with tales of Mougins’ history. It was once a poor village noted only for the jasmine and rose petals that went to Grasse for perfume production, but was put on the map by the residency of Christian Dior in the 1950s, then by restaurateur Roger Vergé – he of Le Moulin de Mougins fame – in the 1960s. I feel myself to be in fairly esteemed company.
Similarly picturesque and sun-soaked the next day is Fayence, a genteel village perched on a hillside between Grasse and Draguignan. It’s market day in this fortified, medieval beauty and beside the church, traders are packing up before retiring to lunch in the shade. I wander up through cobbled streets to the ruined castle, from where I take in the panoramic view of the vast plain between mountains and sea. Then it’s back to the main square for yet another café and light lunch. From cocktails at the Negresco to a baguette (possibly baked in the village’s celebrated ancient ovens) of jambon-beurre in a gently buzzing roadside cafe, as usual the Riviera checks all of life’s best boxes. Eat? Tick. Drink? Tick. Be Merry? Mais oui.
You can fly into Nice from many UK airports with easyJet. View our interactive flight map.
Where to stay
French magazine recommends La Malmaison (48 bd Victor Hugo 06000 Nice; Tel: 00 33 4 93 87 62 56; email [email protected]; www.lamalmaison.com), which has undergone a tasteful renovation and is very handily placed just 200 metres from the Promenade des Anglais. See website for latest rates.
Away from Nice, the Villa Le Tignet, not far from Grasse, is perfectly placed for exploring the villages of Mougins and Fayence, and for popping into Cannes. Nestling peacefully in the hills, it sleeps 10 in five bedrooms. This and other stunning properties in the area are available to rent from Quality Villas (Tel: 01442 870 055; email [email protected]; www.qualityvillas.com).
Alternatively, view our selection of Provence holiday rentals.
Where to Eat
Keisuke Matsushima (22 ter rue de France; 00 33 4 93 82 26 06; www.keisukematsushima.com) boasts a Michelin star and a winning, refined and intricate way with local produce without being overly fancy with its Franco-Japanese presentation. We recommend going here as a real treat, perhaps for a romantic meal while in Nice. The lunch menu marché costs from €35.
In the Old Town, we can recommend La Claire Fontaine (00 33 4 93 62 30 94) on pretty Place Rossetti. It’s a good all-purpose eatery with a more than decent salade Niçoise.
What to do
- For a memorable glimpse of Nice of yesteryear, assume the air of local aristocracy over a classy cocktail amid the wood-pannelled surrounds of the Hotel Negresco’s Le Relais bar (37, Promenade des Anglais; Tel: 00 33 4 93 16 64 00; www.hotel-negresco-nice.com).
- Nice is blessed with museums, of which the Musée Matisse (set in a fine location in an olive grove), MAMAC and the Museum of Naive Art merit a visit. One of the few museums to charge is the Musée Chagall. For details and directions, pick up information from the tourist office (see below for details).
- So much of Nice is walkable, but we recommend taking the bus up to Cimiez for the Matisse and Chagall Museums (tickets bought on the bus). And to use the tram, book tickets at the Ligne Azur Agency (www.lignedazur) or from stops.
- In Mougins, there are lots of galleries to browse, not to mention countless restaurants. And pick up some local wines at the friendly La Cave de Mougins. You might also want to pop into the quirky and interesting photography museum, which houses a collection of old cameras and photographs of Picasso by famous photographers.View our Tourist Offices in Provence.