Antibes: Finding Picasso & Monet
Text & photos by Marla Norman, TCO Publisher
A quick 30 minute drive from Nice, you’ll find the idyllic city of Antibes — perfect for a day trip. The small town is famous for artists who succumbed to its charms, Picasso and Monet being the most renowned of the group.
The Antibes harbor is also home to a vast collection of mega yachts. Some of the huge vessels seem to dwarf the town. Nonetheless, the harbor is a good starting point to explore Antibes. Imagine Guy de Maupassant docking his small boat in 1886, then finding inspiration for his novel Mont Orio. Or study a few of Monet’s great paintings of the coastline to get a feel for the earlier days.
MARKET TO MARKET
From the harbor, continue on to the Vieille Ville (Old Town). The main entry is through the old fortress walls, built by Romans, although Antibes, like much of the French Riviera, was established first by the Greeks. Originally named Antípolis, meaning Cross-City, the site was identified as a mid-way point between Marseilles and Nice.
Walk on to the covered market — Marché Provençal — in the center of the Old Town. Vendors are there daily from June through September. October through May, the Market is open only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Mornings are devoted to food. You’ll find beautiful produce, cheeses and charcuterie. Afternoons are for clothing, pottery and other handicrafts. During the summer, the market is open until midnight. So, you have several chances to visit throughout the day then.
From the markets, wander up the ancient cobblestone streets and window shop as you go. There are a number of boutiques, bookshops and gourmet food stores. Or just grab a seat at one of the cute bistros and order a coffee or apéritif. Des discussions de café are a favorite French pastime. Enjoy a little Riviera sun, watch locals play Pétanque or tourists snapping photos for Instagram — it’s all part of the experience.
A PICASSO PERSPECTIVE
Just up the hill from the Vieille Ville is Château Grimaldi — a striking building that sits right on the Antibes seawall. And, as the name suggests, the castle was once a fortress for the Grimaldi family.
In 1946, Picasso spent six months in the castle initially, painting and sculpting — evidently quite taken with the spectacular views. When he departed, he donated 23 paintings and 44 drawings to the property. Picasso returned to the Château regularly in subsequent years. After his death, the city of Antibes founded the Musée Picasso, at Château Grimaldi, the first museum in the world dedicated to the artist.
Today, the collection consists of 245 works by Picasso, including a replica of Pêche de Nuit à Antibes (permanently on display at New York’s MoMa) and La Joie de Vivre. Picasso explores the imagery of Mediterranean mythology in La Joie de Vivre and the painting also serves as an hommage to Matisse, Picasso’s great friend who lived nearby in Nice. (See more on Matisse and his life on the Riviera in this TCO article.)
Additionally, there are photographs of Picasso in Antibes, including the portrait of Picasso holding a small owl, taken by Michael Sima. The artist kept the little bird after it had been found injured in the Château. Picasso kept the owl in his kitchen, where it inspired numerous paintings and ceramics.
Other contemporary artists are included within the collection: Nicolas de Staël, Hans Hartung, Fernand Léger and Joan Miro. Most enjoyable, however, is to view the space where Picasso worked and to see firsthand, the scenery and environment that inspired such a productive period in his career.
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE GREAT PAINTERS
Long before Picasso became enthralled with Antibes, many other artists had found inspiration in this Mediterranean paradise. You can follow in their footsteps with a map available at the Antibes Tourist Office, 42 avenue Robert Soleau. The guided walk begins in the middle of the Vieille Ville at the market place with a painting by Emile-Charles Dameron and a second by Eugène Boudin.
Claude Monet painted numerous seascapes while in Antibes. One of the more famous is Antibes, Vue du Plateau Notre-Dame (Antibes Seen from the Plateau Notre-Dame) now part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. And, of course, additional Picasso sites are included on the map as well.
LE DON JUAN CHEZ FLORENT
As you’d expect, Antibes, like most of the Côte d’Azur offers superb dining and fresh seafood. Our favorite spot in Antibes is Le Don Juan Chez Florent on 17 rue Thuret, open for both lunch and dinner.
The decor is charming, with artfully arranged seasonal vegetables as centerpieces. Diners are encouraged to munch from the plates of radishes, tomatoes, melons, etc., along with house-made tapenade and toast. The menu changes daily, but always includes a variety of fresh fish, which the waiters happily display for your selection — if you wish.
Start with Sautéed Calamari and stuffed mushrooms. Then try one of the fish of the day (We loved the Loup de Mer.) prepared in sea salt. Unbelievably sweet, melt-in-your-mouth delicious, you’ll enjoy every morsel! Grilled vegetables and truffle mashed potatoes are the usual sides for the main courses. On one of our last visits, we enjoyed fresh artichokes as a side as well.
In addition to the seafood, Don Juan serves wonderful pastas and meat dishes. Gnocchi with Beef Daube or T-Bone Steak for Two are excellent. Dessert choices are tasty as well and may include Millefeuille, or Chocolate Mousse. Another option, Peaches (or other seasonal fresh fruit) with Chocolate Fondant & Ice Cream — heavenly.
The wine list is extensive with many Bordeaux, Rhône and Provence selections. And, €35 for 3 courses is a terrific value. If you’d like something lighter try the adorable Le Bistrot de Jules, under the same management, just across the street. Either way, it’s a sweet finish to a great day in Antibes.