Although not that popular as their neighbors Nice, Cannes or Monaco, smaller towns along the Côte d’Azur are actually the true reflection of French charm. Beaches are more pleasant, clean, less “attacked” by crowds, streets seem prettier, you can even meet a local at the cafe (not just tourists) and have a glass of wine in the shade of one lush tree.
Also, there are a lot of things to see and explore at this part of the French Riviera – from Roman ruins, medieval constructions and museums, to the antique culinary menus. A lot of those small towns have the cute name extension – sur mer (at the seaside).
Jean Cocteau in Menton
At the border with Italy there is the town of Menton. The first mention of the town dates to the 13th century. It alternated under the Italian and French flags throughout centuries, until Charles III of Monaco sold it to Napoleon III for four million gold francs in 1861.
One of its main resources of the town is agriculture, mainly olives and citrus fruit. There is a lemon festival held every year. Also, try not to miss out on the Bastion, refurbished under the supervision of Jean Cocteau. It now houses a museum containing his work, such as the huge black and white mosaic entitled The Salamander. Cocteau also frescoed the room in the local town hall in which civil weddings are held.
Not far from Menton, there is Roquebrune Cap Martin. The castle of Roquebrune is the unique in all France as it is the only Carolingian castle, built at the end of the 10th century. Rising upon a cliff, the castle dominates the medieval village below full of narrow streets, lined up houses and roofs.
Matisse in Cimiez
In about 13 BC Romans chose the ancient Celtic settlement of Cemenelum as their headquarters. That’s the town of Cimiez today where a lot of Roman city ruins are preserved, the Amphitheater from the first century and the Baths from the second. Also, there is the Museum of Matisse with some of the works of Henri Matisse and his personal belongings.
Another town, Cagnes-sur-Mer, and another artist – Auguste Renoir. He has spent his last 11 years here. Despite his poor health, Renoir continued with his painting and in his house there is now a collection of his mementos and personal objects, wheelchair, palettes and brushes. In addition, there are few of his paintings and sculptures. In the garden there is a bust of his wife and the sculpture of the famous Baigneuse.
Picasso in Antibes
If you are interested in a bit different tradition of this part of France, in Villeneuve-Loube town you can visit the unusual Museum of the Culinary Art. It is actually the birthplace of Auguste Escoffier, defined as “the king of chefs and the chef of kings”. There is a typical Provencal kitchen with all sorts of cooking devices and implements, fabulous collection of over 15,000 menus, some of which date to as early as 1820.
Then there is a bit more famous town of Antibes, founded by the Phoenicians in the 4th century BC. The Picasso Museum is located here, since this famous painter fell in love with Côte d’Azur when he was 39, in 1920, when he decided to move here. This is where he stayed for the rest of his life.
Make sure to have enough time for the beach or just take a break over a drink in other small towns such as Eze, Villefranche, Le Trayas, Boulouris, Agay. Those are smaller bays with clear waters, red cliffs and nice beaches, away from all the bustle and noise. If you go to Agay, remember that the celebrated writer and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupery crushed his plane in these waters in 1944 during the World War II. This is where he died.
It’s just amazing how every piece of land at the French Riviera has that specific charm related to some certain event or a person, right! It definitely can’t be referred to as “just another summer resort”.
*photos by Pixabay