There are moments when change becomes necessary. I need to breathe fresh air. See another landscape. Eat different food. Have beauty around me. These are the moments when I book a train ticket to the Côte d’Azur, or French Riviera. One of the positive things about living in Milan, is that many European destinations are actually close. Four hours by train and you are far from traffic, pollution, chaos, stress, work, anxiety.
As the train reaches Menton, I already feel in different world. When the sun shines, the sea is bluer, the trees are greener. Young people wearing flip flops and sunglasses, or large straw hats, get on and off the train, smiling. Another hour and a half and I’m in Cannes. My Cannes.
There’s something special about this city, and I couldn’t explain exactly what it is. Every city has a particular smell, and Cannes smells of cinnamon, butter and sugar. The station is right in the city centre and there are affordable hotels at walking distance from both the station and the renowned Croisette, so it’s easy to book a room for a couple of nights and explore the riviera by train or bus.
Cannes is such an elegant town, with boutiques and posh restaurants on the beach as well as markets and bistrots. Spring is the best season to fully enjoy a relaxing walk on the promenade. You can also climb up the hill through the suquet (old town) to the castle, or sit on the sandy beach, with a glass of fresh orange juice and a pain au raisins. Boats, palms, luxury hotels, design shops and posters reminding of the film festival are what tourists expect from Cannes. Well, they won’t be disappointed.
Boulangerie & Macarons
But Cannes is the opposite of pretentious. Just around the corner from La Durée, which looks like a jewellery selling macarons, there’s a small, ordinary looking boulangerie. Here you can have breakfast seated among French people on their way to work. And around the corner there is a fruit & vegetable market, where old women shop for lunch carrying a straw bag.
Buses departing from the train station take to some of the most enchanting places of the French Riviera: Mougins, Antibes, Nice, Saint Paul. I particularly like Mougins, a bizarre combination of modern villas and Medieval houses huddled in the small historical village. The twenty minutes walk from the bust stop (Val de Mougins; bus nr 600 from Cannes station) to the old town twists and turns among Provencal style villas surrounded by lavish gardens, with the swishing wind and the chirping birds as companions.
The village of Mougins
The village is a circle of stone houses on the top of the hill, with the typical pastel doors, flowers everywhere, ateliers, and cats sleeping on the stone steps. Even though the sea is visible from the Belvedere, proof that we’re not so far from the coast, I always feel like I’m in a different world when I visit old villages perched on the hills. A peaceful, relaxed, better world.
You can have lunch in Mougins, even though the restaurants are quite expensive. I decided to go back to Cannes, where I had a quick sandwich at Volupté before taking another bus (nr 200 from the strain station) to Antibes.
Yes, you can visit Mougins in the morning and Antibes in the afternoon, and still feel completely relaxed in the evening, when you go back to Cannes for dinner (see my favourite addresses below). I didn’t know what to expect from Antibes, but I liked what I saw.
In Vieil Antibes (old village), a maze of narrow streets lead to the castle, Château Grimaldi, which houses the Picasso Museum and offers a view on the Mediterranean. The museum exhibits an impressive collection of Picasso’s paintings, drawings, and ceramics, as well as works of other artists, so don’t miss it if you like modern art. In the village, on market days, vendors sell fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers as well as other artisanal Provençal products.
A couple of streets are particularly charming, with house façades and stone walls covered with red, pink and white flowers. I would’t be surprises if an old woman came out of a door with a broomstick and flied off. Wandering through the alleys, I bumped into a little coffee shop, Arts Thes Miss, which my Mom particularly appreciated, since we had a sweet break with coffee, cinnamon tea and three small pieces of different (and delicious) cakes.
Cap d’Antibes has much to offer, like the Villa Eilenroc, built on a superb estate which represents the luxury of the French Riviera during the Belle Epoque. I haven’t seen it yet. I like leaving some places unexplored – it gives me an excuse to come back. And that’s the feeling you get when you visit the Côte d’Azur, you start looking forward to the next trip (and you promise yourself you’ll learn French).
I still miss waking up in the morning and ordering a French coffee and a briochette – which is different from croissant. And, in this gloomy Italian Monday, I miss the blue sea.
Bobo Bistrot, 21 Rue du Commandant André, Cannes – a nice (but crowded) place for dinner
Volupté, 32 Rue Hoche, Cannes – perfect for lunch and teatime
Le Relais des Semailles, 9, Rue St Antoine, Cannes – a shabby chic style restaurant in the heart of the old town. It’s quite expensive, but I can promise it’s worth it.
Jean-Luc Pelé – Patisserie & Boulangerie, 36 Rue Meynadier, Cannes – go there for breakfast and try the briochette. You won’t regret it.
Arts Thes Miss, Rue des Ravennes, Antibes – a small café where to stop for an afternoon break
Collection Tea, Rue Hoches, Cannes – a small, elegant tea shop owned by a real tea expert
Fragonard, Rue d’Antibes 103, Cannes – a lovely parfumerie from Grasse selling creams, eau de toilettes, clothes, and more. If you have time to go to Grasse, visit the Perfume Factory.