The Heartland between Nice and Antibes
From Nice to Antibes there is a nonstop road right alongside the sea. But there is not much on this stretch that is worthwhile to see, as the area in the Baie des Anges is dominates by some big holiday buildings and apartment complexes; What is much more attractive is the drive from Nice to Antibes by doing a huge loop way that is across the mountain roads of the heartland through the middle of the Alpes Maritimes.
This dream stretch leads from Cagnes-sur-Mer to the north to the centre of artists Saint-Paul-de-Vence, then to the neighboured Vence and finally westwards to Tourrettes-sur-Loup. Then it continues to the mountain village Gourdon; but therefore, the canyon of the Loup (Gorges de Loup) has to be crossed. On the further way back to the sea, one visits the perfume city Grasse.
I have to admit that this stretch from Nice to Antibes is not really a short way; for the whole stretch one needs, if viewing each of the little villages, one full day. But this tour through the heartland belongs to the most beautiful tours at the Côte d'Azur. The views are breathtaking, the small villages offer exactly what one expects as a visitor of a mediterranean mountain village. The drive leads through great landscapes with some fascinating views.
It is obvious that on such a fascinating stretch one is not the only one on the way, even though one is far away from the coast. In the famous mountain villages Saint-Paul-de-Vence or Gourdon, buses full of tourist stop. Due to this, there is only one thing to do: start erly in the morning in order to be the first doing this tour. But on the stretch and the view points one will find some cozyness: here, it is peaceful and quiet.
Cagnes-sur-Mer and Haute-de-Cagnes
By starting our tour in Nice, we drive alongside the Promenade des Anglais and pass the airport until getting to Cagnes-sur-Mer. The area of the Baie des Anges is so densely covered with buildings that one can hardly distinguish each of the city. Cagnes first deterrs us: massive concrete buildings and huge apartment complexes surround the coast, so that somehow one has to drive around the place behind the buildings. One is somehow astonished, as such kind of beach buildings rather appear in Mallorca or other places of mass tourism.
To be exactly, this area is called Cros-de-Cagnes, right behind it there is Cagnes-sur-Mer. The city of 30.000 inhabitants is a busy and hectic French small city; one does not get into holiday feeling here. But further up the mountain there is the third city qurter of Cagnes that is Haute-de-Cagnes. It is almost a wonder that this medieval village completely misses the hustle and bustle of the actual city Cagnes. Through some medieval gates, one gets to the oldtown that is waiting with some small and labyrinthine alleyways.
Life takes place in In Haute-de-Cagnes as if the clocks stopped working 150 years ago. But this castle hill was already inhabitated when there was nothing to see from Cagnes-sur-Mer: in the 12th century, the small fortification was arranged that was rebuilt in the 16th century to a small pleasure palace. Today, the Château can be viewed together with its small museum.
The house of the painter Renoir (La Maison de Renoir)can be viewed. Auguste Renoir spent his last 12 years of his life in Haute-de-Cagnes. Today, his house is a museum with a garden complex; As a visitor, one can not only view some of his paintings but also his studio where there are still numerus paint brushes and colour palettes laying around as if the artist would come back any minute...
After the shock of Cagnes-sur-Mer and the compensation with Haute-de-Cagnes, now the dreamy and unforgettable part of our drive through the heartland between Nice and Antibes is coming.
The first place where we do a stop during our tour through the heartland is Saint-Paul-de-Vence. The place is located more than 150 metres bove the sea level; after the drive up the mountain the motor needs to cool down a little...
Saint-Paul-de-Vence already exists since more than 2.000 years. In the medieval times there were some strong fights for this place. Thus, in the 16th century, the fortification around the plce was arranged; still today it is in a mainly good condition and is one of the main attractions of this small place.
The small mountain village Saint-Paul-de-Vence has less than 3.000 inhabitants. But during the main season there are certainly more than 20.000 in the small space, as here, each tourist bus stops. Saint-Paul-de-Vence is a mountain village like in a picture book: the village is located on a hill; in the interior, there are some cute alleayways with a lot of small shops, galleries and restaurants.
Those who are interested in modern arts can view at the edge of the village the Foundation Maeght. For 8 € one can view a lot of top-class artworks of renowed artists. Those who make the tour through the heartland normally do not feel like visiting a museum or an exhibition but look forward to the further routing nd he next village.
On the further twising route from Saint-Paul-de-Vence to Vence one drives up 300 metres of altitude difference. The drive through the vineyards and orchards is very pleasant and due to the numerous beautiful views also very interesting.. The city Vence forms a blatant contrast to Saint-Paul: while Saint-Paul-de-Vence is actually only a tourists dosshouse, Vence is a small city that lives and pulsates. Most of the tourists pass Vence without visiting it, although the city looks very attractive from the outside.
Also Vence can look can to a history of more than 2000 years. The Romans founded in Vence one of their numerous branches in order to secure the Imperium Romanum. Vence even became a diocesan town in the year 374, but in the further course of the first millenium, the city lost its former significance. In medieval times, Vence was only a small and insignificant place that was fortified by a city wall of a length of almost 700 m. Still today there are parts of this wall visible.
Still today one can experience the life of an unsignificant French city in Vence; Galleries, souvenir shops and postcard stands only pper spordically; the shops and stands for the local people dominte. A lot of vegetables, fish and fruits are offered. In the centre of the city there is the pompous city hall with the city hall plaza at the front. Moreover, the old cthedral of the city is worthwhile seeing.
Vence is the right place during our drive through the heartland where one should do the first break in order to eat something or to drink a coffee so that one has enough energy for the coming highlights.
Now, our tour continues to the small place Tourrettes-sur-Loup. But those who have some more time and are nor afraid of serpentine roads can drive up to the Col de Vence that is located at a height of 970 metres. From this mountain, one has a great view to the complete tour which one is currently doing, down to the sea and if the weather is clear, far into the country.
One of the most fascinating places of our tour is Tourrettes-sur-Loup. Already from a distance, one recognizes the city of an appearance similar to a fortification on the limestone-rock. The fascinating thing of this small place is that the houses at the edge of the small place are built in a way like forming a city wall. The whole village appears as a compact unity, as an impregnable fortification.
But the attraction of Tourrettes-sur-Loup is mainly limited to the exterior. In the village of barely 4.000 inhabitants there are no sightseeings that are worth to mention. The small castle is nice indeed, but one not has to visit it necessarily.
Today, tourrettes-sur-Loup became a small centre of the provencal handcraft. Those who are interesed in handcrafted goods will be in this small place in the right place.
Gorges du Loup
During our drive, we repeatedely see a small village located up and adveturously on a rock. It is the famous village Gourdon that is the next part of our tour. But previously, we come cross to Loup. Somehow, we have to cross the canyon of the Loup.
The Loup is an almost unique river. It is originated at a height of 1.300 metres and on ots way to the sea it covers a distance of less than 50 km. The fall of the river is respectively strong. If the Loup has a lot of water in the winter, it falls as a rapid brook down the valley. But during the summer time there is only a small runlet. In the course of the years, the loup got deeper into the smooth limestone scape.
On its way to the sea, the water flows a lot of spectacular falls. Those who have enough time can have a little walk at the Loup, gaze at the loup and watch one or two waterfalls.
The Mountain Village Gourdon
After having crossed the Gorges du Loup, on a small stretch, the road goes up in serpentine shape at a height of more than 700 metres. We finally come out in the village which we repeatedely gazed at during our tour. Gourdon is located at a height of 758 m and right on a huge rock. A visit of this small place is already worthwhile because of the great view. From here, one sees a big part of the route that one has already covered.
Although Gourdon has actually nothing else to offer except the great view, the place is completely overcrowded by the tourists. The numerous buses on the parking places in front of the village are already deterrent, the rush in the narrow alleayways even much more but of course, one also visits this place. In the city, there is one tourist shop after the other. Many cheaply produced "artworks" is sold. One should not permit to get too impressed from the great views buying this cheap stuff in the frenzy of the height.
The Perfume City Grasse
Only at approximately 10 kilometres air distance from the coast there is the world famous perfume city Grasse. The main reason why this city with barely 50.000 inhabitants is visited is due to its famous fragances, but a visit to the oldtwon of Grasse is also worthwhile.
Grasse is not an ancient city as it is the case of some of the places at the Côte d'Azur. Grasse is actually famous not earlier that from the 2nd century. In the 16th century, Grasse was famous in its area for its tanner crafts. A coindidence led Grasse to its famousity that it still enjoys today: as it became an habit in the posh circles to perfume the fine leather gloves, in Grasse, the development of the fragances started.
In Grasse, the climate was right in order to grow the plants used for the fragances. While some decdes ago, there were whole filds full of beautiful blossoms, today, the essences are imported from chep countries. In Grasse, each 10th working place is still affected by the fragances; but the actual, famous perfume industry is rather a small branch. A big part of the fragances go to the detergent industry or also to the food industry to refine baking flavours or sauces.
In the 19th century, Grasse was partly a health resort. But in the 20th century, the small city could not retain the tourism in the heartland. Today, Grasse is a smaller city that is only visited by the tourists who pass by. The are barely people staying over night in Grasse; many tourists even only visit those perfume shops as Fragonard or Gallimard.
Since the year 1989, there is an international perfume museum in the oldtown in which one can thoroughly get informed of all necessary steps for manufacturing a perfume. It is very interesing to get introduced in to the manufacturing procedure of one's favourite perfume...
The beautiful Pottery Village Biot
Shortly before we get gain to the coast we do a stop in one of the most beautiful mountain villages of the whole region: we arrive at the traditional pottery village Biot. The hilltop of Biot was already inhabitated during the time of the Romans, and already at this antique time, the first clay pots were produced. Except some short interruptions, the pottery craft was undertaken in Biot during almost two milleniums.
In the 20th century two traditional applied arts were added to the traditional potterythat was the glassblowing and the goldsmithing. Today, Biot presents itself as a medieval village of art crafts that wants to stimulate its visitors with its cozy atmosphere and its pleasant flair to buy the nadgrafted goods.
In the old small city there are numerous small pottery shops and shops that sell selfmade artcrafts; Except some few exceptions, high quality goods are sold that are of a unique and individual design. One I asked in pottery shop if it would be possible to get the same plate of the handmade dinnerware in two years time when I will come back. The answer was that the items were individual but that I could get a note of the colours used so that I could order a similar piece. This is what I call an individual handcraft and design!
In fact, Biot belongs to those places at the Côte d'Azur that I repeatedely like to visit. There is no other place in the world where one gets such a beautiful pottery as in Biot. But the place is also worthwhile seeing even if one is not interested in pottery. It is funny to walk on the small streets and paths of this place and to discover repeatedely new shops. The centre Ortskern (Place des Arcades)is very nice, where there are restaurants and cafés.
Biot has a big parking place outside the actual village. There is also a museum of glasblowing where one can experience live how the glasses or vases are blown from glass. The entrance to this museum is free; finally, the visitor should not empty his purse at the entrance but in the adjacent selling area.
Copyright: Patrick Wagner, www.tourist-guide.biz