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Boats and beaches: What to see and do in Antibes

What to see and do in Antibes, South of France

I’ve been to France many times, but what I love about it (other than the cheese and wine obviously) is that it keeps surprising me. I thought I knew the Côte d’Azur – millionaires’ coastal villas, exclusive boutiques, casinos, luxury yachts – but Antibes wasn’t what I expected. Instead of a row of seafront apartments there was this 16th-century historic walled town, with red-roofed buildings and waves crashing against the ramparts. With sandy beaches on each side and the blue of the Mediterranean it was as pretty as a postcard. Judging by the yachts in the harbour there’s plenty of money about, but you don’t need a second mortgage to eat, drink or shop. You also get two-for-one when you visit Antibes, as it’s just a walk across the headland to neighbouring Juan-les-Pins, an art-deco style beach resort. It makes a great late-summer escape, once the August crowds head home. So here are some of my favourite things to see and do in Antibes.

Yachts at sunset in Antibes

Yachts at sunset

Wander around the old town

Within the stone ramparts, the old town of Vieil Antibes looks like it hasn’t changed much for centuries. There’s a maze of narrow cobbled streets, overlooked by pastel-coloured buildings with colourful shutters. There are pavement cafés and restaurants mixed in with shops selling white cotton clothes, glassware, local artworks and herbs. Don’t miss the Marché Provençal too (6am–1pm daily June–September, and every day except Monday the rest of the year), where traders from around Provence bring fresh produce to sell – fruit and vegetables, cheeses, olives and charcuterie from Corsica.  A pathway runs along the edge of the ramparts so you can walk from the harbour all the way to the southern beaches along the water’s edge.

Antibes Old Town

Streets and houses of the old town

Go fantasy yacht shopping in the harbour

Packed with 1800 boats, Antibes’ Port Vauban is the Mediterranean’s largest marina – and with mooring fees costing over a million euros it’s probably one of the most profitable too. This natural harbour has been used since Roman times, but today it’s full of some of the world’s most expensive yachts. If you want a taste of the millionaire lifestyle, you can charter a yacht for the day and head out along the coast, with everything from a small boat for €300 a day up to a €6000 a day, 12-person superyacht with crew available for hire. If that sounds a bit pricey, you can take a walk along the edge of the harbour and do a bit of fantasy yacht shopping instead. Between the town and Fort Carré is an area known as Billionaires’ Quay, where uniformed crew polish the railings on yachts belonging to an ultra-rich list of oligarchs, sheikhs and royalty.

Port Vauban in Antibes

Rows of yachts lined up in Port Vauban

Hit the beach

Antibes is surrounded by beautiful beaches, and unlike a lot of the pebbly Côte d’Azur there’s plenty of golden sand along with the clear turquoise waters. Closest to town is Plage de la Gravette, accessed though an archway from the port and overlooked by the old town ramparts. The sheltered cove is perfect for swimming, and at sunset you can join the locals for aperitifs on the beach. Just south of town are a couple more sandy stretches – Plage de Ponteil, next to the Antibes Yacht Club where you can hire boats or kayaks, and Plage de la Salis. Both have shallow water and lifeguards on duty in the summer. Further south again is Plage de la Garoupe, home to luxury private beach clubs in summer, where you can hire a lounger with drinks service – just don’t go boasting about it on social media, as the beach has enforced a selfie ban!

Antibes Town Beach in the South of France

The Gravette beach next to Antibes city walls

Follow in the footsteps of artists

Antibes has been an inspiration to artists right back to Monet’s 1888 painting of the Cap d’Antibes. One of the town’s most famous artistic residents was Picasso, who lived in Château Grimaldi for six months in 1946. The building was later turned into the Musée Picasso and shows his paintings, drawings and ceramics along with works from other contemporary artists. One of the museum’s previous exhibits has found a permanent home on Saint-Jaume bastion – Nomade by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa. A giant figure made up of different letters sits on the ramparts looking out to sea. On a sunny day the white letters contrast against the deep blue sky, and at night it’s lit up from inside. Or if you’re interested in what Antibes’ artists are creating today, there are studios in the city walls where you can check out their latest work.

Nomade sculpture by Jaume Plensa

Outside and inside the Nomade sculpture

Look out over the Côte d’Azur

For a great view of Antibes’ harbour and along the coast towards Nice, you can climb up to the top of ex-military fortress Fort Carré, just outside the town. Or if you want to get even higher, then head up the Chemin de Calvaire pathway behind Plage de la Salis to the Garoupe Lighthouse. The path is a kilometre long and leads up a stony pathway through pine forests before emerging at the top to a panorama across the Côte d’Azur. In one direction you can see Juan-les-Pins and Cannes, and in the other there’s Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer and Italy. The lighthouse is one of the most powerful in France, but isn’t open to the public since it became automated. You can visit the 16th-century chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garoupe though, an old pilgrimage site surrounded by picnic benches and with a café selling drinks in the summer.

Views out over Antibes and the Cote d'Azur

Views from the terrace at Notre-Dame-de-la-Garoupe

Have you ever been to Antibes? Do you have any other must-sees to add?

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What to see and do in Antibes – On the Luce travel blog

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24 Comments

  • Reply
    Anca | Globaloud
    September 24, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    I was there last summer, and it really surprised me how beautiful Antibes is. It reminded me of small towns on the islands in my own country – Croatia so I really felt like home.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 24, 2015 at 8:05 pm

      Such a beautiful place – interesting that it reminded you of Croatia too, I’m hoping to explore some more of the islands there next year.

  • Reply
    The Vagabond Baker
    September 24, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    I love how blue all your lovely photos are, it looks so pretty! I like the sound of that no-selfie beach, brilliant!
    Did you go to Juan-les-Pins? I’m a fan of Art Deco and this sounds just my cup of deco tea!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 24, 2015 at 8:05 pm

      We had so much blue – not a cloud for three days. Didn’t get a chance to see much of Juan-Les-Pins but will have to go back on an art deco spotting trip. Love that Antibes is too classy for the selfie too (though I think I did a Snapchat shot from that beach which is no more classy!)

  • Reply
    MummyTravels
    September 25, 2015 at 7:51 am

    Gorgeous – I never realised there was so much to Antibes though (the million euro mooring at the marina sounds more like what I had in my head!)

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 28, 2015 at 1:44 pm

      The yachts were crazy, we looked up the prices of some and have never seen so many zeroes! Away from that the city was surprisingly affordable though, and lots to do even if you don’t have a yacht.

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    September 27, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    I’ve never visited the south of France (shame on me) but it looks beautiful and not how I’d imagined at all. The old fort and harbour reminded me a little of Budva, Montenegro.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 28, 2015 at 1:49 pm

      Yes there’s definitely something of the Balkans about the old town area! The South of France is much more mixed than I imagined – lots of beach resorts but some more historic towns and some lovely places up in the hills too.

  • Reply
    Shobha
    September 27, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    I’ve never been to Antibes even though we’ve been to the south of France several times. We have friends who go there every summer and they’ve always raved about it. Now, I can see why!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 28, 2015 at 1:50 pm

      I’d been to the South of France a couple of times but think Antibes was my favourite place so far – loved the mix of old town and beaches.

  • Reply
    trolway
    September 28, 2015 at 11:11 am

    I have to say I was very surprised to see how interesting and lovely it is in Antibes – a place I would never have considered visiting before I saw your lovely photos and description!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 28, 2015 at 1:52 pm

      It’s a really lovely spot – though the beautiful weather definitely helped too!

  • Reply
    Phoebe @ Lou Messugo
    September 28, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    You’ve captured a lot of what Antibes has to offer (and there’s even more!!) I agree with you that it’s not all about billionaires and their yachts, did you know it even has a self-governing free commune right in the heart of the old town? I live near by and love exploring its different areas and hiking the Cap. I’d love it if you’d like to link this up to my monthly blog linky #AllAboutFrance which is on the 1st Thursday of each month, ie happening again this Thursday (1st Oct). You can find out more in the sidebar of my blog.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 29, 2015 at 7:43 pm

      Thanks Phoebe, I didn’t know about the self-governing commune, very interesting. The #AllAboutFrance link up sounds good, I am on the road again as of tomorrow but will join in when I’m back!

  • Reply
    Darlene
    September 28, 2015 at 10:21 pm

    Now I really want to go there!!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      September 29, 2015 at 7:39 pm

      Not too far from Spain! It really was a nice surprise, perfect for a few relaxing days.

  • Reply
    thebritishberliner
    September 29, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    Wonderful buildings and scenery! I’ve been to the Côte d’Azur and I was awfully impressed. Who isn’t? I’d love to again!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 4, 2015 at 11:39 am

      Such a stunning area!

  • Reply
    Melissa
    November 3, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    When I was studying abroad, I went to Antibes with my parents during their trip over to visit. I remember it being beautiful, and would love to go back now that I am more interested in off the beaten path traveling, and photography. And without my parents who were so frustrated with the language barrier that they started talking to a bus driver in Spanish…

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 4, 2015 at 11:42 am

      I’m the other way around with languages – my French is ok but my Spanish is hopeless, so I’ve been known to try a bit of French in Spain! Would definitely recommend a return trip to Antibes, there’s a lot to see and it’s such a beautiful place.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 7, 2016 at 5:28 pm

      Thanks for the tip – will check it out next time!

  • Reply
    Kelly D
    October 13, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    I just was married in Juan-les-Pins and we stayed next to the Plage Salis in Antibes. Such wonderful little towns. They are extremely affordable and absolutely stunning. I can’t wait to go back!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 16, 2016 at 9:22 pm

      What a lovely place to get married! Love that part of France, such beautiful scenery.

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