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Known primarily for its jet-set crowd and fabulous fetes, France’s Côte d’Azur also hosts a sophisticated arts scene that’s intimate in scale and rich in homegrown talent (see: Impressionists, Modernists). With two of the area’s most notable museums reopening this summer, now is the perfect time for a culture-minded visit. A trip that encompasses the seaside city of Antibes and the mountain towns of Saint-Paul de Vence and Vence will yield an ideal mix of art, Provençal charm, and beachy glamour.
Set between Nice and Cannes, Antibes is less touristy and more peaceful than either of those cities. It’s home to classic Riviera tableaux (fishermen playing boules, colorful markets) and, on the other end of the spectrum, the peninsula known as Cap d’Antibes, which is studded with mansions and the famous Hôtel du Cap-Eden Roc (from $853/night; www.hotel-du-cap-eden-roc.com). Stop by the hotel’s Bellini Bar for a glass of champagne at sundown. The city’s treasure is the Musée Picasso ($8; www.antibes-juanlespins.com), quartered in a former Grimaldi château where Picasso lived and worked in the mid-1940s.
Down by the sandy beach (a rarity on the Riviera), visitors can pick up the Painters of the Côte d’Azur route, a series of 60 or so plaques emblazoned with paintings and placed precisely where painters like Matisse and Monet are believed to have set up their easels.
Saint-Paul de Vence
While lovely, the coast is overdeveloped and the hills nearby offer a change of pace. Twelve miles from Antibes lies Saint-Paul de Vence, a casually elegant town whose pedestrian-only streets are lined with pricey galleries and antiques shops.
Just outside of town is the Fondation Maeght ($18; www.fondationmaeght.com), a small museum founded in 1964 that reopened last spring after a renovation. Amid a cool stand of umbrella pines, sculptures by Miró lurk in a labyrinth of water and trees, a huge Calder sculpture springs from the front lawn, and a peaceful mosaic pool by Georges Braque invites contemplation. Back in town, the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs ($4; saint-pauldevence.com) was decorated by the late Belgian artist Folon with a glittering mosaic and his signature surreal watercolors with soaring bird motifs.
The place to stay, or at least lunch, is La Colombe d’Or (from $318/night; www.la-colombe-dor.com), which is filled with originals by Picasso, Braque, Chagall, and Klee. Back in the day, the artists used to give the hotel artwork when they couldn’t afford to pay the bill.
Nearby Vence possesses charms similar to Saint-Paul’s but feels more low-key and authentically French. Delightfully at odds with Vence’s cobblestone aesthetic is the B&B La Maison du Frêne (from $185/night; www.lamaisondufrene.com), whose fanciful interior is filled with objets d’art by Koons and Starck and furnishings by Saarinen, Eames, and Jacobsen.
Vence’s most famous site is the Chapelle du Rosaire ($4; www.ville-vence.fr), an outwardly modest chapel with an interior designed by Matisse near the end of his life. The vivid blue, yellow, and green stained glass fully saturates one in the Mediterranean palette that has inspired so many artists to work here.
From the Summer 2010 issue of Sherman's Travel magazine.