The French Riviera is known for many things: sandy beaches, a crystal-blue sea, delicious food, incredible wines and local vineyards… but museums? Not so much, you’d expect.
And yet, while those gleaming tourist brochures and Instagram shots don’t always show off the region’s rich cultural background, rich it is indeed with plenty of things to do near Cannes, Nice, and Mougins. If you have spent any time wandering through the winding alleys of any of Provence’s medieval villages (think here of Mougins, Antibes, or the so-called “Old Neighbourhood” or Vieux Quartier of Nice) you’ll have noticed how picturesque and, well, old they are. Most of these towns have been around for centuries and they have the cultural as well as historical weight to prove it.
Now, people are different and want different things out of their holidays. While some may want to spend an entire week lounging on the beach with a drink in hand (yes, please) others want to get the most out of the region they’ve holidayed too and will spend full days exploring the rich cultural heritage of the area.
Most people will identify themselves as being somewhere on that spectrum: thankfully, Le Mas Candille is here with a handy post about some of the fantastic cultural experiences on the French Riviera to help you pinpoint exactly where you may want to spend an extra few hours exploring another side of the region.
Art Museums on the French Riviera
As many towns of the Provence region are set amidst the backdrop of stunning scenery, from the pre-Alpine hills to the beach and everything in between, they have long caught the attention of world-famous artists, such as Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall.
If you’re not looking for a full day trip (or like me, you can’t bear to be away from the glistening sea for too long), then no worries! Le Mas Candille’s own little corner of Provence, the aptly-named Cote d’Azur (the “Azure Coast”), is famed for its many talented visitors over the years.
After all, let’s not forget what’s right on our doorstep: Mougins is an ode to the artistic community. Pablo Picasso himself settled in Mougins in 1961 and had been a frequent visitor for many years prior. The chapel of Notre Dame de Vie displays many of his works and is a beautiful spot to visit for anyone interested in discovering more of Mougins. Check out Le Mas Candille’s blog post on an idyllic day in Mougins.
Moreover, the alleys of Mougins are filled to the brim with art galleries of all genres and a wander around the old village will shine a light on the diversity of local and Provencal art. The Mougins Museum of Classical Art houses the world’s largest private collection of ancient arms and armour, amongst other interesting artefacts.
Less than a thirty-minute drive from Le Mas Candille is Nice, a beautiful city with plenty to see. For the art lovers out there, Nice is heaven on earth. Not only is it home to gorgeous multicultural architecture, the food is also to die for and the view from Castle Hill could inspire a generation of new artists in a heartbeat. For a bit of art history here, take some time and visit the Matisse Museum for those interested in expressionism, post-impressionism and Henri Matisse’s extraordinary use of colour, amongst other things.
Nice also proudly hosts the Marc Chagall Museum, which is an absolute must-see. The museum houses the Russian-French artist’s painting and other works, many of which showcase his admiration for the region’s beauty through his work.
Other popular destinations not far from Mougins include Saint-Paul-de-Vence, a historic art community where Chagall once lived and worked, Antibes, which is home to the excellent Pablo Picasso museum, and Vallauris.
If you’re willing to go a bit farther afield, you’ll have many more options as an art fan. A day trip to Aix-en-Provence will get you to the ‘Cezanne Trail’, where you’ll be able to visit his workshops and paintings. If you head west from Mougins towards Montpellier, you’ll reach Arles, where Van Gogh spent many years painting after he moved away from Paris.
To arrange transport to any of the above locations, or to get a better idea of what you can expect at any of the regional museums and art galleries, please don’t hesitate to speak to Le Mas Candille’s excellent multilingual reception team.
Traditional Excursions in the Provence
So, you want to take some time on your trip to the south of France to explore some of the local culture, but you’re not much of a museum person. No problem! There are so many ways to get in touch with Provence and museums are only one of them. Thankfully, Le Mas Candille has you covered with some slightly more interactive activities which will bring you face to face with Provence’s cultural delights.
If you head over to Biot, a beautiful hilltop village just 20 minutes’ drive from Mougins and from the coast, you’ll uncover a special tradition: Biot has a lengthy history of glassblowing. The glass is famous for its bubbles and makes for some truly stunning pieces, which you’ll be able to pick up from the workshop or from any of the glass shops throughout the old town. Head over to Pierini Verre Contemporain’s showroom to see the glass being made right in front of you and to pick up some gorgeous handmade glassware. Pierini’s showroom also has the option of allowing you to blow glass yourself, which is a truly unique experience. Le Mas Candille is currently displaying some of Pierini’s artwork at the hotel: check out the pieces on the roof gardens by the terrace if you can’t make it to the showroom!
Another great idea for a short culture trip not far from Mougins is a visit to Grasse’s world-renowned perfume factories. Only a 15-minute drive from Le Mas Candille, Grasse has three main perfume factories that you can choose from: Gallimard, Fragonard and Molinard. Grasse has been at the centre of global perfume-making since the 16th century! Here, you can observe incredible perfumes being designed and even create your own personal scent, with the help of Grasse’s master perfumers, or “noses” as they are referred to in French!
Pro tip: keep some time aside for a visit to the gift shops: they’re a brand in themselves and sell some beautiful local artwork, home décor and of course, the iconic scented soaps.
The above is only a brief summary of everything you can do to immerse yourself in Provence’s rich cultural history and traditions during your stay on the French Riviera. Le Mas Candille’s reception team can help you figure out which experiences are right for you and how to get there.
Right, now that you’ve had your bit of culture, isn’t it time to be heading back down to the beach?
Or, if you’re getting hungry from all of the exploring, head for a delicious meal at Le Mas Candille’s poolside restaurant La Pergola in the summertime, or our gastronomic Michelin-starred restaurant Le Candille year-round.
And if you don’t want the night to end there, check out our blog on Cote d’Azur nightlife to keep the party going.