Living like the locals

Sat, Jan 2, 2010, 00:00

Go reader Maeve Edwards samples the real France during a week in Antibes

EVEN IF WE hadn’t gone on day trips up and down the French Riviera, to Monte Carlo, Cannes, the medieval village of Eze, Villefranche-sur-Mer, our week-long stay in Antibes would still have been one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on simply because I really felt I was in France.

Far too often, if you don’t research your holiday destination well enough, you can find yourself out of town in what is euphemistically called a resort. This is fine if you just want sunshine, warm seas, good food and wine, and a comfortable bed to lay your head, but I want more than that. I want to feel the language, the people, the local ambience.

Our apartment was in old Antibes, close to the Picasso museum. Less than 30 minutes from Nice airport, Antibes is located between Nice and Cannes, and during the short taxi ride we feasted our sun-starved Irish eyes on the Mediterranean Sea, on bathers, beach umbrellas, children playing in the waves, pavement cafes and palm trees. Our taxi left us right at the front door of our apartment, which was in a tiny cobbled street under an arch.

Some of the buildings in Antibes are 300 years old, and all are meticulously preserved, which means they don’t have lifts. We had been warned that we’d have to haul our suitcases up four flights of spiral staircase and to come prepared. We hadn’t been told, though, that the smell of the drains in the vestibule would cause us to hold our breath each time we left the building.

But all of this was of nothing when we arrived, sweating and panting, up the four flights of stairs. A view of terracotta rooftops awaited us. All higgledy-piggledy with no seeming order. The buildings were painted ochre, yellow, pink, with blue and green shutters. Close by we could see the ramparts and towers of the chateau, which today has been preserved and transformed into a magnificent modern art museum. The sounds and smells of French life wafted up to us from the narrow streets below.

Our terrace faced south, with louvred doors opening wide to the cool bedrooms. A sofa and two chairs at one end of the terrace, and a table and chairs at the other, told us we would spend all of our chez nous time out here.

Our mornings started with a trip to the nearby boulangerie for bread. The market at this early hour of 8am was already doing good business.

As children passed us on their way to school, and locals returned to their homes with bread under their arms, we bought beef tomatoes, olives, cheese, ripe golden peaches, grapes and avocados, and we returned to our apartment knowing for certain the sun would be out on our terrace when we got back.

Then, after a leisurely breakfast, we would decide whether to have a beach day or an away day. Some of the beaches are stony, and you’d be advised to bring plastic shoes for swimming.

Even in September it is hot and some shade is required. We paid €10 per half-day for a sunbed and shade. More enterprising locals brought parasols with them, which we will do when we return.

Every second day we took a day trip. For €12 you can hop on and off the marvellously efficient and clean TER trains, which transport you to romantic and delicious-sounding places along the Côte d’Azur. The local station was nearby, and everything was easy to understand.

One day we had lunch in Villefranche-sur-Mer, cocktails in Monte Carlo (having delightedly won €105 in the casino) and dinner in the beautiful city of Nice.

Nightlife for the youngsters is in nearby Juan-les-Pins, a stone’s throw from Antibes. We took Le Petit Train there one evening, had dinner and strolled back along the tree-lined streets.

Restaurants are plentiful and varied, with prices slightly lower than Dublin. Side-street restaurants are better value than those on main thoroughfares. Rosé wine (which everyone seemed to be drinking) started at €15 in restaurants; we paid just €1.95 a bottle in the local supermarket for our nightcap on the terrace. All in all, a wonderful week.

Flights with Aer Lingus from Dublin to Nice cost us €185 but would have been cheaper if we had booked further in advance. The apartment cost €700 between three of us.

I have been boring people since my return with my newly hatched plan of moving to Antibes when I retire, in five years’ time, for November to March, the five bleakest months of the Irish year, and returning to Ireland, in April, for the cherry blossoms.


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