While in Mougins to give a talk on my latest book, The Birdwatcher’s Wife, I was delighted to reacquaint myself with the enchanting area. My previous visit had been three years ago when I made a presentation on my first book, Passion for Provence: 22 Keys to La Belle Vie. Happily, I found the region as compelling as ever!
A Visit to Mougins
Mougins, a tiny jewel of a hilltop village —where Picasso lived his last twelve years—is located on the Côte d’Azur, just under seven kilometres inland from the Mediterranean Sea. The views of the lush countryside are magnificent, as are its fascinating Greco-Roman, culinary, and art legacies. Plus it offers easy access to both snazzy Cannes, as well as charming Valbonne.
Where to Stay
Hang your hat for a few tranquil days at the Manoir de l’Étang, a charming, old-world hotel overlooking a nature park, located near the base of the town. The inn boasts a gourmet restaurant, a huge, sparkling swimming pool, and a vast terrace where you can enjoy the elaborate petit déjeuner while taking in the sweeping view. A five-minute stroll brings you to the park featuring a large pond (étang), replete with a wide walking path and all sorts of birdlife. The days we were there, we were treated to a statuesque Gray Heron, Moorhens sporting their crimson beaks and green legs, plus a flock of striking black and white red-legged Black Stilts.
5 Things To Do
1) Hike to Hoopoes: From the hotel, you can hike up and I do mean up—it gets pretty steep in parts–to the village in just over a half-hour. Watch for feathered friends along the way. In a residential area, I spotted a glorious Hoopoe, which perched and posed for us high in a tree, displaying its stunning orange-black-white headdress.
2) Be a Snoop: Once in the village, take a wander through the delightful twisty-turny cobblestone lanes. You’re sure to find photo ops around every corner. If you have the time, pop into the Tourist Office and pick up the Mystery Tour game, akin to a treasure hunt based on the town’s architecture and history. We did a similar one in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence where we live and had a fun time learning about the town.
3) Picnic with Picasso: On your way to town, pick up a tasty treat at the Boulangerie de l’Étang (near the hotel) and then for your lunch spot, choose a bench on the square next to the monumental bust of Picasso (by Gabriel Sterk, 2008). Of course, another option is to dine in one of the top-notch restaurants in the village known for high-end gastronomy—legendary chefs Roger Vergé and Alain Ducasse once ran restaurants here. Après le pique-nique, the incredible Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins (MACM) awaits. In addition to Greco-Roman antiquities, you’ll also discover works by giants of the art world–Cezanne, Chagall, Dali, Picasso, Renoir, and Warhol—to name a few!
4) Movie Magic: Just ten minutes away by car you’ll find quaint Valbonne. Once parked, wind your way to centre ville, to the Place des Arcades—named for its graceful arcaded walkways encompassing the square, with the weathered, ochre-coloured Hotel les Armoiries on one side. Guess what—you’ve just set foot on a former movie set! Yes, indeed, this is where Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan filmed a rollicking scene from the popular comedy French Kiss.
At night, the square is serenely dazzling but come Friday morning, a multitude of market stalls fill the space. It’s a bustling marché selling a full spectrum of goods from foodstuffs to designer clothes. Café Arcades is a terrific place to have a coffee and enjoy the happy chaos. Or better yet, have a bite—our meal in this boisterous bistro was scrumptious.
5) Bonkers for Bonnard: While making your way toward the coast, you won’t want to miss the terrific Musée de Bonnard in the village of Le Cannet. French-born Pierre Bonnard—heralded as a prominent leader of the Post-Impressionist movement—studied alongside Édouard Vuillard at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Greatly influenced by Paul Gauguin and Japanese graphic arts, Bonnard developed a decorative, abstract style that relied on the lively use of vibrant colours. If you’re not already a fan of this versatile artist, a visit to this fab museum may well change your mind.
Now you’re near to glitzy-ritzy Cannes. If a sparkly splurge is on your agenda, the Cartier boutique at 57 Boulevard de la Croisette will be pleased to oblige. Or, instead, cross the street and splash out in the sparkling Med.
Photo credits: All photos are by Gayle Padgett unless otherwise marked.
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