Exploring the Cotes D’Azur

For the final few days of our mini-Provence break, we based ourselves just outside the picturesque town of Mougins, a few miles north of Cannes.  We had spent the first few days exploring around Moustiers and Day 5 started with a drive through the amazing Verdun Gorge.

Day 5 – Moustiers to Mougins

After exploring the map, I thought the most interesting route to Mougins from Moustiers would to drive along the edge and down into the Verdun Gorge, by following the D952 all the way to Castellane.  From there on, I could see a windy series of roads (D4085/D6085) that could take us to Grasse where we could stop to explore and have lunch, and then onwards to reach Mougins by the late afternoon.  We were not disappointed!  Winding through some forests and steadily climbing, the road then reached the gorge and clung to the side with sheer drops on the right, and the cliff looming over us on the left.  Small parking places provided a few quick stops to jump out and enjoy the amazing views back towards the lake of Sainte-Croix or up through the winding gorge with the river down below.

Lac Sainte-Croix
The road into the Verdun Gorge

For many miles, the road weaved up and down along the valley edge.  Sometimes we would be just a few yards from the water’s edge and could watch an occasional boat of river rafters whoosh by; or rise up to summit a high pass to the next section of the gorge.  There were small villages along the route but mainly just hills, forest and the gorge.  A beautiful drive.

At Castellane, we passed the famous rock with the ‘Notre Dame du Roc’ church perched on top, and after this point, the scenery changed to more rolling hills.  We had left the gorge and felt that we were in the foothills of the Alps as they loped towards the Mediterranean.  After a couple of hours, the town of Grasse appeared in front as a collection of yellow hued buildings sprawling across the tops of several hills.  Grasse is famous for perfume and is home to many famous and ancient brands.

Backstreets of Grasse

Much of the lavender from the region we had just left (around Moustiers) would be sent to Grasse to be processed.  We parked up and spent an hour just exploring the lovely narrow streets, interesting shops mostly of arts, perfumes or food, and then found a great place ‘Bar aux aires‘ in the main square to enjoy a scampi and chip lunch before continuing our wandering.

After a couple of hours, we headed back on the road and it was only another 20 minutes to Mougins.  Our hotel was called ‘Les Roseés and we were staying in annex of sorts in the style of a Romany gypsy caravan which was very pretty (although the garden was fully of thirsty mosquitoes as we found whilst enjoying an evening aperitif!).

An evening aperitif at Les Roseés

Dinner that night was at Le Clos Saint Basile – a delightful restaurants in the new part of Mougins with friendly service and delicious food.  After three amazing courses, we retired exhausted to our gypsy home and reminisced on a fabulously varied day.

Day 6 – Exploring Mougin, Antibes and St Paul de Vence

Rachael had booked an early spa treatment which was situated near Mougins old town, so we parked there and, while she had her treatment, I wandered into town to explore.  The small village is perched on top of a round hill with roughly three concentric circles of narrow streets decreasing in diameter towards the top of the hill.  At the centre, a large water tank and church overlook the packed narrow streets (some barely a meter wide) which are lined with mostly art shops and workshops.  Pablo Picasso lived here for a while inspired by the views and the light and his picture was found in many places.  A small photography museum provided additional interest but mainly I was enjoying just walking around in circles watching the village come to life.

Narrow alleyways of Mougins old town

Joining me after her spa treatment, Rachael and I continued to circumnavigate the village several times before stopping for coffee in a little cafe ‘La Petit Fouet‘ which Rachael loved so booked us for dinner the next day.

We decided to move on and I had read that Antibes was one of the prettiest coastal areas, so we headed there and about 30 minutes later, had found some parking at the Port Vauban which was home to hundreds of amazing yachts.  Wandering up and down the jetties, we played out usual game of trying to find our dream boat (lottery numbers permitting!).

The old town of Antibes was a couple of streets inland from the port and had a lively, African vibe.  Narrow streets filled with buzzy cafes, street performers, fruit sellers all surrounded by colourful buildings with white shutters.  We had lunch in one such cafe – a superb tuna-niçoise salad and then continued to just get lost winding our way aimlessly through the streets and passage ways before eventually finding ourselves back at the car.

Our next mini-destination was the village of St Paul de Vence – another hill top village for which this area of Provence is famous.  It was late afternoon so we didn’t have much time to explore the streets but the setting sun provided a beautiful pink glow on all the beautiful, stone buildings.  We had a tasty dinner on the terrace of the Le Tilleul restaurant which was very busy but the food was good.  After a final post-dinner stroll around the now dark and deserted streets, we headed back to Les Roseés.

A view from Saint Paul de Vence

Day 7 – Juan Les Pins and Cannes

For our final day, Rachael suggested we head down to Juan Les Pins.  Based between Antibes and Cannes, it felt like it was once a busy beach town that had perhaps passed its heyday with many of the buildings looking like they hadn’t changed much since the 70s.  However, it had a lovely long beach and we walked down the adjacent road all the way to the Port Gallice at the far end and repeated our boat exploration before finding a beach cafe for another tasty lunch.

Retrieving the car, we followed the ‘Boulevard de la Garoupe’ which wound around the edge of the peninsula with great views back towards Cannes to the west and the bay beyond Antibes to the east.  We cut back across again and followed the coast road ‘Avenue des Frères Roustan‘ all the way to Cannes.  We didn’t stop there since just wanted to drive through before heading back up to Mougins, but it had a modern feel with tree lined streets and plush looking hotels fronting onto the beach side.

Back in the old town of Mougins, we enjoyed our final meal of the holiday in La Petit Fouet which was delicious.  We reflected on the wonderful holiday which felt a lot longer than the 7 days we had spent in Provence.  There was also plenty to look forward to should we come back which I’m sure we will.

We retired early and checked out of the hotel in advance of our early morning drive to Nice airport and the flight home.

Au revoir Provence! 


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