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Mon ami, Antibes

Charming city shines on French coast

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Whoever said the French do it better was right. After all, what could be better than sitting on a deck in Southern France, glass full of red wine, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea sampling truffle cheese, Nicoise olives, fresh baguette, charcuterie and local strawberries.

My partner and I have just returned from the Marché Provenßal in the vielle ville (old city) of Antibes, having fought hard to restrain ourselves from blowing all our euros on our first day in France. Nowhere is it more difficult to resist the temptation to empty your pockets and try everything than in a food market in Europe.

Although the April winds chill the air, topless sunbathers spread themselves out on the beach, soaking up the early-spring sun. The ocean sparkles green and blue, and the palm trees that line the boardwalk sway gently in the breeze. The path is filled with people, mostly locals, who exercise in the morning and take lazy strolls in the afternoon. I close my eyes and listen to the soft coos of turtledoves and the peals of laughter coupled with heated arguments from the petanque (A game of boules similar to bocci) pitch below.

I breathe it in. Life doesn't get any better than this.

Antibes in the early spring is sleepy and comfortable -- like an old friend waiting to greet you with a warm hug. And this is precisely what we were looking for. A place that is happy to host weary travellers after long days of sightseeing. Located between Cannes and Nice, Antibes feels more like a smaller town, which means you can really get to know it well in a week.

The highlight is definitely Antibes' old city, with its tangled maze of streets that open onto beautiful squares lined with restaurants and cafés.

Here, locals walked around with baguettes tucked neatly under one arm, so arm ourselves we did -- over and over, making sure to give every boulangerie (bakery) equal attention so as not to offend our ever-expanding stomachs.

Next we made sure to sample the crepes, both sweet and savoury, although the one I still dream about was Nutella accompanied by banana slices (a "healthy" choice) and whipped cream (to balance out the banana).

In the afternoon, we would find a café in a square in the old town for an espresso and partake in our favourite European pastime, people-watching. Here one can soak up culture in a totally relaxed fashion. Takeout coffee? What's that? In the South of France, people sit and drink their espressos from real ceramic cups without rushing to the next event.

Things here are done slowly -- with intent and purpose. It made going out for meals a little tricky for we frantic North American folk who aren't used to sitting in one place for three hours, attending to full-course meals.

But by the time we left, we were experts, ordering aperitifs, pitchers of vin du pays (house wine), coffee and dessert.

We did manage to get out and explore the small medieval towns tucked inland and perched dramatically on hills, but it was our return to Antibes each evening that we invariably looked forward to the most: Sweet, beautiful and charming Antibes that we will inevitably return to again.

-- Postmedia News

IF YOU GO

WHERE TO STAY

The Royal Hotel Antibes. Book an apartment-style room that comes with a fridge to house all your perishable market purchases.

www.hotelroyal-antibes.com/en

 

WHERE TO EAT

Bistro 44, located on 44 boulevard Albert Premier. A fantastic bistro serving hearty French cuisine, both Antibioses- and Lyonnais-style cooking. Order the fondant au chocolat for the most amazing chocolate lava cake.

 

CAR RENTAL

We rented from Auto Europe in advance and picked up and returned our car at the airport in Nice.

www.autoeurope.ca/car.cfm

 

THINGS TO DO

Marché Provenßal, 11 place du Général de Gaulle. Fantastic food market with fresh produce, meats, cheeses and other deli items.

Musée Picasso: A collection of the artist's works housed in the Chateau Grimaldi. In 1946, Picasso stayed in Antibes for a couple of months and produced many works of art.

Take a stroll or a hike or hit the beach: Either walking along the boardwalk, climbing along the coastline, zipping through the water or lying on a sandy beach, there are many ways to enjoy the outdoors in Antibes. Check out the Tourist Information in Antibes for more details at 11, place du Général de Gaulle.

www.antibes-juanlespins.co.uk/

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 12, 2013 A1

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