According to Lonely Planet, with the exception of Renoir’s house/museum, Cagnes sur mer is “nothing to write home about.” This is exactly why I hate travel guides– If a tourist went by Lonely Planet, they’d go to the Renoir Museum, find that it’s closed for renovations head off to St. Paul de Vence, or Monaco or wherever and miss the perfectly lovely, untouristed old village on the hill.
I’ve got to question whether the writers of this particular volume have spent any time in the South of France and if they did, were they blindfolded. Any sighted person passing Cagnes sur mer on the train or driving on the A8 can see there’s a tumble of ancient stone houses on a hill leading up to an ancient castle. The first time I saw it, I assumed it was St. Paul de Vence, since that’s the main hilltop village I’d heard mentioned ad nauseum in the guidebooks.
It didn’t take much time or research to realize that St. Paul de Vence is actually about 20 minutes further inland and the cool hilltop village I’d been eyeing is called Haut de Cagnes, part of the larger town of Cagnes sur mer. The castle is one of the many Grimaldi chateaux (now I understand why Princess Grace married into the family).
It’s a quick 15 minute train ride from Antibes. When I first get off at the Cagnes sur mer train station and walk out onto the rue, I wonder where the hell is it? There’s supposed to be a bus that takes you up there, but I don’t know where the stop is and I want to get going. From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t look like a terrible climb…once I find the damn hill.
I follow the signs into Cagnes proper (not Cros de Cagnes which is closer to the mer) and there’ still no sign of it.. Fortunately, the “Bourg medieval” sign points me in the right direction and soon, I see signs of medieval-ness. I wonder how the hell a bus can get up here (answer: tiny buses).
It’s pretty much a straight shot up the hill, but it’s steep. When I get tired, I turn around and look at the view, which gets more spectacular the higher I go. The “main drag” and side streets also become cuter.
Finally, I see the church and chateau. Past that, a really nice square overlooking the hills. There’s a boules court and several restaurants where you can dine on the square.
The Chateau houses a pretty cool little museum (which is incidentally where you’ll find the contents of the Renoir museum while it’s being restored). On display are a lot of paintings of Haut de Cagnes by famous and semi famous artists over the years (sometimes centuries), still totally recognizable.
My favorite exhibit is a room full of paintings of a woman I’ve never heard of, Suzy Solidor. I’m sure I would have hated the woman in real life (narcissistic bitch who was probably a total slut). She had been a model, singer and muse here in the early to mid 1900s and donated the collection to the town in 1973. They’re all done by different artists, including Raoul Dufy and Jean Cocteau and it’s fun to see them all in one place.
There’s also a stairway to the roof of the chateau (more climbing) with amazing 360 views over the Mediteranean and Var Valley.
The village has a couple of nice artisan shops, one tabac shop that also sells postcards beverages and snacks type things, a souvenir store (not your average tourist crap, though) and a couple of shady squares with lovely outlooks to enjoy an ice cream cone and watch the local kids and cats play.
What it doesn’t have: Chain stores, tour buses or the cachet of St. Paul de Vence (where I counted 9 tour buses in a 2 hour period). Thank goodness.
The truth is, after I visited Haut de Cagnes, I did write home about it. Which makes me wonder. Is Lonely Planet inept? Or are they just trying to keep the place for themselves?
Filed under: Cote d'azur, Impressionists, Provence, tourism Tagged: | cagnes sur mer, chateau grimaldi, cros de cagnes, French Riviera, haut de cages, hilltop village, Lonely Planet, medieval village, musée renoir cagnes sur mer, Region Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, travel guidebooks, travel guides