Cap d’Antibes: Bougainvillea, Bellinis and the Cicadas’ Song

by Annabella Biziou van Pol  |  Published October 4, 2014

Longstanding staple of many a celebrity and immortalised on countless canvases, the Cap d’Antibes encapsulates the essence of the French Riviera, with pristine coastline and a decadent past.

Cap d'Antibes. (Photo: Dinaiz via Flickr)

Cap d’Antibes. (Photo: Dinaiz via Flickr)

The white noise of cicadas. The scent of pine. Purple bougainvillea flowers laced over lemon and terracotta villas beside a glassy expanse of Mediterranean sea. Painted row boats, artists painting. These are the things that spring to mind at the mention of the Cap d’Antibes.

I drive the winding roads and imagine myself a puppet in a black and white scene. My rental car is a vintage Chevrolet, I’m clothed in a fitted Gucci number, nails polished, smile colgate white. I raise my sunglasses, oversize, Chanel, and feel the warmth of the sun on my cheeks, the breeze in my hair.

The land sinks into colour again, empty roads hugged by tall crooked pines and sparse green bushes. I stop on a gravel path and sit on a rock, swinging my legs to the waves. Creased rocks the colour of barley half submerged in green-blue water, so clear I can see a silver chain of minnows darting in the shallows. I rifle through change in my pocket and drop a euro into a shadowed pool. It hits the bottom and glints like a pale yellow diamond.

There’s a yacht out to sea. Two, three, a fourth sailing boat, blurs of white on navy backdrop. Everywhere you stop here is a sight worthy of a postcard. The ‘tire poil’, surely one of the most beautiful walks in the world, starts at the Plage de la Garoupe and ends an hour or so later in forest, a myriad of winding steps and shielded paths on the edge of the cliff. It’s a garden of Aleppo pine, acacias, cypress trees, pistachio mastic and rock samphire.

Lunch is best found in the form of a picnic; a bundle of flakey croissants slick with salted butter and drizzled in mild Provençal honey, served in dappled light between the sea and the trees.

I continue to wander up through the forest, a shaded haven, until I reach the lighthouse, where the curtain of trees parts to reveal an expanse of coastal horizon. Below, the old town of Antibes and its marina are visible, sheltering a collection of yachts with the sea stretching into the distance beyond.

Come evening, when the setting sun seeps pastel rainbows across the sky, I find myself on the doorstep of the infamous Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc.

“Mademoiselle.” There’s the chink of expensive crystal and a bellini lands on my table. The waiter disappears in a blur of starched shirt and citrus aftershave. I sip crushed white peaches muddled with the sting of champagne and descend creamy steps to a garden edging the sea. Laughter, a cloud of emerald silk dresses, ruby lips and sharp suits beneath fan palms.

Karl Lagerfeld made a film here called The Tale of a Fairy; a sprinkling of supermodels with razor cheekbones and jealous eyes. Audrey Hepburn wandered into the same scene in Paris When it Sizzles. Back when it was a private mansion, the Villa de Soleil became the setting for frequent guest F. Scott Fitzgerald’s acclaimed novel Tender is the Night, where darkness, debauchery and affairs unfolded. Droves of stars and would-be producers descend during the Cannes film festival; a zoo of might be and has beens, peacocks displaying their finest feathers in a legendary spot.

But in late summer, when the air cools and the chatter lessens, the Cap takes on an ethereal magic; the quiet serves only to magnify the beauty of the still, pine-flecked horizon as the cicadcas’ song swells against the waves.