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Explore the art towns of the French Riviera.

Step ashore on your French Riviera cruise to walk in the footsteps of artists from Cezanne to Chagall, and discover the towns made famous by their work

The towns to visit

The French Riviera is a favourite destination for the yachting crowd, and rightfully so. From legendary beach clubs to medieval villages and Michelin star cuisine, this sun-soaked coast is a summer playground for the superyacht set.

Some of the world’s greatest artists and writers also flocked here since the late 1700s, drawn to capture the ethereal light and views of shimmering-cobalt Mediterranean Sea. From the great Impressionists up to present day modern artists, many of the biggest names in art have been inspired by this landscape and left their mark in the towns and villages.

Street signs nod to their famous patrons
Street signs nod to their famous patrons

Today, the wandering art lover will be excited by the treasures that these beautiful and almost perpetually sunny shores offer. So when you drop anchor, venture ashore to discover the streets and cafes that art’s greats called home, and the landscapes made famous by their work.

Aix-en-Provence

Often referred to as the birthplace of modern art, the town of Aix-en-Provence was in fact the actual birthplace and home of famous impressionist Paul Cezanne. From the picturesque lavender fields to the peaks of Mont Sainte-Victoire, the town, its surrounding landscape, and Cezanne himself, have inspired many later artists. One of these was Picasso. The Spanish artist was such a fan of Aix that he moved from the Riviera into Provence, and is said to have bought a castle on the slopes of Cezanne’s beloved Mont Sainte-Victoire, which Cezanne had painted almost 100 times.

The vivid sky and houses of Aix-en-Provence inspired artists to create stunning work
The vivid sky and houses of Aix-en-Provence inspired artists to create stunning work

 

Home of Cezanne  

Almost the entire town of Aix-en-Provence is dedicated to Cezanne. It was where he began his life and was laid to rest, but also where you can visit the stunning landscapes that inspired him. To get a real insight into the artist’s work, life, and the places that were part of his everyday routine, take the Cezanne Trail. The tour takes in his statue at the centre of town, the workshop where he created many of his seminal pieces, and two museums with permanent exhibitions dedicated to Cezanne. The Musee Granet houses a large permanent collection of his works, including sculptures, etchings and paintings. The second permanent annex is in a beautiful old church, which is well worth a visit in its own right. The trail even takes you to the brasserie that was his favourite hangout, and then up to the cross on the top of Mont Sainte-Victoire.

Saint-Paul-de-Vence

Just inland from Antibes, the medieval hilltop town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence is a picture-perfect Provencal village with a reputation that far outweighs its size. Prized by artists and writers since the early 20th century, its winding streets and the surrounding hills are known for their unique light qualities. Saint-Paul-de-Vence was, and still is, one of the favourite locations for many painters, with La Colombe D’Or a popular hangout. To this day the hilltop village remains an artistic hub, with an arty vibe flowing through its ancient cobblestone streets and a plethora of art galleries to step into.

Medieval Saint-Paul-de-Vence is still an artistic hub today
Medieval Saint-Paul-de-Vence is still an artistic hub today

See Matisse, Picasso and Miro

Arles was favoured by the likes of Matisse and Picasso, and artists would often exchange paintings for free accommodation - so the restaurant walls are alive with some of the most beautiful art in the world.

The Fondation Maeght is one of the largest private collections of 20th century art in Europe. Housed in a stunning building designed by the Spanish architect Josep Lluís Sert, there is also a Giacometti Court sculpture garden and a unique Miro Labyrinth space, along with some spectacular pieces of art. Among some of the finest galleries lining the streets is Art Seiller Galerie, which is especially noted for its sculptures. The Bogena Galerie is also worth a visit and displays a variety of paintings, sculptures and drawings.

Marc Chagall’s resting place

The painter Marc Chagall lived in the village for two decades, painting the local landscapes and vistas. Visit his grave in the Saint-Paul-de-Vence cemetery where you will be afforded incredible views to the Mediterranean Sea glittering in the distance.

Make a pilgrimage to Marc Chagall's grave
Make a pilgrimage to Marc Chagall's grave

Art at every turn

Every corner reveals another piece of art
Every corner reveals another piece of art

As you walk through the cobblestone streets, around every corner you will find sculptures. In courtyards and on street corners you will find these gems: from the lucky charm of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Lucky The Horse (made from 3,000 horseshoes), to the boules sculpture in the treelined Place du Jour du Boules. Art is so much part of the landscape that every stroll along the road is your own personal art tour.

Arles

Picasso, Gauguin and Van Gogh all visited Arles and as you walk through the town you will glimpse the scenes that they painted. The most famous of those who spent time in Arles has to be Van Gogh, who retreated to the city from Paris in 1888 with an idea to establish an artists' colony here. During the year that he lived in Arles, Van Gogh painted many scenes from in and around the city, including one of his best-known pieces – The Yellow House, which for a short period of time he house-shared with Gauguin. The building was sadly destroyed in the Second World War, but the riverscape scene captured by Van Gogh in his famous painting Starry Night Over The Rhone remains largely unchanged.

The views of Arles that Van Gogh captured in Starry Night Over The Rhone
The views of Arles that Van Gogh captured in Starry Night Over The Rhone

Van Gogh’s inspiration

Despite having created thousands of drawings and almost nine hundred paintings in less than a decade, Van Gogh was sadly under-appreciated during his lifetime. However, those visiting Arles can pay homage to his work, including the cafe immortalised in his painting Cafe Terrace At Night, which he painted towards the end of 1888 - just a few months before he famously cut his ear off in a moment of angst.

You will find Van Gogh's cafe still open
You will find Van Gogh's cafe still open

For more context on how picturesque Arles inspired Van Gogh, visit the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles, where the Dutch master’s influence can also be seen in the art of contemporary artists displayed here.

Gaugin and Picasso

The two-month period that Gauguin spent in Arles under the same roof as Van Gogh was a highly productive period for both artists. Van Gogh produced 36 canvases, while Gaugin completed 21, including Landscape Near Arles, and The Night Cafe. They also painted several portraits of one other.

Picasso loved the drama and danger of a bullfight
Picasso loved the drama and danger of a bullfight

Picasso was another of the great artists attracted to Arles – not only was he influenced by Van Gogh, but he also had a passion for bullfighting and regularly attended the bullfights held in the Roman amphitheatre just outside the centre. 

Antibes

A Joan Miro sculpture stands over central Antibes
A Joan Miro sculpture stands over central Antibes

Antibes may be the epicentre of yachting on the French Riviera, but it has also attracted many artists, poets and writers who have fallen under the spell of the beautiful town. Such greats include modern sculptor Joan Miro, famed impressionist painter Monet, and celebrated artist Picasso. 

Picasso, Monet and Matisse

Picasso set up home in Antibes, before moving on to Cannes and later Vallauris. His former residence, the Chateau Grimaldi, is now a museum dedicated to the artist and hosting several of his works, which he and his wife donated. Further along the coast in Vallauris, where Picasso eventually settled, the Picasso National Museum is located in an old chapel. It is well worth a visit to witness Picasso’s works of art depicting war and peace that run across the walls of the vaults.

Chateau Grimaldi is full of Picasso's work
Chateau Grimaldi is full of Picasso's work

Monet also lived and painted in Antibes, depicting the village from many angles in his work. Matisse also spent extended periods in the area.

Writers' refuge

Antibes was a port in a storm for Fitzgerald and Maugham
Antibes was a port in a storm for Fitzgerald and Maugham

It was not just artists who worked while in the pretty town though – F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his novel Tender Is The Night while on vacation in Antibes, and it is rumoured that Jules Verne also wrote the scenario for Around The World In 80 Days while anchored on his yacht off the Cap. Fitzgerald settled here while fleeing Prohibition in America, and both H.G Wells and Somerset Maugham arrived to lick their wounds after failed relationships.

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