Many visitors don’t realise that, until the 1920s, the French Riviera was exclusively a wintertime resort. Royals, artists and celebrities were drawn here by the clarity of light, the gentle winter climate and the mesmerising views of snowclad mountains and sparkling winter sea.
Holiday fashions may change but the winter scenery, local village life and lack of crowds still make medieval Antibes the perfect place for an enchanting winter getaway. If you want to be in the centre of the action, baking on the beach and dancing under the palms until dawn, then yes, obviously visit the French Riviera in summer – nothing else will do. But if you’re hoping for an entrancing experience of local French life and spectacular Cote d’Azur scenery, then you’ll almost certainly find winter in Antibes rather glorious.
Ski and sunbathe in one day
Antibes is one of the few places in the world where you can wake up on a sunny winter’s day and drive 90 minutes to ski in the Alps, before driving back down to the coast to spend the afternoon lazing on the beach, looking back up at the mountains that you just skied down. Life doesn’t get much more wonderful than that. Try the main Cote d'Azur ski resorts of Auron, Isola 2000 or Valberg.
Relax by the sea
Antibes has some wonderful sunny spots to soak up some warm winter rays, whether it’s a picnic on a sunny pontoon, watching the dogs play on Plage de la Gravette, or taking a table in Place Nationale on a bustling antique market Saturday. There are also a few sunny cafes down by the ramparts in front of the Archaeology Museum, where locals play boules under the palms by the sea on fine days. The large waterfront terrace at Royal Café (in the Royal Antibes Hotel) is also a top spot when the sun is shining. If you’re up for a bit of glamour, hop on the train to Cannes to indulge at one of the beach clubs that stay open for lunch year-round.
Take a scenic drive along the Route du Mimosa
Get in your rental car and enjoy the quiet winter roads as you take a leisurely drive through a Mediterranean landscape transformed by its winter carpet of mimosa blossom. The sight of the yellow flower cloaking the hills above the cobalt blue sea is alone worth making a winter getaway to the French Riviera. This gorgeous flower is actually the Australian native wattle, which was introduced in the early 1800s when all things from the newly discovered Australian continent were 'très chic'. The mimosa is at its finest bloom in February and March, when the towns and villages along the Route du Mimosa host vibrant mimosa festivals with parade floats piled high with flowers and the annual crowning of the Mimosa Queen.
Go to Italy for lunch in the hills
In the forested hills behind San Remo you will find what’s lovingly known as the ‘Mushroom Restaurant’. Set above a rushing snow-melt river, the rustic Ca' Mea restaurant serves up course upon course of delicious meats and pasta at long wooden tables in a warm cosy dining room with copper pans and strings of dried tomatoes and chillies hanging from the beams. Take a walk in the pretty village to work off your lunch, and then take the easy motorway drive back to Antibes. We promise you, it’s worth the trip.
Enjoy the local life at the Provencal market
In summer, it can be hard to push yourself through the bustling Provencal markets, while in winter you can chat with the stall owners and take your time. Even better, you don’t have to queue for twenty minutes to get your hands on one of the delicious slices of socca – a wood-fired chickpea crepe served all oily and peppery in a piece of tinfoil. Rug up on the colder winter mornings or take a café table in the sunshine on the edge of the market and enjoy the sights and sounds of local life.
Visit the perched villages of Provence in peace
The marvellous perched villages of Provence-Alpes Maritimes are blessedly free of crowds in winter, and this makes it a great time to visit whether you’re exploring fabulous Saint Paul de Vence or enjoying the spectacular view from the cliffs of Eze. Many of the cafes and galleries are closed, of course, but those who have had to use their elbows to move through the summertime throng would probably argue that this is a very reasonable sacrifice to make.
Stroll the coastal path to Millionaire’s Bay
Drive or walk to Plage de la Garoupe on the Cap d’Antibes to join the magnificent Sentier Littoral pathway. The higgledy-piggledy track runs around the beautiful coastline, up stone stairways and past grand villas. The winter is the perfect time to do this walk, as the crowds are long gone and the summer haze has lifted, giving you breathtaking views back across the bay to the snow-capped Alps, and the wintry sea has a crystal clear clarity that you’ll simply never see in the summer months.