Juan-les-Pins: the French Riviera's biggest party town
- Recommended for:
- Beach, Short Break, Nightlife, Budget, Expensive, Mid-range
Juan-les-Pins is nearly a century old - but this glittering resort, together with neighbouring Antibes and the ritzy Cap that connects them, only gets better
It’s more than 80 years since Cole Porter and Scott Fitzgerald took homes on the Cap d’Antibes, raised hell with their Hollywood friends and persuaded the glitterati the Cote d’Azur was the place to party in the summer.
And they were not the first to arrive. Juan-les-Pins has been the Riviera’s most lively holiday playground ever since restaurateur Edouard Baudoin identified this sandy cove, fringed with a pine forest, as an ideal new location for the twin 20th-century vices of sunbathing and gambling. He rebuilt a dilapidated casino and added a cabaret stage, booking music hall stars The Dolly Sisters to celebrate reopening night.
American gangster Frank Jay Gould helped the resort grow by persuading the French army to build roads and a sewerage system. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald came to stay and play here in the 1920s, followed by Coco Chanel - who was famously refused entry to the casino for wearing “beach pyjamas”, the newfangled fashion craze that came to personify the style of this thoroughly unstuffy resort.
Remarkably, despite the escalating traffic and development of the past half-century, Juan-les-Pins has retained its cachet, and the most enchanting places remain unspoiled and magical - none more so than the Hotel Belles Rives, the original party house of the 1920s. That was when the young Fitzgerald, flushed with the success of The Great Gatsby, moved with his bride Zelda into the Villa St Louis at Juan-les-Pins, not far from Porter’s home at La Garoupe. There was endless partying before the villa became a hotel in 1930.
Today’s Belles Rives is a perfectly-preserved Art Deco oasis in a resort that still oozes the joie de vivre that made it so popular with holidaymakers in the 50s and 60s. Every night from then till now, the piano bar of the Belles Rives has been dispensing nightly nostalgia to guests feasting on exquisite Mediterranean fare on the seaside terrace.
Almost every night, one should say, since rain stopped play on a recent visit - and it proved a real cause for celebration, packing everyone in to the elegant dining-room, which once buzzed with the partying Fitzgeralds and their coterie, but is hardly ever used in season because guests prefer to dine outside overlooking the twinkling lights.
The family that owns the Belles Rives has performed a service for the resort in rescuing the Juana, another Art Deco hotel whose owners might have sold out to a chain; this continues to be the favourite of performers at the annual summer jazz festival. And one new development that works is the excellent contemporary fish restaurant, Festival de la Mer, opposite the enduring Crystal cafe - also within view, alas, of the hideous blue glass reincarnation of the once-so-elegant Eden Beach casino, where Josephine Baker and Edith Piaf performed. You can eat reliably well at the Festival for around £25 per head, and the food will be better value than at the enchanting but inevitably rather overpriced restaurants which sit right on the beach. The beaches themselves are private, and you could pay up to £20 a day for a matress and parasol.
The resort offers many delightful accommodation options, including the elegant and affordable Sainte Valerie. The glitterati tend to opt for Eden Roc, as the Hotel du Cap, on the beautiful stretch of coastal peninsula that runs the long way between Juan and Antibes, is known. It reopens for the season each April, and every starlet in town for the Cannes Film Festival will arrange to be photographed around the hotel pool the following month - if they can get past the security men, who will be doing their best to keep out the riff-raff.
Antibes, which has a lovely old port, will be doing its own bit to lure holidaymakers away from the Juan-les-Pins beaches - and the rarefied delights of the Cap - this year with the reopening of the Picasso Museum. Closed for a long renovation, this is where the artist actually worked, and his atelier, which was crudely petitioned after he moved down the coast to pursue his ceramics practice, has finally been restored to its original glory. There's more Picasso to check out at the museum in Vallauris, which celebrates the artist's ceramics; it's a few mils on the other side of Juan-les-Pins to Antibes, and closes for lunch.