New foodie finds on the French Riviera

by Anthea.Gerrie

With a swanky boutique hotel just opened on the Cap d'Antibes, and lots of great new beach restaurants down the road in Juan-les-Pins, there's never been a better time to head to the south of France

The swanky Cap d’Antibes and frenetic little resort of Juan-les-Pins are as popular today as they were in their mid-20th-century heyday. So no wonder entrepreneurs are defying the recession to attract growing numbers of Russian oligarchs and other well-heeled visitors with new places to stay and play.

Had it not fallen on hard times, the area’s best-loved disco-by-the-Med, the Maison des Pecheurs, would have been celebrating its 50th birthday this year. But despite a Michelin-starred restaurant, which once shared a legendary old fishermen’s house, and star names like Sophia Loren and Cary Grant lending Pecheurs a reputation for glamour, the club languished and closed its doors several years ago, disintegrating into a drug-infested squat.

Enter a family of entrepreneurs who have nursed a number of legendary Riviera destinations back to health. First, they took on the Siesta nightclub on the road to Nice airport, then they bought, did up and resold the art deco Hotel Juana in Juan-les-Pins. They eventually decided to buy up and demolish the old club and bullishly create the first new hotel on this lucrative bit of coast for several years, incorporating the acclaimed Pecheurs restaurant.

The Cap d'Antibes Beach Hotel opened in May 2009 and is a swanky, discreet, contemporary affair, with a mix of rooms and suites facing the marina next door. Each of the 27 doubles has a spacious terrace and a large dressing area, as well as separate tub, shower and loo, all bridging the gap between the door and the bedroom, which is enabled to remain the serene space it should be. The interior decor calls for lots of texture and contrasts - stripey woods, giant fish murals, quilted silk throws - and strikes a softening note to the stark concrete chic of the exterior.

More serenity is on hand in the massage tents at the end of the private beach, in a sunning area with swimming pool that gives guests some outside space to tan without having to pay for a sunbed on the beach (extra beach charges for residents are the most maddening thing about hotels in Juan-les-Pins and other Cote d’Azur resorts). The couples tent in particular is a thing of beauty, and all these orange canvas treatment areas offer a welcome sense of being outside, within sight and sound of the sea, which beats being locked up in a darkened room inside a free-standing spa.

As for the restaurant, it’s eye-wateringly expensive, though the £50 starter of giant langoustines in a pistachio, lemongrass and ginger broth may be one of the finest dishes on the Riviera - and is almost substantial enough to pass for a meal.

Cheaper, and with at least a relationship to Michelin glory, is the beach restaurant of the Hotel Belles Rives, which until now has had the resort’s five-star clientele all to itself. It has a new chef in Alain Llorca, who won Michelin stars for the famous Moulin de Mougins restaurant down the road, and is trying to win them for the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, La Passagère. He also supervises the much more relaxed beach restaurant, and his tranche of lightly salted cod, served with a bowl of olive oil mash, is one of the best fish dishes to be had on the beach.

The other is the elegant grilled daurade - sea bream - served next door at the Provencal beach restaurant, a rather more elegant eatery, which serves serious food for fair prices at dinner time. The hotel that the beach and restaurant once served rivalled the Belles Rives until it closed abruptly in 1975, and the old hulk of a hotel remains a rare blot on Juan’s landscape. By 2012, though, new owners expect to reopen it as apartments, and are building a new five-star luxury hotel in an adjacent villa that formerly housed the Alba Hotel.

Where to eat less expensively in Juan? The further down the promenade you go, the better deals you can get in the beach restaurants, though a €15 special is as good as it gets for a main course. However, a kiosk in the middle of the resort serves the best dessert deal in France: a delicious crepe Grand Marnier, served with giant bottles of the orange liqueur for you to splosh on as much extra as you like - and all for €3!