Picasso spent the last 12 years of his life here, but there are many other reasons to visit this hilltop village north of Cannes
If the French Riviera is not exclusively famous for being a playground of people with more money than sense – from 19th century Russian aristocrats via eccentric East Coast heiresses during the “Jazz Age” to the oligarchs of today – it owes this to the great modern artists who chose to settle here during the period on either side of WWII.
When you go through the list – which includes names such as Monet, Renoir, Matisse, Chagall, Picasso – you could almost think that it was mandatory for a great painter to spend at least a couple of years on the Côte d’Azur (actually, more often than not, in the hills above), as it had been mandatory to travel to Rome two hundred years earlier.
Many small towns in the area still cultivate a connection to their “very own” 20th century modernist – and, by the looks of it, generate a lot of tourism with its help. There are several of those “artists’ towns” in the hills above the Riviera, but few are more storied and more attractive to visit than Mougins, located approx. 10 km north of Cannes.
The bad news is that the old village of Mougins is a little difficult to reach: there is no train station anywhere near, and the bus – the half-hourly line no. 600 from Nice to Grasse via Cannes – stops at the foot of the hill, so you still have some climbing to do.
There are, in fact, several ways of getting to Mougins. One possibility is to walk all the way from Cannes. If you want to do this, leave Cannes train station, turn right and right again into the Boulevard du Riout. You can then either follow this road for the whole of the way – something I would not recommend unless you have a keen interest in roadside supermarkets and multi-storey residential homes from the 1970s – or you can leave the main road in the suburb of Rocheville to change your direction slightly eastward into Avenue Jeanpierre, from where you can then continue into the Chemin du Chateau, the Chemin de Vaumarre, the Traverse du Pas de Marie and the Chemin de Bigaud which will take you all the way up.
Read also: Vallauris Ceramics and Picasso
The easiest way, however, is to take the bus no. 600 and to alight at Val de Mougins. From here, you still have several options: you can walk back a bit from the bus stop and turn right into the Boulevard Courteline and either follow this road until you can see the village on your left hand side or take the Chemin de Moines about half way, for a slightly more direct and steeper ascent. Or you can take the Chemin de Calade which leads straight up the hill approx. 100 metres behind the bus stop.
Is Mougins worth the climb?
This is the shortest way, leading you past the grounds of the Le Mas Candille luxury hotel which manages to look classy and smart even in these overall pretty smart and classy surroundings.
The layout of Mougins suggests to approach the town centre in a concentric ring, starting at the outermost circle with the village square …
… continuing through the famous (and much-painted) “Saracens’ gate”…
… to the church of St Jacques-le-Majeur …
… and into the Rue des Orfèvres, probably the most picturesque street in this picturesque little village.
Throughout all of this, allusions to and pictures of Picasso are everywhere …
… although the great man did not actually live in the village itself but in a villa overlooking the town, near the Church of Notre Dame de Vie slightly to the south. After this villa has stood empty for 20 years, it was bought in 2008 for €20 million by somebody described as a “Belgian art dealer” and brought back to the market five years later for more than ten times that price.
Mougins may be small, but offers a large number of art galleries and museums. Impressively, it refuses to rest on its Picasso laurels, and the collection of the local museum (the MACM) includes paintings by some of the usual Riviera suspects (Matisse, Chagall, Dufy, Cézanne) but also works by Andy Warhol, Antony Gormley and Damien Hirst.
There is simply no question that Mougins takes its art seriously. More proof of that will follow – in our next post.