While the glittering glamour of the Riviera’s coastline should rightfully feature on every French itinerary, it’s the string of inland hilltop villages that truly captures the magic of the region. Among them, Mougins is consistently regarded as one of France’s most beautiful and is a mere 15-minute drive from Cannes.
Though the French Riviera has been attracting tourists for hundreds of years, it had been primarily a winter destination for royalty and the super wealthy to escape harsher winters up north. Early in the 1900s, however, Coco Chanel helped to turn the area into a summer resort: she made a tan the new fad, replacing the pale complexions that had been considered posh since forever.
The Côte d’Azur has continued to be home to a myriad of people of distinction. Mougins’s claim to fame is Spanish artist Pablo Picasso — his 30-year love affair with the village adds a vivid layer to its history. Here you can follow in his footsteps, from the cafés he frequented down to the Chapelle Notre-Dame de Vie de Mougins. Through the gate of this medieval chapel you can also catch a glimpse of his last home. The garden bench under the line of conifers was a favourite of his friend Winston Churchill.
From a distance, the village appears to be the icing atop one of the hills; the church of St Jacques Maggiore forms the highest point from which the narrow streets spiral out. Every corner reveals picture-perfect scenes; honestly, it feels like taking a walk through across a movie set.
An early spring visit is ideal — in the shoulder season of May and June there are fewer tourists and beautiful weather, with the jasmine and bougainvillea in full bloom. Winding your way through the labyrinth of lanes is part of the fun. In addition to your discoveries, below are some of my highlights.
The privately owned Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins has for 12 years featured permanent galleries dedicated to Greek, Roman, and Egyptian artwork, with the building itself an impressive feat with four gallery levels spanning centuries of history. In 2024, the museum will take on a new lease of life as FAMM (Female Artists of the Mougins Museum), effectively becoming the first major museum in Europe dedicated entirely to women artists.
While the House of Grimaldi has produced every prince of Monaco, in Mougins the mother-and-son duo of Maison Grimaldi produces beautiful artwork, living up to the legend of their (actual) kin. You’ll find their gallery and clothing store in Mougins’s most beautiful lane.
Lee Lategan-McGregor, an export from South Africa now firmly settled in the village, told me how he chose Mougins. “Mougins was a sort of happy mistake for me. I opened a pop-up shop almost two years ago and then fell in love with the village. Mougins has a wonderful cross-section of humanity with some of the kindest and most inclusive people I’ve met. It’s a genteel village with wonderful restaurants and a comparatively slow pace of life.
The village is most lively in the evening, when the restaurants are buzzing, the wine bars sated, and people out on a stroll or playing pétanque or boule under the plane trees on the square. Perhaps easy then to see why Lee says, “It’s one of the few places that still feels like one is in an F Scott Fitzgerald novel like Tender Is The Night.” Fitzgerald, having lived on the Riviera for many years, contributed significantly to its fame.
In the late-setting summer sun, Le Cave de Mougin is where you’ll find locals gathering over a bottle of wine. The process is simple: visit the cellar, choose your bottle, and enjoy. You’ll pay wine-store prices for the wine and €15 for corkage; a welcome break from the substantial prices often found on restaurant wine lists.
When it came to accommodation, I had looked online for what I thought was my first choice. When a new friend from the village invited me to Les Rosées for a glass of wine, within minutes of arriving I’d cancelled my original accommodation and made a reservation at the luxurious family-run guest house. With owner Danielle Lhobet’s experience in design, her finest finds and skills have been employed in the guest house, and her eyes lit up as we took in the property together.
Five rooms are adorned in the finest French flair: Chaux lime-washed walls, Biot pottery, Braquenié wallpaper, and Aubusson rugs. The garden has secret sanctuaries aplenty, replete with gnarled 800-year-old olive trees. And since the region is known as France’s sunniest spot, the large pool is a welcomed sight. Les Rosées is irrevocably romantic and undeniably French.
This secret garden is a fifteen-minute walk from the village of Mougins — and don’t forget to explore the canal that passes directly by the hotel. If you’re in the mood for a generous leg stretch, you can follow the Canal de la Siagne as it gently flows all the way down the valley to the lights, cameras and, of course, action of Cannes.