Visiting Mougins on the Côte d’Azur in France With a Small Dog
The hilltop and forest of Valmasque Park have been occupied since before the Romans … but honestly? For once I did not care about the history of a place. I mean I did … but … there was something more enticing calling us to the village of Mougins. But, because I know that you, Dear Reader, enjoy a quick history lesson, I will give you a few centuries in a few sentences.
Ancient Ligurians inhabited the coastal area ranging from Provence all the way to Tuscany. (Yep, in Italy!) Because there were so many different tribes and they were masters at living hidden lives in the mountains, not much is known about these people except that they were fierce and dangerous … or at least that’s how the Romans referred to them. Still, eventually, the tribes were absorbed into the Roman Empire, and then fought off several invasions during the Byzantine period, before the City of Genoa took control over the area and dominated it from the 11th century well into the 15th century. Much of the center of the village dates back to this time.
In the 11th century, the Count of Antibes gave the Mougins hillside to the Monks of Saint Honorat who oversaw the administration of the village until the French Revolution. This explains the presence of a relatively large church in the village. Mougins was a fortified village during this time, surrounded by ramparts and a wall. Parts of the medieval city wall still exist today as well as one of the three original towers. (The Porte Sarrazine – we came in that way – in in perfect condition.) Later, during the War of the Austrian Succession (18th century), the village was plundered by the Austro-Sardinian armies and damaged by fire. Some of the ramparts were deconstructed and several new little streets of early 19th-century houses were built. And so you have the village we visited.
Now … do you like food? I like it. I am picky, I will admit. I don’t eat just any old food, but that is because I have refined taste buds. (Umm … yes … yes; let’s go with that, shall we?) With fine foods being up on my “favorite things” list, imagine my thrill when the bipeds announced we were visiting Mougins, an amazing one-stop shop for taste buds!
This little medieval town with a questionable past, up in the hills but not too far from Cannes, has a very, very serious culinary history. Many great Chefs have had or have restaurants there. If you are into fine dining and great food, then names such as Roger Vergé, Alain Ducasse, and Denis Fetisson will mean something to you. Mougins hosts an annual “International Gastronomy Festival of Mougins” and the “Les Étoiles de Mougins,” an international gastronomic event that takes place in the village every September.
We missed Les Étoiles de Mougins by a day. A DAY! OH, the travesty! The village was cleaning up when we arrived. There were not even scraps to be begged from a table. *le sigh* Still, we did eat there and I will tell you all about my meal in a moment. First, I bet you’d like to know why a tiny village, albeit really beautiful, would have up to 50 fine dining restaurants and two annual dining festivals. It sounds ridiculous, right? But it makes sense when you consider the long list of famous people who have lived or are living in Mougins. It is rather impressive list. You ready? *deeeeeeeep breath* …
… Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Fernand Léger, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, Arman, Yves Klein, César Baldaccini, Paul Éluard, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Winston Churchill, Catherine Deneuve, Édith Piaf and Jacques Brel … *big breath in* phew … and that’s just a few!
And I’m not talking about little passing through visits either. For example, Pablo Picasso spent the last 12 years of his life living in Mougins (1961–1973). He lived in a farmhouse at Notre-Dame-de-Vie, which is a small hilltop just beside the old village of Mougins and next to the 12th-century chapel of the same name. Picasso’s studio was in the old village in a building that is now the tourist office, while the studio of Fernand Léger was above what is now the village wine shop, next to the rear of the Mougins Museum of Classical Art.
And, during the Cannes film festival, many celebs will head to Mougins, or even stay there, to get away from the film festival craziness.
Somehow, despite all this, Mougins retains its provincial charm. Art galleries, plants by the pot load, and narrow streets and alleys make getting lost in the streets a most enjoyable pastime. Although, honestly, you can’t really get lost. The big fountain in the center square sends you along other small streets with fountains, and the routes all eventually bring you back to the center square. We followed the routes around and around, enjoying the pretty façades of the homes, some lovely architectural details, and remnants from the past. We even enjoyed some very modern art! It all fused wonderfully together in a lovely stroll that opened our appetite.
Speaking of art, there are some pretty serious museums in Mougins if you are into that sort of thing. The Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins (MACM) was opened in June 2011. It displays a private collection of around seven hundred Roman, Greek, and Egyptian antiquities which are shown alongside a collection of modern and contemporary art including pieces by Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne, Degas, Dalí, Dufy, Chagall, Derain, Lautrec, Yves Klein, Damien Hirst, Marc Quinn, Antony Gormley, Arman. *big breath in* (again – these lists of people!) Heck, there are even two paintings by Peter Paul Rubens and works by Michel Martin Drolling, Alessandro Turchi, Hubert Robert and Antoine Caron. The Museum is the first to display ancient 2000–3000 year-old antiquities alongside modern artworks, emphasizing how the classics influenced modern artists’ work.
We enquired and yes, if I stayed in my bag, I would have been allowed in. But we had more important things to do. Dinner waited!
Dinner is served as of 7:00 pm. Don’t expect any of the restaurants to be open before then. And there are no pubs or fast food type places in Mougins. So just … well, don’t ask. No really. Don’t. Restaurants are open for lunch, close for a time later in the afternoon, and re-open for the dinner crowd. You’ll see staff starting to set-up the white linen table clothes, polishing cutlery and glasses, and all that lovely stuff at around 6:30 pm.
We couldn’t wait to get started and even though not entirely ready, the absolutely lovely waiter who was setting up the terrace at Le Rendez-Vous told us that we could be seated but it would be another 15 minutes before he could take our order since the kitchen was still closed. And you know what? He was awesome. He wasn’t even in his waiter’s clothing yet but he brought the menu, chatted, and gave us some water and bread with a most lovely butter with sea salt and thyme. In fact, Dear Reader, I think he may well be one of the funniest waiters we have ever come across. Oh, the stories he told! Yet he was never invasive or too in our face; just very pleasant.
In good time, we placed our order, the food arrived, and it was absolute perfection. I particularly enjoyed the asparagus with béarnaise sauce (I like the tips) and oh! the magret de canard (duck breast) cooked in orange jus and brandy was … just … wow. Oh dear … I seem to be drooling. One moment. *smack, lick, wipe*
Could I go on and on about the meal? Oh, yes. Yes, I could, Dear Reader. Every dish was superb, cooked just right. The sorbet to clear the palette was made with local lemons, champagne, and oregano. It was delicate and refreshing. Oh, and the best part … the final course … a little something I think North Americans really need to adopt: a café gourmand. What is a café gourmand, you ask? Well, instead of the usual overly large crazy pants size desserts that North Americans favour – that, frankly, no one actually has room for at the end of a big meal – the café gourmands offers coffee (duh!) with a selection of about 5 miniature desserts! I don’t mean little slivers. No, no, no. I mean actual exquisitely detailed miniatures. As in … my size! Oh the delight! You no longer have to choose which dessert you want. You just get a little bite of each one on the menu. This is brilliant I tell you! Brilliant!
In review: A pet friendly stop for a wonderful walk. You can even hike the entire area taking any of many paths in the woods. The village is packed with charm, art galleries, and, of course, amazing fine dining. All the patios were pet friendly and every place where we enquired had no trouble letting me even dine inside if we wished. I did see some fellow canines enjoying some delicacies at other patios around. Our choice, Le Rendezvous I would recommend any day and would return to in a heartbeat! If fine food is high up on your list, then GO! And bring your faithful companion along.