If you didn’t know that Pablo Picasso had spent a sizeable amount of time in the Cote d’Azur village of Mougins, you’re made aware of it walking through the main square, site of a large and pretty realistic sculpture of his head. The nearby café and ice cream shop, named, respectively,Pablo and Paloma, give a hint as well of this past resident who spent the last 12 years of his life here. As the region celebrates the artist, marking the 50th anniversary of his passing, there are Picasso related sites and exhibits on view here through October including an exhibition of photos of the usually glowering artist in lighthearted moments with his famous artist friends. But that’s not the only reason to come to Mougins.
In years past, any traveler to the Cote d’Azur with a special interest in gastronomy would make a pilgrimage to Mougins, eight miles north of Cannes. Their goal was a table at Le Moulin de Mougins, the domain of master chef Roger Vergé, creator of the lighter, celebrated La Cuisine du Soleil and the man who put the town on the culinary map. It’s still there even with Vergé’s passing and another chef’s takeover of the kitchen in this former 16th century mill; other esteemed restaurants such as L’Amandier de Mougins and La Place de Mougins and an annual gastronomic festival, Les Etoiles de Mougins showcasing 100 major chefs, are still drawing heat-seeking gastro visitors. But among the visitors now are also culture fanciers strolling the 30 galleries and ateliers in the town’s narrow stone streets and visiting museums packed with antiquities, photography and a panoply of art.
The standout in town is the Musee d’Art Classique de Mougins, (MACM), a museum displaying the private collection of British financier and local resident Christian Levett, a history devotee who was drawn to the town in part due to its Roman and Greek origins: the village was built on the site of a Roman hilltop fort. The three floors showcase the diversity of Levett’s collecting ranging from Roman, Greek and Egyptian sculpture, vases, coins and jewelry to ancient arms and armor and paintings, drawings and sculpture by Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Dufy, Cézanne, Rodin, Dali, Warhol and Damien Hirst. But the entire collection will only be on view until the end of August when the museum closes for a transformation into The Musee D’Art Contemporain de Mougins displaying modern and contemporary art exhibitions opening in Spring, 2024.
Visitors who want to stay in the center of the village have an intimate, elegant option with Mougins Luxury Retreats offering contemporary suites in the boutique hotel La Reserve as well as villas with five and six bedrooms nearby, all with swimming pools. The hotels in the region bordering the Mediterranean are more typical options, particularly with the renovations that have recently taken place. The biggest news was the major transformation of Carlton Cannes, A Regent Hotel and the opening of the modern Mondrian Cannes nearby on the Croisette (worth a visit to try its restaurant Mr. Nakamoto which is an odd combination of sushi restaurant and steakhouse but somehow it works; everything is delicious.)
Both hotels have very busy beach clubs across the street; seven miles east in Cap d’Antibes, another just-renovated hotel has a more private, more relaxed feel. The Cap d’Antibes Beach Hotel has a private beach for its 35 rooms lined with pink umbrellas and rooms reimagined by designer Bernard Dubois as refuges with stone floors, raw wood, curved furniture, bathrooms lined in pink marble and views over the sea. But there is still energy emanating from the restaurant Baba with a pulsing soundtrack and Middle Eastern menu for lunch and dinner next to the beach. It’s a calmer scene a floor up at Les Pêcheurs where the menu is largely determined by the seafood caught by the two fishermen who dock next to the hotel, particularly “our friend Tony” who seems to specialize in red mullet and scorpion fish, among others. The elevated menu also lists the specific producers for every item, including the land based choices. But look out for Tony’s contributions and order whatever he’s brought in that day.