Why You Shouldn’t Sleep In This Little-Known Town
The popular village of Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera is famous for its beach clubs, nightlife and glitzy vibe that has long attracted well-heeled jet-setters. And, certainly, most people are familiar with Cannes, the resort town put on the map by the glamorous film festival that draws throngs of celebrities strutting down the red carpet every year. Fans of luxury perfumes – the iconic Chanel No. 5., Dior and Hermès to name a few – have probably heard of Grasse, aka the perfume capital of the world, where the precious May roses bloom. and jasmine. But what about Mougins? This charming hilltop village doesn’t have the same international notoriety as the aforementioned tourist hubs – although, to be clear, I wouldn’t classify it as a secret as it is highly regarded in France.
Before my visit in June, I didn’t know much about Mougins. Having had the pleasure of visiting, this is definitely a place I would highly recommend adding to any Provence itinerary. “We go to Mougins for the art, the history, the architecture, the gastronomy, but also for our own inspiration. There’s a certain magic in the air,” says Oliver Blacklay, leisure manager at luxury travel agency Black Tomato. “It is truly unusual and unique in this part of France in that it is tucked neatly away from the hustle and bustle of the coast yet extremely accessible.” Located about 15 minutes inland from Cannes, Mougins is an easy day trip from most major French Riviera destinations that travelers typically visit. However, it still retains off-the-beaten-track appeal in many ways. It’s quiet – not bustling with giant tour buses which I doubt could even fit in the narrow streets leading into town – and it definitely preserves the hidden gem feel. At the same time, it is very atmospheric and welcoming for tourists.
So what makes this city so special? “It has a deep historical background starting in the Roman Empire and the village was fortified in the Middle Ages. These collapsing walls and ramparts are still standing today, including the Sarrazine Gate. Medieval ruins add to the picturesque landscape, which has brought many notable artists to the area. Pablo Picasso spent over a decade of his life in Mougins and is credited with beginning his artistic legacy. Edith Piaf and Christian Dior have also succumbed to its charms.
Upon arrival I was struck by the breathtakingly beautiful views and the subtle scent of pines, olive trees and cypresses that filled the air. Even from the parking lot, it’s an eye on those rolling hills and houses that seem to float. Then a collection of larger than life fruit sculptures caught my eye. The giant works of art are even more magical against a backdrop of greenery and stone facades.
It might be tempting to flaunt yourself near an oversized bronze Picasso head by Gabriël Sterk and soak up the breathtaking views and admire the sculptures, however, I implore you to venture further into the medieval center snail-shaped. It was built this way centuries ago to defend against invaders. Today, the cobbled streets of the old village are home to many shops, galleries and artists’ studios.
The Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins (MACM) has an outstanding permanent collection, rooms filled with ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman treasures to works by masters like Henri Matisse and Salvador Dalí. “Really, it’s the kind of place to hang out and walk around at a relaxed pace. Deeply peaceful but with a palpable buzz. On the contemporary side, the Center de la Photographie de Mougins highlights the talents of many modern photographers from all over the world. As the exhibitions are temporary, there is always something new to admire.
Hungry travelers don’t have to look far to find something delicious to devour. Mougins has great epicurean credibility. Foodies know this from world-class restaurants and the annual Les Etoiles de Mougins food festival (more on this below). For such a small town, it’s super impressive that there are three Michelin-rated restaurants.
Want to taste the traditional flavors of Provence? Head to L’Amandier de Mougins, a culinary force founded in 1969 by legendary French chef Roger Vergé (who died 17 years ago). I recommend booking a table on the second-floor terrace so you can enjoy perfectly cooked fish and a crisp local rosé while admiring cinematic vistas of the countryside. It also offers the advantage of being able to climb the grand spiral staircase and walk through the entire elegant interiors.
Located on the pretty village square, La Place de Mougins offers its customers a very high gastronomic experience. Chef Denis Fétisson offers a menu of evolving dishes that highlights seasonal products. Depending on the time of year you visit, it might look like a freshly shucked oyster topped with caviar, followed by langoustine carpaccio, then smoked Black Angus or asparagus with bottarga, a creation with light but decadent truffles and a crème brûlée for dessert. The food-wine pairing is a splendid accompaniment.
Run by a husband and wife duo, Le Clos St-Basile stands out as a place where you will also want to come back several times. It’s warm and inviting with great gourmet chops. It’s easy to fall in love with classic pigeon pithiviers – and show me a person who doesn’t like grated truffles on pasta! I really like the sunny patio, but the chic French indoor dining area certainly doesn’t disappoint either.
“Mougins has a rich identity with an international sensibility when it comes to culinary offerings that go beyond just amazing French cuisine. This gem of a city is home to one of my favorite Indian restaurants, Curry House,” remarks Blacklay. And, of course, the aforementioned annual food festival, Les Etoiles de Mougins, which began in 2006 to honor Roger Vergé, attracts superstar chefs and culinary giants from around the world. The two-day event includes demonstrations, workshops and talks that explore food from all angles.
If it all sounds so magical that you feel compelled to spend a few days in Mougins, rest assured that the beloved Le Mas Candille, which Blackalay has described as “a beautiful place to stay with an amazing restaurant in its own grounds just a stone’s throw away outside the center of Mougins”, will reopen following renovation in July 2023 – just in time for a sunny summer holiday. Can’t wait for next year? Two of the best bed and breakfasts The popular Le Mas de Mougins and Les Roseés are currently open and welcome guests with warm Provençal hospitality.
With the New Year still months away, it might be time to start planning your trips for 2023, and Mougins definitely deserves a high spot on your to-do list.