It must be awfully difficult when you’re always in the shadow of your glitzier, showier neighbour. You know the type. The one that’s forever taking selfies, and bragging on Facebook. But, sometimes, it’s the quieter ones that you really have to watch out for…
Take Mandelieu-la-Napoule, sandwiched between the Cote d’Azur’s twin tourist hotspots of Cannes and Frejus. Maybe you’ve not heard of it. But that only adds to this handsome town’s appeal.
It’s situated in the Alpes-Maritimes department of France, where the Mediterranean sparkles in front, and mimosa-scented hills rise behind. And it could well be your new favourite south-of-France escape route. It’s certainly become ours. Here are just ten good reasons why we’ve fallen for its low-key charms.
La Napoule is what they call the seafront-facing part of town. There are a few marinas here, with pontoons allowing you to take a closer look at the luxury yachts. The beaches aren’t huge, but the are sandy, clean and Blue Flag-awarded. So you’ll have all you need for a day on the sands.
So which should you choose? Well, there are nine public beaches, so you don’t have to. To the south, Rague and Raguette are at the foot of the cliffs – you can reach them from the road by a zigzagging path through the scrub and rocks. Plage de Robinson beside the mouth of the Siagne River is the largest, with watersports and bars.
Sipping a cocktail, settling into a squishy sofa, and sampling some nibbles. It doesn’t get better than Le Repere – a gorgeous sea-facing bar/restaurant/ after dark hang out. Great views, a private terrace, sun loungers and staff only too happy to keep your Prosecco perfectly chilled. The food, the music and the mood are spot on.
For the ultimate coastal drive, wind down the sunroof and take the twisting, turning cornice south from town to Frejus. The coast is surprisingly rocky in Mandelieu-la-Napoule, making the road snake around some surprisingly empty stretches: places where even holiday villas are off-limits. The best drive in France? Don’t bet against it.
At the headland just past Théoule-sur-Mer the coast is protected by a seven-hectare marine park, all of which means it’s brilliant for snorkeling with no boat traffic to churn things up. Swimming is allowed – there are designated areas where you can explore what lies beneath.
This really is a craggy corner of the Cote d’Azur. That’s because this is the point where the Massif d’Esterel’s volcanic red rocks tumble down to meet the sea. The result? Lots of easy hikes that will take you high above the town, for a view you’ll remember forever. Try the stunning ascent to Mont Vinaigre, all 620 metres of it.
Chateau de Napoule
At the southern end of the beach, Chateau de Napoule is home to the town’s world-famous art foundation. The American philanthropist and artist Henry Clews bought the castle, and now it’s a gorgeous exhibition space. The garden, with its avenues, topiaries, cypress trees and 11th century ruins is really rather special.
Local markets are held in Mandelieu four times a week – for Provencal food at its freshest and best, don’t miss them. Wednesday and Friday mornings the market is in the Place des Combattants in the town centre, Thursdays it is in La Napoule at Place Saint-Fainéant, and Saturday mornings in Place Jeanne d’Arc in the Capitou region of the town.
Surprisingly, perhaps, Mandelieu-la-Napoule is the place where the very first golf course opened on the Côte d’Azur, back in 1891, just a few metres from the sea. To join the Old Course, now there’s another. The Barbossi Riviera, with two 18 holes and a pitch and putt course, is open to all.
One of our newest parcs is right here. Which is awfully handy. Camping Côté Mer is small, cosy, clean and extremely comfortable. It’s not flash, it’s not showy. It’s not full of bells and whistles. Like the town it calls home, it just quietly does its thing, and does it just brilliantly. Take a look.