A French Riviera yacht charter is not complete without a visit to one of the flowery hill villages of Provence, and Valbonne is a very lovely example within easy reach of the Mediterranean coast.
There’s an enchanting appeal to Valbonne that sits perfectly between ‘medieval charm’ and ‘Riviera chic’. Located in the rolling hills behind Antibes, Valbonne is a desperately pretty 16th century town of cobbled streets and fashionable boutiques, sun-drenched squares and ancient abbeys. What makes Valbonne so special is that it has the feel of a living, breathing Provencal village rather than a tourist attraction, with its village squares dotted with shady plane trees and boules players, and its bustling pavement cafes full of locals enjoying the good life under the Mediterranean sun.
There’s an abundance of colour in Valbonne, with its pastel-pink facades lined with bright green and blue shutters, and gorgeous flowerpots overflowing from windowsills. Pink splashes of bougainvillea and ivy climb ancient stone walls, and on market days the streets of Valbonne fill with the rich colours and sights of Provence—piles of deep purple plums, the riotous colours of fresh-cut flowers, the racks of summer clothing and bright paintings and glazed pottery from local artisans. Around the town of Valbonne, deep green forest hides grand villas and snow-melt streams that trickle down from the Southern Alps, while the Mediterranean sparkles in the near distance under sunny summer skies.
Valbonne’s beauty and pleasant village life has drawn many expats to live here, but if you’re just passing through on your French Riviera yacht charter, then there’s plenty to see that will make you understand why so many people fall headlong in love with this glorious little town on the Cote d’Azur.
Take a walk through history. Valbonne is an extremely unusual Provencal town, as it’s set up in a grid in the Roman style, rather than the maze of dark spiralling alleyways common to medieval villages. Each charming cobbled street is exactly the same width, and the gorgeous pink and stone houses are all built in the same three storey style – which back in the day would have housed stables and livestock on the ground floor, living quarters on the second storey, and a hayloft on the top floor. As you explore Valbonne’s past, look out for the historic architectural details around the town, like sundials, fountains, and low wooden doorways with lintels engraved with the signs of long-dead journeymen.
Visit the monastery museum where Valbonne began. Valbonne, like so many French towns, has an ancient order of monks to thank for its beginnings. The Bishops of Antibes granted the Chalais Order permission to build an abbey here in Vallis Bona (Good Valley) in 1199, and it later fell under control of the Abbey of Lerins, who ruled from the Cannes Islands just off the coast. The abbey and the surrounding region were ravaged by the Black Death in 1351, leaving the abbey and nearby villages deserted. In 1519, the monks of Lerins passed an act of abode for Valbonne in an effort to repopulate the area, and a town grew up around the Abbey. The abbey now houses a museum called ‘Le Vieux Valbonne’, and you can get guided tours of the abbey by appointment.
Take a rest in the gorgeous town square. The heart of Valbonne is the Place des Arcades, a pretty, sunlit square surrounded by pastel-painted buildings with vaulted arcades where local merchants and farmers once displayed their goods. Now, the arcades are occupied by upscale boutiques and popular restaurants, whose tables spill out across the square. This is the place where countless visitors have sat and drunk their coffee in the morning sunshine, wondering—if just for a moment—if they could throw in their lives back home and relocate to the lovely South of France.
Join the locals for a game of boules. The first thing to know about boules in the South of France, is that if you’re required to stand still to throw the ball, you’re actually playing pétanque, a local variation of boules that began in La Ciotat in 1907 in deference to a boules-playing legend who had been confined to a wheelchair. Either way, joining in on a game of boules is probably one of the most authentic French experiences you can have on holiday, so head to the ‘terroir’ and try to hit the target while bumping everyone else’s balls out of the way. (You’ll need all your cunning to beat the locals at their own game.)
Shop for gifts. Stroll through the pretty alleyways and shop in clothes boutiques, homewares shops, jewellers and fashionable art galleries. Browse the superb local delis and providores with their goodies of lavender, local honey, fresh goat’s cheese, and handmade soaps. Breathe in the smells of Provence!
Indulge in a Provencal lunch. Valbonne has a range of good restaurants, from the traditional Provencal and Italian right through to Moroccan and Indian. If you’re looking for an upmarket Provencal experience right in the centre of Valbonne, the gorgeous Michelin-rated Lou Cigalon is ideal, while Les Arcades in the square is a top place for a pizza and enjoying the glorious atmosphere of Valbonne in the summertime. At dinnertime, the nearby Daniel Desarve restaurant enchants with its refined Provencal cuisine and garden view.
Play a round of golf with a view. The rolling hills around Valbonne are beautiful golfing country, and the Opio Valbonne golf course just outside town has splendid views to enjoy while you’re making your way around the par 73, 18-hole course.
Take a walk in the woods down to the sea. There’s a magnificent walk in the nearby Brague forest, with trail and bridle paths running along a burbling little river, with dreamy dappled shade and plenty of clear pools for cooling off on a hot summer’s day. The trail begins near the cemetery in Valbonne, and you can walk all the way down to the sea from here in three hours at a very leisurely pace.
Wander the markets. On Tuesday and Friday mornings, Valbonne village is transformed into a festival of colour, crowds, and wonderful smells with one of the best Provencal markets on the Riviera. The centre of the market is the Place des Arcades, but the stalls spill out through the village, selling a dizzying assortment of fresh flowers and fruit, olive oils and cheeses, kids’ clothes and artwork (and so much more). If visiting Valbonne on the first Sunday of the month, you’re in for a real treat, with a delightful brocante market selling antiques and artwork, while there’s also a large and notable antiques fair held in Valbonne each August.
While there are many wonderful villages to visit on your French Riviera yacht charter, Valbonne stands out for its excellent markets, happy atmosphere, and gloriously pretty village heart.
To find out more about booking a French Riviera yacht charter, contact the local yacht charter specialists: