Monday, July 16, 2007

My flashy next door neighbour called Juan-les-Pins

One of the main drags in the centre of Juan-les-Pins

Living in France

Feeling jaded ? Want to show you can still strut your stuff with the best of them ? Inner man or woman in need of a pep ?

The place for you in my part of the world is Juan-les-Pins. It’s Antibes' next door neighbour, but the two places are chalk and cheese. They could be 50 miles apart to judge on scenery, and light years apart in temperament.

Antibes is first and foremost an ancient fortified port. Traditionally austere, it then discovered that narrow back alleys attract tourists in droves if filled with cafés, boutiques, bars etc.

But Antibes faces east, with only a few privileged places catching the sun in the late afternoon and evening, and there’s a dearth of places where one can wine and dine with a sea view. Most serious drinking of an evening is done on the Boulevard d’Aguillon, which has the monumental Courtine blocking the view of the harbour, save for the odd archway or two.

Juan-les-Pins in contrast is a purpose-built modern resort, founded in the early 20th century on a sweeping pine-backed bay that faces south. It is first and foremost a destination for sun-worshippers, in which private enterprise has bagged the most accessible stretches of sand for beach clubs and restaurants.
There's a curious feature about the way the place has developed: although there is no shortage of restaurants along the promenade, with their stunning views of the Esterel massif to the west, there are relatively few bars . Those wishing merely to have a drink find themselves funnelled into the relatively small area with a concentration of glitzy boutiques, neon lights, ornamental palms, ice cream parlours, with the Casino luring in free-spending punters with flashy cars to match.

Beach club restaurant. The leaning palm a warning of things to come ?

(according to this week's Sunday Times global warming may soon be bringing hurricanes to the Mediterranean !)

There are the inevitable Brazilian acrobats, doing their amazing somersaults on hard unforgiving asphalt, the street traders and beggars. Kittens are popular this year with the latter, no doubt to attract silver from the pockets of parents with small children or from kind-hearted old ladies.

There was a sprinkling of hookers, looking appraisingly at unaccompanied males (except me with my camera), probably pickpockets and drug dealers (the downside of Juan in the season) and a very visible police presence, including the CRS heavies.

Juan-les-Pins is a place we visit once, maybe twice a year of a summer’s evening, generally when there’s the added attraction of a firework display, as was the case last Saturday on Bastille Day.
Juan-les-Pins, you see, is a frontal assault on the senses, but not somewhere I'd wish to be for a week. It’s that crush of humanity, with inevitable loss of personal space that hits one, and the strange intensity and impersonality. Despite sitting cheek by jowl in the crowded street bars, strangers rarely talk to each other once the sun sets.

Another beach club restaurant, looking west towards Golfe Juan

The fireworks were splendid. We saw new ones we've never seen before. There were some that created lacy orange sprays in the sky and sea level, reminiscent of weeping willow trees. There were others which pulsed in red strobe-like flashes on the way down, and others which ended as incandescent flares floating on the sea, like theatre footlights.

I didn’t have my camera . Who takes a camera to Juan after dark except to take pictures of friends across the table. ? One goes to Juan to revel, not record for posterity.

So I returned last night alone, sat at the same bar, walked the same lanes and promenade, taking pictures without a flash, which explains why they are in some cases an impressionist blur.

Make sure you have your speakers activated when you play the YouTube clip which I took outside the place called Pam Pam, with the vocalists and band inside pushing decibels aplenty out into the street.

There's a street with two ice cream parlours, with just a shop separating the two. If you like rum and raisin, avoid the one that claims to be Italian – its offering tastes of neither rum nor raisin. In fact it tastes of nothing at all.

Ice cream parlour (I'll try this one first next time in preference to its neighbour)

If you have a few hours at your disposal, book a table for dinner at one of the beach restaurants eg Juanita, and watch the sun go down behind the jagged Esterel, the far side of Cannes, with a candle on the table. Magic ! But smear yourself well, especially ankles, to protect against things that bite in the night.

Cute to look at, perhaps, but not electric: has a rasping little two stroke engine

The main casino

Links Pam Pam

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