Could this be the most beautiful village in southern France? Part-time residents Renoir, Soutine, Modigliani, and Simone de Beauvoir are a few who thought so. Although from N7 you may be tempted to give wide berth to the seaside town of Cagnes-sur-Mer—with its congested sprawl of freeway overpasses, numerous tourist-oriented stores, beachfront pizzerias, and train station—follow the brown signs inland touting "Bourg
Médiéval" and the steep road will lead you up into one of the most heavenly perched villages on the Riviera: Haut-de-Cagnes. Even Alice, of Wonderland fame, would adore this steeply cobbled Old Town, honeycombed as it is with tiny piazzas, return-to-your-starting-point-twice alleys, and winding streets that abruptly change to stairways.
Grab a café seat on the main piazza, watch a pétanque game in progress, admire the looming château across the way, and you'll forget about all those awful headlines back home in a jiffy. Haut-de-Cagnes is a gorgeous dip into the picturesque Middle Ages. You'll find it a total pleasure to wander its old byways, some with cobbled steps, others passing under vaulted arches draped with bougainvillea. Many of the pretty residences are dollhouse-size (especially the hobbit houses on Rue Passebon) and most date from the 14th and 15th centuries. There is nary a shop, so the commercial horrors of Mougins or St-Paul-de-Vence are left far behind. It is little wonder the rich and literate have long kept Haut-de-Cagnes a secret hideaway. Or almost: enough cars now arrive that a garage (Parking du Planastel) has been excavated out of the hillside, while a free navette (shuttle bus) links Haut-de-Cagnes with the bus station of Cagnes-sur-Mer (Square Bourdet, about an eight-block walk from the town train station, which lies on the main coastal rail route). Use it to take advantage of Cagnes's 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) of coastline along the Promenade, with a path for rollerblading or free Vélo-Bleu bikes. Even better, put your feet up at a waterfront café like Art Beach, which, unlike other beachfront restaurants along the coast, has the luxury of staying open year-round.