French resort a Nice place to shop

Colorful outfit in window ing in Juan les PinsNICE – Upon landing, our pilot cited the local time and temperature.

“Half past three, 19 degrees Celsius.” Then added, “I wish you a good day on the French Riviera.”

And so it began.

French Riviera, South of France, Cote d’Azur. They’re one and the same – the Mediterranean home to renowned haunts like Cap d’Antibes, Juan-les-Pins and St. Tropez.

Basket shopHere the zest for life is contagious. It’s the land of world-class wines, bikini-clad women, and late-night fun. Visually it’s spellbinding . . . with crisp, clear colors exclusive to this part of the world.

Juan-les-Pins was a favorite of the Duke of Windsor and fads like beach pajamas and water skiing began here.

Yet I checked into the Hotel Juana with another purpose – to shop.

“Oui, madame. There is very good, very close shopping,” assured the concierge Erik.

True to his word, it was after a short walk that stores on Avenue Georges Gallice surrounded me. Girl & Boy (not children’s clothing) featured multi-tiered cotton skirts, but it was a 29 euro ($45 Cdn.) sequin tie that opened my wallet. Rivale was a swimsuit haven and Diva featured designers like Jean Paul Gautier.

Antibes is known for its flea markets (Place de la Poste, Thursday mornings and Place du Tribunal, Saturday mornings). And though my visit to Old Antibes was on neither day, I unearthed real discoveries.

Beginning at Place de la Republique, specialty shops (olive oil, pasta, hats, tablecloths, etc.) were abundant and reasonable.

Conversely, Ceramiques du Chateau de Picasso (across from Musee Picasso) featured high-quality, high-ticket reproductions of the master’s work (my vase choice/not purchase was 20,000 euros).

But once I happened onto Rue James Close, my retail radar activated. A stacked glass candlestick (112 euros) at Artisa Nat D’Art caught my eye, as did a sensual female-shaped perfume bottle (30 euros) from Au Coeur d’Helios.

Trio of lifelike mannekins with colorful bikinisFurther west Brigitte Bardot transformed St. Tropez from a fishing village into a free-spirit zone when she filmed And God Created Woman there in 1957. Since that time, the July/August high season translates to hefty prices and colossal crowds (100,000 on any given day).

But it’s unnecessary to endure this people crush to experience St. Tropez’s distinctive and to-die-for shopping. It’s year around.

A hillside location was my home base. Reminiscent of an Italian Renaissance villa, Chateau de la Messardiere was one minute from the beach, two minutes from the village but light years from the chaos.

The hotel’s La Boutique was my introduction to St. Tropez’s exotic style – backless lace and crocheted halter (215 euros). But for hard-core shopping, I boarded Messardiere’s 24-hour shuttle into town.

Saturday morning’s market was a happening. Located in the main square (where locals congregate for coffee and croissants), its collection of booths sold everything from tiered skirts to tasty tarts. My purchase: a wild-patterned cashmere-like sweater (15 euros).

St. Tropez’s shopping district was compact, running the short distance from the square to the harbour. Because of its celebrity roots, it seemed apropos to begin at Brigitte B. boutique. Further on, Camilla’s window showcased a sequin bikini (230 euros) and Body Art displayed a men’s pink brocade blazer (1,265 euros).

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