Between Antibes and Nice, just 2.5 miles from the sea, Biot, is a wonderful hilltop town that overlooks the sea, and is very much Provençal. Biot is famous primarily for glassware and pottery. As usual, with any medieval town, Biot is no exception; it too had a tumultuous past. Biot is less than an 45 minute drive from Nice, France. Surprisingly, there is a huge parking lot, unlike other villages.
The usual complicated history.
Biot was ransacked by pirates and if that wasn’t enough, it suffered from the black plague (which killed 20 million people in Europe). Thanks to King René, in 1470, he repopulated the town with families from Liguria.
The main street in the town of Biot is rue Saint Sébastien, you will find cafés, restaurants, and plenty of glass and pottery shops.
Don’t get distracted if you arrive close to 12 noon, you need to make your way for lunch, rest a bit, and then visit the shops afterward.
We were here for the restaurant called Les Arcades.
My first time in Biot was over 15 years ago on a chilly December morning, too early for lunch, I settled for an espresso. I noticed artists, and family photos on the walls, and recognized the woman behind the bar, was the same woman in the photos. She wore her black hair similar to the photos, and I assumed she owned the bar. I could also assume even Picasso ate here, with photos of him at the bar. Feeling as if I was part of this family, I wanted to stay longer to soak it all up.
On my 2nd trip I missed the restaurant…
Now, I’m back again, just last month…we were on a mission to find the place again. Sure enough, perseverance paid off. It’s at the back of the village, so you must keep walking until you get to Place des Arcades.
How marvelous to be back, and finally have lunch!
We sat under lovely 15thcentury arches; with splendid weather, tiny fresh roses on the table, superb ambience, no noise or traffic. Could this get any better? Guest what…It did.
One can imagine the many artists passing through and sleeping here in one of their hotel rooms, and the owner entertaining Léger, Chagall, or Picasso, who traded food for paintings.
It’s an institution since 1952, and a “must” if you are in the South of France. In fact, it’s the oldest restaurant in Biot, even Julia Child frequently ate here, and that is all you need to know if you are a fan of JC.
While the food was being prepared…
I had to walk inside to see the walls again. The place is rustic, and typical of a by-gone era. No modern improvements, and I loved every minute of it. History comes alive as I viewed the photos of Picasso and other artists.
The same lady in the photos was sitting down and working on string beans and peeling artichokes. Preparing for the omelette with artichokes, and soupe pesto, I presume. Can you believe that? That is love and dedication!
I had to say hello…
and tell her how much this restaurant meant to me. She is sweet and friendly…and what a great pleasure to meet the owner, Mimi Brothier, (Italian father) who still works every day in the restaurant. Meanwhile, we chatted about Picasso, and she confirmed that she and her husband, André, were friends of Picasso.
André (Dede) Brothier passed away in February 2018 at the age of 91.
Food is the protagonist of Art.
As I complimented her on the photos, she motioned to a waiter to open the private door, and told me to take a look. It was their personal underground art gallery, and what a rare moment to have a special invite. Works of Vasarely, Braque, Melano, Paco Segasta, Kolb, Caesar…are here. I had the place all to myself. It must have been a great refuge for these artists.
Obviously, it wasn’t MoMA in New York City, and we were not dining at Danny Meyer’s restaurant there, but this is what we prefer – food that is matched well with the ethos.
Feeling refreshed, satisfied…and so excited to see Mimi again, doing what she loves!
The food is good home cooking. The daube was savory with tender meat, and the salad was large; fresh, with artichokes.
We drove down to the foot of the village to the Musée National Fernand Léger, created by his wife after he died. It’s a gigantic building with mosaics by Fernand Léger, and you won’t find a better collection anywhere. Modern art will grow on you after your visit.
The museum opened in 1960. Léger’s talent was not limited to mosaics, as he was a sculptor, painter, and did set and costume designs. His works are enjoyable and colorful; cubism and “machine art” influenced by technology and Picasso. The entire family can enjoy this as they offer educational workshops and cultural activities.
Interestingly, Léger did a stint at Yale University as a Professor from 1940-45 and returned to France. If you are not impressed, just think, one of his paintings, Woman in Red and Green, sold for 22.5 million in 2003. He is that good. Madonna once owned Les Deux Bicycletttes and Trois Femmes à la Table Rouge by Léger that was photographed in Architectural Digest.
Don’t miss visiting a hand-blown glass factory. It’s fascinating to watch the shaping and reheating techniques. Just to name a few glass artists: Sébastien Sappa. Adrien Grare, Raphaël Farinelli, Antoine Pierini, Pascal Guyot.
Come to Biot for its peacefulness, unique culture, and artistic heritage. This is a city where you can relax. It’s an open-air exhibition every where you walk. Have lunch, visit a museum, and explore the contemporary world of glass.
Now, you have 3 good reasons to visit Biot.
Parting shot: “J’y Retourne” “I’m going back” …by local Artist-Sophia Austin