Juan Les Pins: Young, Hip, & Hot to Trot

In perhaps the most clever publicity campaign ever, the Juan les Pins beach resort was once promoted as “Pajama Land” following an incident in which designer Coco Chanel was temporarily denied access to a major casino there because the doorman objected to her attire – the beach “pajamas” that were wildly popular at the time. Luckily, casino owner Edouard Baudoin happened to spot the scene as it occurred and hastened to assure Chanel that she was welcome in his casino no matter what she was wearing. Soon after, Juan les Pins quickly became known as a resort where such courtesy and freedom was extended to all guests, and it became a haven for vacationers looking to unwind in a big way by spending their days lounging on the beaches and frequenting the casinos in casual, comfortable clothing—often those notorious beach pajamas – and then partying all night to burn off their stored energy. By the time the 1920s roared past, Juan les Pins was firmly established as one of the most commercially successful resorts in the French Riviera, and to this day it retains the saucy, fun-loving attitude that fueled the frolicking, rollicking Jazz Age.

By virtue of the fact that Juan les Pins was created as recently as 1882, and did not become well-known until nearly three decades later, it makes sense that the resort exudes a much younger, hipper and more modern feel than many of the cities in the Cote d’Azur. In a sense, it is like a bouncing teenager carefully sheltered by its older, wiser sisters – Cannes, which is only twelve kilometres to the south; Nice, just twenty kilometres north; and Antibes, a city of which it is often considered a part, lies a mere five kilometres to the west. It is only fitting, then, that Juan les Pins is most noted for its flashy casinos, abundant nightlife and world famous annual jazz festival; after all, doesn’t it follow that such a young resort would love to kick up its heels?

As a tourist destination, Juan les Pins owes its very existence to the birth of its first casino, which was purchased and restored by the aforementioned Edouard Baudoin, a wealthy restaurateur from Nice who recognized that the beautiful beaches and sprawling pine forests of Juan les Pins could be shaped into something much like a European version of Miami, Florida. Baudoin’s casino had the good fortune to be situated almost dead centre between Antibe’s gorgeous Cap d’Antibes area and the booming city of Cannes, and as it quickly caused the region to grow in popularity, Juan les Pins soon caught the eye of yet another wealthy businessman and benefactor, Frank Jay Gould. Gould also saw the areas vast possibilities, and so used his money and influence to press the French army into building roads and installing a sewer system. With these advantages, Juan les Pins sealed its fate as one of the premiere destinations for royalty such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and celebrities including Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker. Its present-day casinos are equally influential, and remain a primary part of the resort’s thriving economy. The best bet for vacationers looking to court Lady Luck is the Eden Casino, located on Blvd Baudoin. The Eden not only features one hundred and fifty slot machines in addition to roulette wheels and blackjack and chemin de fer tables, but it also boasts a breathtaking view of the harbour and a lovely bar and restaurant. Even if gambling is not one’s style, the casino is still an ideal spot to mingle and network with fellow vacationers, as it often becomes a favourite hangout of many visitors to the resort. It should be noted by those who wish to visit the Eden that while the slot machine area is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and does not charge admission, the les grands jeux area charges a small admission fee, requires a photo ID, and is open from 9:30 p.m. to 5 a.m., a time when more serious gamblers hold sway.

Visitors who are afraid that too many trips to the casino will empty their pocketbooks, or who simply prefer dancing to tossing the dice, will still find plenty to smile about in their stay at Juan les Pins, which is known for its high energy nightlife. Though not for the faint of heart, club Le Pam Pam is an excellent choice for visitors who enjoy rum drinks, riotous music, and watching cabaret dancers shake their tail feathers. With an atmosphere that seems to be a festive fusion of the Moulin Rouge, African tribal themes, and Brazil’s Carnival, Le Pam Pam is a prime spot to drink and dance the night away, or simply watch the live music and dance performances. For revellers who prefer to get their groove on at a discotheque, the Whisky a Gogo should be just their speed, with its throngs of young and often beautiful partiers steaming up the dance floor to the latest rock beats. Should clubbers find that they want a change of scenery, if they have a little cash they can head over to Le Village and pay the slightly hefty door fee to hear top DJs spin the best and freshest tunes the world music scene has to offer. If one fancies themselves a jazz baby, however, they will likely prefer to do their modern day version of the Black Bottom at Le Madison, which showcases Juan les Pins best blues and jazz groups. Finally, British vacationers missing their cozy local pubs will find they’re right at home at Le Ten’s Bar, which features fifty brands of beer and a friendly crowd of drinkers both young and old.

For true music lovers whose appetites can’t be sated by a simple night out listening to dance tunes, however, Juan les Pins offers one of the jazz industry’s greatest attractions – the annual Jazz a Juan festival, which has now been going for over 50 years. Held each July in the Gould Pine Grove, a lush circle of one hundred year old pine trees on the banks of the Mediterranean, the Jazz a Juan festival is a bit more laid back than Juan les Pin’s other attractions, but no less hip, and not just because of its unique location. Over the years this mystical circle has housed concerts featuring the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Coltrane, Armstrong, Bechet and Miles, to name only a handful of the illustrious jazz musicians that have graced the festival’s stage. Though some may feel that the age of great jazz has long passed, the Jazz a Juan festival proves time and again that it lives on in the form of such contemporary masters as Sonny Rollins, and in the hearts of those who truly love and appreciate the music. For any visitor seeking a one-of-a-kind musical experience, Jazz a Juan is a must for their to-do list.

Once vacationers have worn themselves out gambling in the casinos, dancing the night away in the clubs, or taking advantage of the festival’s ten days of fantastic music, they can relax and regain their strength on Juan les Pins’ public and private beaches. Though Juan les Pins has several private beaches just like other cities in the Riviera, it has the distinction of having public beaches that are significantly larger, and in some ways more desirable. The Plage de Juan-les-Pins is the city’s central beach, and is divided into separate subdivisions, all public. The two most widely used subdivisions are the Plage de la Salis and the Plage de la Garoupe, perhaps because visitors are aware that these were once the favourite haunts of celebrities staying in ritzy beachfront hotels such as the Hotel des Belle-Rives and the Hotel Juana. Beach-goers who find themselves lounging on Plage de la Garoupe must stir out of their sun stupor long enough to tour its historic La Garoupe lighthouse, where for a small donation they may climb the stairs and avail themselves of one of the most spectacular views in the Mediterranean. Sunbathers who want a slightly more risqué viewing experience will also be pleasantly surprised by their trip to Juan les Pins beaches, as topless tanning is both legal and common.

With its energetic attractions and unique love of life, Juan les Pins could not be more suitable for any visitor to the Riviera who is young, or simply wishes to feel young. Although frequent visitor F. Scott Fitzgerald did not necessarily intend his observation of Juan les Pins as a “constant carnival” as a compliment, per se, he did manage to sum up both its flashy nature and its irresistible driving pulse, a force which stirs all who set foot on the sands of this wild and beautiful beach resort. Vacationers seeking a leisurely pace and old-world feel would do best to stick to touring old town Antibes or brunching in Mougins; but for those who like to push life to its high-rolling, hip-shaking hilt, there is no better destination than Juan les Pins.