The Village of Valbonne
The 16th century feel of Valbonne remains intact, even with the addition of a new business district. The Sophia Antipolis high-tech park created jobs for some Valbonnais, but also brought new people into the village to join their community and enjoy the old-world charm of the town.
Valbonne is a lovely village located in the French Provence. There are many charming places scattered throughout the historic and famous French Provence, as it is the part of France found in the rolling hills between the Mediterranean Sea of the French Riviera and the Alps. The cultivated land of the French Provence creates breathtaking landscapes that have inspired many famous artists and writers for centuries. Valbonne is one of these quaint villages, known more for a residential area than anything else but has many unique features as each of the French Provence villages do.
Many housing estates have been built in the outlying area of Valbonne, in the lovely wooded hills, to provide homes for the employees of the Sophia Antipolis high-tech park. There are also many luxury villas that surround Valbonne along with the traditional homes of several generations of Valbonnais, including a large population of Anglophones. The surrounding woods of Valbonne do not offer many trails for hiking; however there is one that provides a very nice walk along the Brague River, which is a clean and beautiful river where many fish live. The fish can be seen as you stroll along the Sentier de la Brague trail, and the path that begins near the village church takes you all the way to Biot in less time than the 3h10 hike sign indicates. It is a nice walk with the refreshing sounds of the river and the beauty of the woods providing a heavy natural shade, making it an ideal trail for a hot summer day.
In the actual village of Valbonne, there is a distinguishing characteristic that separates this town from the majority of the others in the French Provence. Most villages are laid out with a medieval design of twisty and winding streets adding a certain mysterious charm to the village. Valbonne, however, is designed more symmetrically like a Roman city with straight lines and rectangular patterns. It was planned this way in 1519 by the Abbot of Lerins, when an Act of Adobe was first granted for settlement by the monks of Lerin at the Abbey Chalaisien. A central square in the middle of town, called the Place des Arcades, has visually stunning arcades on all four sides lined with café terraces and little shops making this a wonderful spot to spend a little time. The Hotel Les Armoiries has a stone engraved with 1628 at the arcade near the hotel revealing the true historic element of this enchanting town square. It is the perfect place to do a little shopping at some of the specialty stores in the village, or sip on a glass of wine from a local vineyard or a delicious cup of coffee while taking in the gorgeous scenery at the Mecca of Valbonne.
There are more shops that can be found throughout town where you could find that perfect memento to take home with you to always be reminded of your adventure through the French Provence. There are a lot of local artisans that create beautiful pottery, jewelry and art of all kinds to capture the essence of your Valbonne experience. Remember that this is probably only one of many stops throughout your Provence journey so if your budget it limited, you may want to be careful about spending too much time in these quaint shops that are often quite expensive. If you are looking for alternatives to enjoy Valbonne but save some of your money for other villages you would like to visit in the French Provence, then there is a library, cinema and museum. Anyone is welcome at the Valbonne bibliotheque and they are open various hours throughout the year on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The Valbonne Cinema can be found at the Espace Vignasse in the main village, where you can catch a movie and relax for a while if you are need of a break. The museum in Valbonne is located in the Couvent Chalaisien next to the church at the bottom of the village and you should check their hours depending on the time of year you are visiting.
Food is obviously one of the most notorious features of France in general, and it is also true in Provence where small local villages offer some of the world’s finest cuisine. There are a few highly respected restaurants that are found in Valbonne. One of the best choices for dinner is the Cadran Solaire on the rue Eugene Giraud. A lovely atmosphere permeates throughout the restaurant, making the food you eat that much more enjoyable. In fact, you may wish that you were eating more than one meal here but rest assured that you will find equally delicious cuisine throughout the French Provence and if you stay away from the touristy places, you will rarely, if ever, be disappointed. Another suggestion, somewhere you may want to consider for lunch or Sunday brunch, is the Comptoir du Sud on rue Gambetta near the border of old town. Again, you will find the food as appealing as the quaint building and charming people who know the meaning of good food.
A suggestion for making your trip through the Provence of France more interesting is to develop a theme of sorts during your journey. Whether it is the landscape, history or food you decide is the most fascinating feature of your expedition, you can turn that into a focus of your trip which can simplify things when you are faced with the “too much to do and see and not enough time” dilemma. For example, focus on visiting one historical site in each of the villages you planned on visiting. Keep a log, either written or photographic and highlight the historical elements of each town you pass through. In Valbonne, for example, you could make certain to visit the Place des Arcades in the center of town and photograph some of the arcades, especially the stone marked 1628 to capture the historical essence of Valbonne. On the other hand, perhaps you could focus on the museum of each village and develop a plan to visit each museum of local history to get a short lesson in the cultural significance of every village you make it to on your trip. This could be a little trickier than some of the other possibilities as many of the museums have very specific hours and days that they are open, so it may require a lot more forethought and careful planning than other ideas.
Restaurants make an obvious good choice for a focal of your trip; however, more than likely this will be part of everyone’s intended purpose for visiting provincial France. Food in France is almost as notable as the wine, which of course is found throughout Provence, as the mild climate and hilly landscape are ideal for vineyards in some parts of the countryside. No matter how much you may enjoy French cuisine there is only so much that a person can eat and meals should be planned carefully to not miss an opportunity for one of the finest dinning experiences you may ever encounter in your entire life. A good tip for saving money in the eating expense part of your budget is that reserve the majority of your daily food allowance for dinner. Throughout the day, you can get a pastry or simple bread, wine and fruit at a local market, where you will spend a fraction of the amount of money and still enjoy locally grown and made products. This is especially fun if you find a naturally beautiful spot to have yourself a little picnic and enjoy the fresh aroma of the French countryside, while nourishing yourself with some local delicacies.
Whether you decide to chose a theme for your adventure through France’s Provence territory or just take it all in as it comes, you will surely enjoy the more relaxed and easy going pace of the charming villages that make up this unique culture of France. A large part of it all comes down to what kind of person you and the people you are traveling with are. Some personalities prefer to have things planned out better with specific goals to make sure that their time is used efficiently, while others are more “go with the flow” kind of people who just want to see where the road takes them. Since most people do travel this part of France via vehicle, it is at least advisable to have a map or a basic route planned out, no matter how laid back of an individual you may be. Although, if you had to get lost somewhere, the Provence of France is not a bad place to do it. In fact, it may be one of the best places on earth to be lost in.