The problem with Juan-les-Pins is not that the town, like so many other Mediterranean resorts, had sold its soul to the tourism industry. The problem is that it never had one.
Three things to do in Juan les Pins: go to the beach. Go clubbing. Go back to the beach.
Yes, you guessed it: Juan les Pins is not a place for people who like the idea of a “balanced vacation”, people for whom a visit to a famous museum or a theatre performance is part of their holiday routine, who like to experience the culture of the country they are visiting or who may even enjoy to walk past distinguished and architecturally interesting buildings on their way to the restaurant.
In fairness, Juan les Pins has not been designed to deliver that sort of thing. What has it been designed to deliver? Beach holidays. It is really as simple as that.
Juan les Pins was created in the late 19th century as the beach resort of Antibes, its handsome and (by the standards of the area) rather large neighbouring town – the second largest of the French Riviera, as a matter of fact, beating Cannes by a mere whisker – which is blessed with everything that Juan les Pins so palpably lacks: a 2000-year long history, ancient buildings, a world-class museum (dedicated to the works of Picasso) and and and, but which has very little to offer on the beach front, apart from rocks and stones.
If it is culture you want, you should go to Antibes, but for a French Riviera beach holiday with everything that this includes (glamour, people watching and wondering who among your fellow restaurant guests could be the owner of that 100-meter-long superyacht which is moored in the harbour), Juan les Pins is your ticket.
When Juan les Pins was officially established in the 1882, there was not even a fishing village there, only a group of pine trees after which the new town was named (the “Juan” is a transcription of how the name “Jean” is pronounced in the local dialect).
The resort quickly developed, benefiting from the boom in Riviera tourism, and by the 1920s, it was already one of the coast’s most glamorous holiday towns – an era which has given Juan les Pins the few architectural landmarks it possesses.
Even today, the beach is a little friskier than the ones we ourselves are used to, having come from the less fanciful part of the Cote d’Azur east of Monaco where the French Riviera shades into the culture of the neighbouring Riviera dei Fiori (for which read: more families on the beach, fewer surgically enhanced breasts).
It is not even necessarily the case that the people in the western resorts of the coast are of a higher social class, it is just that they appear more aware of their own contribution to the unfolding performance on the beach. It is like the famous distinction in art history between the Naked and the Nude: they both have no clothes on, but only the Nude knows she is being observed.
But maybe it’s just me, and any difference is merely in the eyes of this particular prejudiced beholder. You probably should go there and judge for yourself.