Retrace Picasso’s Mysterious Life on This Tour Through Spain and France
From unfinished cathedrals to underground absinthe caves, the artist’s 50th death anniversary is a reason to visit Europe’s artistic haunts.
Pablo Picasso was… far from perfect. Other than being a famous artist, he was fairly known as a misogynist and a heavy drinker—but he was also someone who made an impression, particularly on his old stomping grounds in Spain and France. Whatever you think of his influence on the avant-garde movement and introducing Cubism to the art scene, he certainly knew how to have a good time throughout Barcelona, Paris, and the French Riviera.
April 8, 2023 marked the 50th anniversary of the famed artist’s death, an event that’s being acknowledged the world over via special exhibitions, tours, and other tributes exploring the iconic master’s lasting legacy. And since the majority of these celebrations happen to take place in picturesque European hotspots, there’s never been a better excuse to join a whirlwind tour of Picasso’s favorite and most inspirational haunts.
On the agenda? Visit the very places where he lived and worked, indulge in local cuisine, and take in the cultural landscapes that influenced the artist’s work. The expedition kicks off in Picasso’s hometown of Málaga before continuing on to Barcelona, where Catalan cuisine is just one of the lively metropolis’s many enticements. Later, you’ll take on the beloved coastal towns of Côte d’Azur before setting your sights on undeniably charming Paris for the ultimate grand finale. Here’s everything you need to know to retrace Picasso’s steps and embark on a nostalgic, artistic, golden-age trip of a lifetime this summer.
Start your journey in Málaga, Picasso’s birthplace. Here you can explore the bustling Plaza de la Constitución and Calle Larios, and stop at the Casa Mira ice cream shop for some respite from the Spanish sun. Don’t miss La Manquita, the captivating unfinished Catedral de la Encarnación de Málaga.
Take a selfie with a bronze statue of Picasso at Plaza de la Merced before visiting the Picasso Foundation and Birthplace Museum. Discover the Moorish charm of the Church of Santiago, where Picasso was baptized, and make time for the historic Alcazaba of Málaga.
Commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Museo Picasso Málaga by exploring the artist’s sculptures in Picasso Sculptor. Matter and Body. The collection showcases works like Head of a Warrior and Woman with Vase, highlighting the variety of styles and materials that Picasso used, including plaster, bronze figures, cement, and wood. Look out for Picasso’s doppelganger, museum founder Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, who is also his grandson.
Wander the streets of old Málaga until you start craving some tapas and wine. Sample the impressive wine list at Los Patios de Beatas, or stop by Illari Vinos y Tapas for some croquetas and G&Ts. The Matiz restaurant at Hotel Molina Lario offers a rotating tasting menu, which has previously included innovative ingredients like fried corn dust and basil slush.
Next, we arrive in Barcelona—young Picasso’s stomping grounds. Start at the famous tavern, Els Quatre Gats (a local hangout spot for bohemian artists and musicians) where Picasso held his first solo exhibition. This is where the artist met the likes of Carles Casagemas and Ramón Casas of the Modernisme movement. Gaudí was also a regular patron, but you’ll need a dedicated tour to fully appreciate his work.
Wander through the Gothic Quarter, and visit the Catedral de Barcelona for some old-world vibes. Encounter the historic Roman tombs at Plaça Villa Madrid on the way to Las Ramblas, where people-watching never gets old. Slow down and take in the palm trees and architecture at Plaça Reial before arriving at Carrer d’Avinyó, 44. Picasso and his friends frequented the brothel that was once on this street, an experience that would influence his masterpiece, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
Enjoy some wine on The Rooftop at Serras Hotel while admiring the Mediterranean views captured by Picasso in his work. This was also the location of the artist’s first studio in Barcelona, where he painted Ciencia y Caridad, or Science and Charity. Head to the Museu Picasso de Barcelona to see this famous piece and other early works that defined Picasso’s time in this city. You’ll find notebooks, memorabilia, and many of his paintings, including his depiction of the iconic Barcelona Rooftops.
After the museum, head back out to experience the city’s sunset magic and relax at a sidewalk restaurant, Vereda Bar. If you’re feeling thirsty, the sangria and cocktails at L’Alcoba Azul are calling your name. Then, like Picasso, say goodbye to Spain and grab your passport, to follow the artist’s footsteps to France.
It’s no wonder that Picasso fell in love with the sun-kissed shores of Côte d’Azur and spent so much of his life here. Starting in the Old Town of Antibes, nestled between Nice and Cannes, stroll through the cobbled streets and make your way to Port Vauban, where you can take in the views of Le Fort Carré in the distance. Grab a Cappuccino at NOMADS coffee or some fresh bread at Marché provençal, where you can easily spend your morning chatting with local vendors and fighting the urge to buy fragrant spices.
The notorious Bar à Absinthe is right around the corner, located inside a 9th-century vault. The cave-like ceilings are covered in vintage posters and memorabilia. Find the green fairy in the Absinthe tasting room before heading to the Château Grimaldi, where you can see several of Picasso’s pieces along with panoramic views of the French Riviera.
Picasso gifted his works to the château—now known as Musée Picasso—saying, “Anyone who wants to see them will have to come to Antibes.” His fondness for Antibes is obvious in his painting La Joie de Vivre—as is a central female figure resembling his lover, Françoise Gilot. The museum also has photos by his photographer-friend Michel Sima, who captured Picasso’s time at the Château, and don’t miss the impressive collection of sculptures on the terrace.
Now it’s time for an afternoon pick-me-up at the scenic Lilian Bonnefoi Pâtisserie, where lunch is as good as the chocolate. If you’re here in July, stay for the annual Jazz à Juan festival, and treat yourself to cocktails and a swim at the iconic Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cap d’Antibes.
Vallauris-Golfe Juan, France
Our next stop is Vallauris, a quaint coastal village close to Antibes, where Picasso established his ceramics studio and met his second and last wife, Jacqueline Roque. Meander through adorable streets and admire the colorful shops before checking out Picasso’s sculpture L’Homme au Mouton or Man with a Sheep.
Another monument in the village square is Les Monuments aux Morts, a memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives during the war. Don’t miss the Picasso National Museum War and Peace, the Museum of Ceramics, and the Magnelli Museum at the Vallauris Castle-Museum. Also, Picasso produced almost 4,000 pottery pieces in the Madoura workshop, many of which can be viewed at the exhibit, Shapes and Metamorphoses: Picasso’s Ceramic Creation, through October 30, 2023.
Walk into the chapel of the Renaissance castle to see Picasso’s largest artwork, War and Peace. As a member of the French communist party, Picasso’s reflection on the post-war era include symbols of bloody swords and devils that transition to love-making, picnics, and the cleansing blue sea.
Your time in Vallauris is incomplete without visiting the Nérolium, where you can find all things made from bitter orange tree flowers. From orange wine and marmalade to fragrances and skincare products, there's a variety of unusual souvenir options.
Wake up in the heart of nature at Le Manoir de l’Etang, a 19th-century manor house in captivating Mougins. Indulge in breakfast with the current owner, Camilla, who will tell you all about the manor’s history before you head to the village to explore art, restaurants, and more. Check-in at the Mougins Tourist Office to kick off the guided Picasso tour.
Among the many outdoor sculptures in the village, you will be greeted by an oversized Picasso head created by Gabriel Sterk. Stroll through the alleyways and check out the local galleries and street art. Step inside the famous Hôtel Vaste Horizon, where several creatives (including Dora Marr, Man Ray, and Jean Cocteau) would spend their summers. You can see the exact room where Picasso stayed, with a lovely little balcony and walls covered in Marr and Ray’s photographs that tell intimate stories about the artist. Visit Le Lavoir (Wash House) for a temporary exhibition of 30 photos from the André Villers collection, offering a peek into Picasso’s life on the Côte d’Azur.
Arrive at MACM, Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins, for the temporary exhibit Picasso Through Others’ Eyes, available through September 30, 2023. The show has four chapters—Picasso as the man, the woman’s view, his company of friends, and his work—looking at the artist through the eyes of photographers, muses, and lovers. Discover Picasso’s fascination with ancient mythology and the minotaur motif juxtaposed with antique artifacts. MACM also has a rich permanent collection of works by modern artists like Chagall, Dali, Haring, and Warhol.
To finish your Picasso tour in Mougins, drive to the Chapelle Notre-Dame de Vie. Catch a glimpse of the $24 million Villa Notre-Dame-de-Vie through the surrounding hedges, nicknamed the “Lair of the Minotaur.” This was Picasso’s final home with his wife, Jacqueline Roque. Ultimately this is where they both died—Picasso in 1973 at 91, and Roque tragically shot herself in 1986. Inside the chapel, you can find images of Picasso taken by his friend, Lucien Clergue. The chapel gardens are also home to Beth Carter’s minotaur sculptures, the perfect ode to Picasso and Mougins.
Treat yourself to cocktails on the terrace at La Réserve Mougins Luxury Retreats and enjoy the sunset. Savor the region’s flavors at your final meal on the French Riviera, and dine at the Michelin-approved La Place de Mougins before you leave for your last destination.
At last, we arrive in Paris. The City of Lights became Picasso’s artistic home and remains a popular creative hub today. For bonus points, you could prepare by reading In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and Modernism in Paris 1900-1910 for a portal into the Parisian way of cafes and cabarets back then. Speaking of portals, eat some fougasse as you spend the morning taking in Montmartre’s hippy vibes. Or pamper yourself with a lavish lunch at the artsy Moulin de la Galette before heading down to the Marais.
Get ready to be blown away at the stunning Musée National Picasso-Paris. On view until August 27, 2023, the 50th death anniversary exhibition, The Collection In a New Light, showcases the evolution of Picasso’s paintings, sculptures, and sketches through trendy patterns, textures, and pops of color, art directed by Paul Smith.
Don’t miss the Stripes room, featuring portraits of women against brightly striped walls, including Marie-Thérèse Walter, one of Picasso’s lovers. Contemporary artists like Obi Okigbo, Mickalene Thomas, and Chéri Samba also have pieces in the exhibition, opening up new conversations about Picasso’s work.
Continue on to Montparnasse for more inspiration and some wine, of course. Get buzzed at La Rotonde, a true institution frequented by artists like Picasso and Modigliani. And have a leisurely dinner at Sacre Frenchy. Their onion soup is a must-try, even if it’s hot outside.