Gone to the Polygone

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Tootlafrance looks at a new concept in Shopping with Art on the French Riviera

You might call it shopping with style, but there is something decidedly classy about the Polygone Riviera. Is it a shopping centre or is it an art gallery?

The answer is “yes” on both counts. This isn’t a new idea but one imported from the United States – a very good one, as it turns out, that works perfectly well in a Mediterranean climate.

In the US, they’re known as “lifestyle malls”. It is essentially an open-air shopping centre with the idea being that you bring the soul into a place that’s notorious for being soulless. In the case of the Polygone – which opened at the end of 2015 to much excitement locally – it’s a large space that’s as much open to art as it is to commercial life.

Riviera retail: a view of the site occupied by the Polygone in Cagnes-sur-Mer

Sacha Sosno’s enormous sculpture-piece “Le Guetteur” (photographed above and meaning “the lookout”) sets the scene for something special and out-of-the-ordinary as you pull in to Polygone. It’s located in the town of Cagnes-sur-Mer, right in the middle of the Riviera strip, between Nice and Antibes. Like many towns along the Cote d’Azur, Cagnes-sur-Mer is steeped in artistic heritage and is famous for its Grimaldi Castle and the house where Renoir lived and worked.

The first thing I normally do when I get into a shopping centre is find the exit but at the Polygone Riviera, there is simply too much going on to intrigue. Maybe that’s what a place like this is all about – making a shopping centre wonderful enough to entice the men-folk to linger? It is very nice to be in an open-air space instead of an enclosed one. The centre is split into different quarters, mimicking the set-up of a modern city, with a food quarter, an arts quarter, an entertainment quarter and so on. The concept is that a lifestyle mall should be a place to live as much as a place to buy things.

When we arrived, there was an exhibition of Joan Miró sculptures, for example, and your eye can’t help but be drawn to the Catalan artist’s signature playful colourful figures casually posing in the fountain and there are numerous permanent art works too. The best thing to do is call into the information office and get a self-guided audio tour to bring you around all the scintillating artwork first.

The Indoors Outdoors: The Mediterranean climate is perfect for the outdoor shopping centre

As for the shops, there is quite a range. With the American theme coming through strongly, there are plenty of famous US brands in evidence such as Timberland and Calvin Klein. There are also lots of French and Italian brands too and the shops seem to cover the entire spectrum of retail, from clothing to outdoors wear to fashion and food. Speaking of the latter, this is not the place to go for your weekly grocery shop – more like a place to buy chocolates (Jeff de Bruges and Lindt) rather than meat and vegetables.

There are good options for eating out here, however, and just to give an idea of the size of the Polygone, there are no fewer than 26 places to eat in the centre, from the gourmet breaks such as Le Bistrot Niçois to the chemical pseudo-food of McDonalds. We went for something in between by opting for lunch at the very affordable (and seemingly reasonably healthy) fast-food BenBurger.

The 10-screen cinema shows not only films but it also hosts a number of cultural events throughout the year including theatrical productions and concerts and the great exterior of the roof behind the afore-mentioned Guetteur is used for a whole host of receptions that help create a festive and convivial atmosphere during those lovely warm Riviera nights. And the highlight? Finding that amongst all these glitzy brands and quality French fashion houses, pride of place at the end of the main shopping floor was taken up by a branch of Penney’s (under the Primark brand)!

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