It’s known today as “The City of Crafts,” but the charming little village of Biot has a long history of craftsmanship and artistry. Currently the village is full of master glassmakers, jewelers, leatherworkers, painters, ironworkers, artists and much more. Centuries ago it was known around the world for its pottery, specifically the “Biot Jars.” About 20 kilometers from Vence, Biot is even closer to Antibes and Cagnes-sur-Mer, just three kilometers from the sea. It’s perched high on a hill behind the coast, fortified with a series of ramparts, and while it may not be one of the official “Most Beautiful Villages of France,” it is well worth a visit if you are in the area. A friendly and helpful staff at Office de Tourisme (The Office of Tourism) can provide you with excellent advice and materials to help make your visit to Biot a memorable one. On my first trip here I picked up a small map that outlined a short walking tour with twenty-four cultural, historical and architectural highlights. It’s available in several languages and I grabbed one in English and one in French (hoping to practice my French reading skills, but wanting to make sure I didn’t miss anything).
[more info after the photo gallery]
The history of Biot is fascinating. It was occupied for over five centuries by the Romans, who first settled here in 154BC. Centuries later, in 1209, it was donated by the Count of Provence to the Knights Templar and when the Templars were abolished in 1307 the territory fell under the rule of the Knights of Malta.
For hundreds of years Biot was known for its pottery, mainly the “Biot Jars.” The clay and cinerite in the soil of the area provided the ingredients for a booming industry. There is evidence of the jars being manufactured as early as 1308, but it was in the 16th century that the jars started becoming a main part of the village’s commerce. For over 200 years there were more than 40 different potters in the village making jars that were exported all over the world. Each one had his own stamp and seal which was affixed to the jars. The inside of each jar was waterproofed so that they could be used to store both wet and dry goods. Everything from olives and olive oil to wheat and flour to dried fruits and vegetables were stored and shipped in the jars. During the four centuries when the pottery industry was at its peak in Biot there were hundreds of thousands of these jars manufactured. You can still see many examples of these “jars” in a wonderful museum, Le Musée d’Histoire et de Céramique Biotoises (The Biotoise Museum of History and Ceramics). Located in an old chapel on the edge of the original village the museum showcases not just these jars but numerous heritage items that trace the history of the village since antiquity. Entrance is only a few Euros and there is a surprising amount of things to see in such a small museum.
Since 1956, Biot has become known for another artistic trade: blown glass. The speciality of the village glassblowers is bubble glass, first brought to prominence by Éloi Monod, who then went on to train an entire generation of craftsmen. You can visit many authentic glassworks in Biot as well as galleries which display the work and shops which offer a wide selection of pieces to purchase. La Verrerie de Biot offers a glass workshop where you can see the glass-blowers working live.
I first visited the village in December 2016 and have been back many times. I ride through it regularly on my bike and spent several afternoons and evenings exploring the narrow streets, small squares and covered passageways. The main street which leads into the old part of the village is now the commercial center, populated with many restaurants, galleries, art workshops and boutiques. At the end of this commercial street you enter the “old village.” Armed with the map and tour from the Office de Tourisme you can explore many fascinating aspects of the village. You’ll find houses that date from 1561, two of the original “doors” to the village, the old washhouse, beautiful doorways and even an old sundial. The Place de la Catastrophe has a plaque marking the time in 1898 when 23 people were killed when a house collapsed during a party. The Place des Arcades, with its wonderful arches running down one side, was the headquarters for the Templars.
Be sure and visit the Sainte Marie-Madeleine church while you are in Biot. It’s classified as a Historic Monument in France and was rebuilt in the fifteenth century on the site of an old Romanesque church from the twelfth century. The “parvis” of the church, the small area in front of it, contains a beautiful mosaic formed from small, flat stones placed on their edges. Taken from one of the nearby beaches. These stones were chosen carefully according to both their size and color. They are laid out in a way so that the colors change from a gray to a red with lots of shades in-between. Two Maltese crosses are formed in the stones, along with the date of 1685.
Biot is easily accessible from Cannes, Antibes, Nice and other towns along the western part of the Côte d’Azur. It makes a wonderful outing for an afternoon or evening exploration. I was back again just last week for the small Fête du Mimosa which found the vibrant village alive with dancing, singing, food and crafts.