What better way to appreciate the work of Picasso than to first sample some of the artist’s alcoholic inspiration in Antibes? Words: Amy Adams

Walking along Billionaire’s Quay in Antibes is predictably depressing. Chances are this is as close as you’re going to get to yachts so big it takes half an hour to walk from the deck to the bar and fix yourself a Martini, and it hurts.

Yet unlike Juan les Pins, Antibes’ brash and showy neighbour, this Côte d’Azur darling hasn’t sold out to the bling. Just behind the port of plenty is a charming French town that refuses to swap its market for a shopping mall or its cafés for nightclubs, and it’s all the better for it.

But if browsing the herbs and spices at the Marché Provençal isn’t enough to make you stop yearning for the 414ft Octopus (often used by Bill Gates) then the Absinthe Bar might do the trick.

Hidden in the cellars below specialist olive oil shop Balade en Provence, just off the market (25 Cours Masséna), the cavernous bar is a trip away from the vagaries of the modern world even before you get carried off by the notorious green muse.

Apart from a Roman-era well and a TV lurking in between racks of bottles, it’s decked out as though trapped in the mid-19th century. There’s a marble bar, a hat stand, ornate wooden chairs by small, round tables, and everywhere, vintage absinthe paraphernalia: bottles, crystal fountains, posters, glasses, you name it.

But before you get comfortable and drink yourself into oblivion Prague-style it might be worth bearing in mind the different attitude that post-prohibition France has towards the potent emerald liquor.

Absinthe, in its simple form of wine and wormwood (artemisia absinthium) leaves, is referenced in the Bible but it wasn’t until the 19th century when it emerged in its present form as a complex mixture of herbal extracts.

Initially valued for its medicinal properties, absinthe’s hallucinogenic properties (the thujone in wormwood) soon made it popular with French bohemians who nicknamed it La Fée Verte meaning the green fairy. It’s now legendary for fuelling the genius of writers and artists like Baudelaire and Picasso, who painted the rituals of absinthe so much it could be said to have given rise to Cubism (if anything’s going to make you see double). Van Gogh famously cut his own ear off under the influence of the mysterious beverage.

Gradually absinthe, diluted, cheapened and tied to the hedonism of the Moulin Rouge, developed a poisonous reputation and in 1915 the French Government banned it as part of the prohibition. It wasn’t until 2003 that it became legal once again and there are still very few venues where you can actually drink it — Balade en Provence is the only licensed absinthe bar in the region. Those where you can promote absinthe in its pure form, as an aperitif or digestif to be sipped and savoured.

To this end the experience at Antibes’ Absinthe Bar is all about ceremony rather getting slaughtered — like learning to appreciate a fine wine instead of downing your Jacob’s Creek. With a video of the production process playing in the background (the reason for the incongruous TV) Fred Rosenfelder, the owner of the bar, takes us through the motions.

On a glass of transparent, green absinthe he balances a perforated spoon and sugar cube before placing it under a crystal fountain of ice and water. Gradually the water dribbles from the tap, dissolving the sugar cube and sweetening the now cloudy absinthe — a necessary action for a drink said to be named after the Greek word apsinthion, meaning ‘undrinkable’, because of its bitter taste.

With more than 30 varieties to try for a mere €5 a glass you could be in for a heavy session but Rosenfelder will be keeping an eye on you — the last thing he wants is for the negative associations of absinthe to raise their ugly heads again. With our visit at 11am there’s little chance of us getting carried away, and though we have enough to appreciate the light, anise flavours, we’re nowhere near seeing Kylie cameo as the green fairy.

The perfect place to head after a tot or two is the Musée Picasso, housed in a 12th century château that the king of Cubism made his studio for six months in 1946.

Formerly the Château Grimaldi after the family who ruled Antibes from 1384-1608, it’s an ideal setting for Picasso’s mythological paintings. With a little help from the absinthe the colourful nymphs and satyrs bounce off the walls, out of the windows to the sea beyond. You feel he would approve of the museum, not least because an underground passageway leads right to Balade en Provence.

As the sealed archway in the bar testifies, the route is off-limits today, but the connection remains nonetheless.