Originally a sleepy fishing village, Cannes can today lay claim to being the most prestigious locale on the French Riviera. Its film festival needs no introduction, nor do its grand hotels or seaside promenades. It’s also well-positioned as a base for visiting the countryside of Provence, with its hilltop villages, lavender fields and quintessentially French charm.
Step back in time
It’s only five minutes’ walk from the Palais de Congress – centerpiece of the film festival and many other prestigious events – but Cannes’ old town belongs to a different world.
Its winding streets, traditional restaurants and washing-hung streets are redolent with timeless charm, while brightly painted shutters add a splash of colour to ochre and honey-hued buildings.
At the top of the hill, there are the 16th-century Notre Dame d’Esperance church and the Musée de la Castre, with its collection of archeological finds and 19th-century Provençal artworks. The square in front of the museum provides excellent views over the city and its yacht-filled harbour.
Stroll along La Croisette
No visitor to Cannes can miss out on La Croisette – the seafront promenade that owes its name to its crescent shape. On one side the Mediterranean sparkles beyond pristine beaches, on the other are brand-name boutiques showcasing the wares of many of the world’s finest luxury goods brands. A quick roll call of those present would include Rolex, Tag Heuer, Vertu, Prada and Versace.
Locals and visitors alike take advantage of the broad beachside pavement to stroll, jog or dog-walk. One feature of the Croisette that seems to be unchanging is the collection of blue-coloured metal chairs on which it’s possible to sit for a while and muse on the Mediterranean.
Take a five-star option
Cannes has no shortage of luxury hotels. The InterContinental Carlton, the Martinez, the Majestic Barriere and the Marriott Cannes are all worthy of a mention and each has an interesting history and many a tale it could tell.
The Carlton, for example, was originally built between 1909 and 1913 as a place that would appeal to members of the Russian aristocracy. Its twin cupolas, that are today such as feature of the town, are reputed to pay homage to a famous French actress of the early 20th century – or part of her anatomy, anyway.
Visit the neighbours
Just inland of Cannes are many places that are well worth a visit. The town of Grasse, a historic centre of the perfumery industry, may have lost some of its charm as urbanisation has covered some of the fields of flowers that once scented its breezes, but its perfumeries are well worth a visit. Molinard, for example, allows visitors to make their own fragrance.
The hill-top villages of Mougins and St Paul de Vence are also fabulous places to spend an afternoon or evening. La Colombe D’Or restaurant at St Paul has an excellent setting and good food, while Le Mas Candille in Mougins has won plaudits as a place to stay.
Slow down the pace
The Ile Sainte Marguerite and Sainte Honorat lie a short sail away from the mainland. The former was where the Man in Iron Mask was incarcerated. This individual, made famous by the French writer Alexandre Dumas, was kept prisoner during the 17th century, his identity kept secret. His cell can still be seen in what is today the Musée de la Mer.
The neighbouring Ile Sainte Honorat is peaceful and beautiful, its only inhabitants a community of Cistercian monks who produce their own wine, honey and lavender. The island is a charming place; with shaded paths for a contemplative stroll, the dramatic monastery church and fragrant flowerbeds.