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Cannes : the height of Mediterranean chic
Taste the lifestyle of the rich and famous in the glitzy resort of Cannes – the jewel in the crown of the French Riviera. What makes this transformed ancient fishing town stand apart from its chic rivals, such as St Tropez, Menton and Antibes, on the south of France’s Cote d’Azur, is the staging of the annual Cannes Film Festival. Maybe you’ll even catch a glimpse of a famous movie star as you savour a glass of wine in one of the luxury restaurants or hotels dotted along Cannes’ palm-lined bay: La Croisette.
A town transformed
Cannes hasn’t always been synonymous with glamour. In fact it’s origins, tied to monks from the Lérin Islands, a few kilometres off the coast, are much more humble. For centuries, the two principal islands of Lero and Lerina (or St Marguerite and St Honorat as they are now known) were key trading posts in the Mediterranean. In the 11th century, fearing an invasion from the Saracens, the monks, who owned the islands, constructed a watch tower on the mainland upon the hill of Le Suquet (the tower still overlooks Cannes to this day).
Le Suquet expanded, despite having most of its population wiped out by the plague in 1579, and went on to become Cannes. The place, however, remained little more than a fishing village until the 19th century when its fortunes were sent into orbit, thanks to the construction of railways and the visit of a former British Chancellor.
Lord Broughton set foot here in 1834 and was so enchanted by the place, he decided to stay. Introducing Cannes to the British aristocracy, it became one of the trendiest towns on the emerging French Riviera. The creation of the annual International Film Festival in 1946 then catapulted Cannes’ fame to yet another level.
Whilst hotels in Cannes are certainly not the cheapest in France, they include some of the most chic and upmarket. If you really want to experience the high life of the French Riviera to the full, you really must stay on the luxurious sea-front: La Croisette.
Lined with palm-trees, luxury boutiques, gastronomic restaurants and upscale hotels, La Boulevard de la Croisette is the place to be seen. You can spend hours here taking part in the number one activity in Cannes: people-watching. Most of the beaches are private here; many owned by the top-class restaurants. However, there are three public beaches, the most popular being Croisette Est at the end of the boulevard, in front of Port Canto; although they can get quite crowded in high season.
The number one address in Cannes, however, has to be numéro 1, Boulevard de la Croisette : Le Palais des Festivals et des Congrès. Once a year this huge modernist building becomes a hive of activity when the Cannes Film Festival is in town and the famous red carpet is draped in front of it for the stars to parade along. No matter what time of year you visit though you can see the handprint and signatures of the stars immortalised on le chemin des étoiles, Cannes very own version of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
The old town of Cannes : Le Suquet
Away from all the glitz and glamour of La Croisette, you can experience the authentic charms of Cannes’ old fishermen’s town, Le Suquet, that so attracted the aristocracy in the first place. Within its steep cobbled streets winding up to the fortified gothic church l’église Notre Dame d’Esperance, you’ll find a scattering of more authentic restaurants and bars, as well as the odd charming chambre d’hôte (b&b) or boutique hotel – a world away from the buzz and decadence of the centre of Cannes.
At the top of the hill dominating the town, you’ll find le musée de la Castre. This museum displays a collection of primitive and landscape art from all around the world within Le Suquet’s 11th century watchtower. The main attraction, however, is the incredible 360 degree view you get over the Lérin Islands and the Cote d’Azur from the top of the tower, rivalled only by the one from Notre Dame’s own tower.
To really get an authentic feel of traditional Provence, you must visit the traditional market, le marché Forville at the foot of Le Suquet with its fresh fish, antiques and provincial delicacies.
Take the plunge now
On top of the obvious land-based activities that you can indulge in in Cannes, such as guided tours of le Palais de Festivals et de Congrès or window shopping in the chic boutiques, there are many tempting water-based activities too - the coastline is very popular for diving, kayaking and windsurfing.
The wonderful Lérin Islands can also be reached in just 15 to 30 minutes by boat. Here you can explore the 5th century Lérins Abbey on St Honorat and the Fort Royal on St Marguerite, where the mythical Man in the Iron Mask was said to have been held captive. So whether you are looking to treat yourself to a taste of the high life, or are seeking luxury last minute holidays to the south of France, you will find a good selection of chic hotels in Cannes.