Every May, the seaside port of Cannes hits the headlines when the Hollywood movie train rolls in to town. But leave the glitterati behind and you’ll find a charming holiday destination, says Pierre De Villiers
Every May, the seaside port of Cannes hits the headlines when the Hollywood movie train rolls in to town. But leave the glitterati behind and you’ll find a charming holiday destination, says Pierre De VilliersNo sooner do the first rays of morning sunshine hit Cannes, than crowds start to gather. Chatting excitedly and jostling for position they crane their necks to catch a glimpse of the latest star attraction to hit the seaside city. Their patience is eventually rewarded when, to a chorus of “Oohs” and “Aahs”, a fisherman reveals a crayfish that’s about as big as a dog. It may not have the glitz and glamour of La Croisette during the Cannes Film Festival, but for sheer visceral overload, the March� Forville – the city’s biggest market – takes some beating. The only trout pout you’ll find here is on the catch of the day, while tables also creak under the weight of fresh fruit, meats, cheese and flowers. Locals tell you March� Forville offers “a taste of the real Cannes”, a quaint, sociable patch away from the paparazzi, yachts and red carpet-stomping celebrities that the town is so famous for. The market is indeed an example of the treats that await those who are willing to go beyond La Croisette in search of something a little less superficial.For March� Forville to really worm its way into your heart, you have to be an early bird and arrive shortly after the fresh produce. Fortunately there are plenty of eye-opening sights as you sleepily meander through the city’s old quarter, Le Suquet, on your way to the market. The highest point in Cannes, Le Suquet is an Escher-like maze of steep steps, restaurants and cobbled streets that slumber by day and burst into life at night. It’s the sort of neighbourhood where you don’t mind getting lost – not if there are stunning wall-paintings to take in and eateries to try out. For sumptuous Proven�al cooking in a very romantic setting Le Mesclun in Rue Saint-Antoine is the place to be – if you can get a table – while Le Relais des Semailles in the same street serves up delicious stuffed pigeon with roasted foie gras. For a cosy evening, there’s La Canna Suisse restaurant in Rue de Forville, with its cottage exterior and midriff-expanding menu featuring fondue, raclette and tartiflette.To burn off the calories picked up at March� Forville and its surrounding restaurants, you can always make your way to the top of the hill for astonishing panoramic views and some striking architecture. The Notre-Dame d’Esp�rance is a Proven�al Gothic church completed in 1648, which houses a fine collection of 19th-century paintings including a fresco by George Roux depicting the baptism of Christ. Also on the hilltop is the former Castle of Cannes, which now houses the Mus�e de la Castre, an intriguing place where you can gawk at everything from Tibetan ceremonial daggers to Mayan pottery. To shake off any museum fatigue, a trek up the 109 steps of the Tour du Suquet will give you heart palpitations and an amazing view over the city. Getting to the next stop on your Cannes walking tour also takes a bit of effort. To the north of the city, the busy Boulevard Carnot leads to the suburb of Le Cannet. Once in the old centre – around Rue Saint-Sauveur – you might as well be in a little hill-top village complete with bell-tower and snug alleyways. Such is the place’s undeniable charm, painter Pierre Bonnard bought a house here in 1926 and painted the area’s rooftops from his window. A museum featuring his work is due to open next year at the former H�tel Saint-Vinnay.
On the beachA stroll back towards the waterfront will take you via Cannes’ two main shopping arteries – Rue d’Antibes and Boulevard de la Croisette. Here Paris Hilton clones with lapdogs engage in retail therapy at Gucci, Dior and Giorgio Armani before scuttling back to nearby luxury hotels – which have bought up many of the city’s finest beaches. For around €20 you can play in the sand with guests and the hotels even throw in a deck chair and umbrella.For less snobbish surroundings there is Plage du Midi, a public beach to the west of the Old Port. While it might be a tad narrow and a railway line runs right next to it, the beach offers a welcome break from the frenetic pace of Boulevard de la Croisette and the excesses of the super hotels that line up like dominoes along the waterfront. Once you’ve worked up an appetite sunbathing head for Le Point de Rencontre on Boulevard Jean Hibert, where you have the choice of no less than 40 types of cr�pes.If Plage du Midi still isn’t far enough away from La Croisette, a ten-minute boat ride to the �les de L�rins, takes you to what feels like a different world. While thousands flock to �le Saint-Marguerite, the larger of the two islands, it somehow never feels crowded. You can follow a footpath right around the island or head for the forest in the interior for some quality bird watching.On the north side of the island you’ll find the impressive Royal Fort which, among some of its grim treasures, has the cell that, from 1687 to 1698, held The Man in the Iron Mask, immortalised by writer Alexandre Dumas. �le Saint-Honorat is smaller than its next-door neighbour, but no less fascinating. On the island’s southern tip you’ll find the imposing Monast�re-Donjon while the remains of seven chapels are also scattered around the island. As soon as the ferry drops you back at the Vieux Port, pop into The Quays on Quai Saint-Pierre for a quick demi. A watering hole that caters to the staff that work on the multi-million pound boats bobbing around in the harbour, it is a place where you realise Cannes is divided into the haves and the have-yachts. For further proof of the extremes found in the city, stroll along the Vieux Port where modest fishing boats are overshadowed by rich men’s playthings emblazoned with names such as African Cat and Angelina. From Hollywood royalty strutting down the red carpet in front of the Palais des Festivals to weatherbeaten fishermen showing off their latest catch at the March� Forville, Cannes remains a captivating mix of old Provence and celebrity pomp.History of CannesIt may have developed into a playground for the rich and botoxed, but in the beginning, Cannes was a humble fishing village. The first known residents in the area were the Oxybian tribe originally from Liguria, who built settlements under the name Aegitna in 2 BC. By the 10th century the town had evolved into a place called Canua – possibly named after the canna, or reeds, which surrounded the early settlement – and was under the sway of the L�rins Abbey, founded on the island of Saint-Honorat in the 5th century. Devastating raids in the region by the Saracens in 891 forced the monks to move to the mainland, where, to better defend the village, they built a fortified castle, Ch�teau de Castre, at the summit of Le Suquet hill. Around this imposing structure the village continued to grow and the name Cannes first appeared in official documents in 1035.The 19th century heralded the greatest era of prosperity for Cannes, thanks largely to Lord Henry Peter Brougham, the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, who, in 1834, fell in love with Cannes’ natural beauty and started investing in the coastal town. Brougham’s interest in Cannes prompted a huge influx of British visitors and put it on the map as world-class holiday destination, a reputation it has to this day.Cannes during the film festivalEvery year, for ten days in May, Cannes becomes the Hollywood of the French Riviera as movie stars and directors try to get their hands on the prestigious Palme d’Or. Your average tourist strolling around outside the Palais des Festivals and down La Croisette is replaced by Brad and Angelina on the red carpet, the H�tel du Cap significantly increases its star wattage, paparazzi work themselves into a frenzy outside Baoli Beach Club on the waterfront where the latest film after-party is taking place, around 4,000 journalists down espressos in the city’s caf�s while the beaches are used for headline-grabbing photoshoots including Borat in a green mankini.While this is very much an industry event with careers being made and broken, movie fans share in the festivities thanks to the Cin�ma de la Plage – outdoor screenings on the beach along La Croisette.Hollywood blockbusters tend to make the biggest headlines, but art movies are rewarded with gongs; The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke picking up the Palme d’Or last year.An indication of just how important the Cannes Film Festival is, are the celebrity handprints that adorn the walkway in front of the Palais des Festivals – a constellation of movie stars who all have their own happy memories of Cannes.How to get thereBy rail: Cannes is a five-hour journey from Paris Gare LyonFor more information tel: (UK) (0)844 848 4064www.raileurope.comBy air: The nearest international airport is Nice, about 30 minutes away by car.For more about getting there, turn to page 86.
Where to stayLe Grand H�tel45 Boulevard de la CroisetteBP 263 065401 CannesTel: (Fr) 4 93 38 15 45www.warwickhotels.comJoin the beautiful people and stay at the four-star Grand H�tel located on La Croisette. With its lovely gardens in which to shelter from the sun, it’s the perfect hideaway.Where to eatLe Relais des Semailles 9-11 Rue St-Antoine, Le SuquetTel: (Fr) 4 93 39 22 32Main course meals start at €22.An upmarket bistro situated on the Old Town’s main street, Le Relais de Semailles serves up fantastic modern Proven�al dishes, with fresh ingredients bought at the March� Forville.
Things to see and doMarch� Forville (7am – 1pm daily in the summer, Wednesday – Tuesday in the winter).For more about Cannes, its museums and attractions, visit www.cannes.com
Cannes Tourist BoardPalais des Festivals et des Congr�s Esplanade Georges Pompidou Open seven days a week. Tel: (Fr) 4 92 99 84 22 www.cannes-hotel-booking.com