Most famous for its annual film festival, Cannes on the sparkling French Riviera is synonymous with chic and glamor and one of the major European hubs for the socially elite. Like its glitzy cousin Monaco –50 minutes along the coast –Cannes offers a glimpse into the world of how the other half live, its harbor full of luxury yachts belonging to the famous and wealthy.
Despite its reputation Cannes offers rather more than just the opportunity for celebrity-spotting however and also has plenty for those who aren’t fabulously rich too. The hill-perched old town, besides its breath-taking views, has a centuries-old fort and church at its summit while a short ferry ride brings you to the gorgeously unspoiled Lerins Islands which represent a very different side to the normally better-known Cannes full of glitter and opulence. Sitting in the bay like emerald gems, these heavily-wooded islands are respectively home to an ancient order of monks who produce wine you can buy and a castle dating back to Roman times which once held the mysterious prisoner known as the Man in the Iron Mask.
Once nothing more than a small fishing village, the town has some wonderful architecture, most notably in its charming cobbled streets of its old quarter. Some of the less ancient architectural examples are sometimes worth a look too such as the facades of the grand hotels -like the Carlton -with their Belle Epoque styling.
The other main jewel in the Cannes crown is its beaches. The entire length of the famous waterfront promenade of La Croisette is a stretch of sand from one end to the other. This is broken up by private beach clubs where you can rent loungers and the services of a waiter to bring you everything you might possibly need all day long if you wish and without moving a muscle. Alternatively you can enjoy one of the more simple public beaches, bringing with you a picnic of tasty local treats you have bought from the food market.
The bottom line is Cannes can immerse you totally into the luxurious where you’ll be rubbing shoulders with the uber-rich but it doesn’t have to. The great beauty of Cannes is that you can choose.
A Morning in Cannes
Your morning in Cannes will be spent exploring the old fishing village -the historic heart from which all Cannes grew. Once you have had your fill of this enchanting cobble-stoned maze you can decide whether you continue with a tour of some of the town’s galleries or head out to enjoy the more natural element of its national park.
Le Suquet –The Old Town
Your Cannes morning begins at La Vieux Port where you can take a quick look at the 19thcentury Town Hall with its beautiful grand facade. From here take a walk uphill to Le Suquet to discover its labyrinth of medieval stairways and cobbled streets. Cannes has not always been a glittering playground. Before the moneyed hordes arrived Cannes was just a simple little fishing village which first came into being with the Romans. Le Suquet today is just one part of Cannes but in centuries gone it was its whole. Today, while elsewhere in Cannes exudes glamor and laid-on luxury, Le Suquet is where you will find the charm and the chance to see how it all used to be.
The best way to enjoy this corner of Cannes is simply to wander, following the snaking narrow alleys and stone stairways to wherever they lead, discovering atmospheric pockets along with hidden bars and traditional family-run restaurants with a table or two outside as you go.
If you navigate your way to the top of the hill you will find the Église Notre-Dame-d’Espérance. Provençal Gothic in design, this 16thcentury church is one of the city’s historical gems. Inside you will find wood paneling many centuries old and some paintings and frescoes which date from the 1800s.
The church’s neighbor is a picturesque former fortress –known as the Musee de la Castre -which was the home to the same order of monks which still live on the Lerins Islands today –part of your afternoon’s itinerary. Dating right back to the 11thcentury, this atmospheric towered structure is home toa small museum displaying musical instruments from all around the world, ancient art and interesting relics from the Mediterranean and beyond. The reason for the museum’s distinctively eclectic (although high-quality) mix is explained by the fact that it was once a private collection of a Cannes resident, bequeathed to the city on his death in 1877.
Perched as they are, both the church and the fortress offer some sensational views of Cannes. The best viewpoint of all is had from the top of the castle tower which is reached via a stairway.
Despite the beauty of this spot with its ancient church and even more ancient castle, the shinier side of Cannes is what tends to draw in the crowds. That means here it can often be blissfully free of crowds with a serenity you might otherwise struggle to find in the city. If you visit on the first Sunday of the month entry is free too.
Morning Coffee Break in Cannes
If the kind of cafe which oozes charm and atmosphere is your ideal venue for a morning pause you couldn’t be in a better place in the entire city than here in Le Suquet. Its weaving medieval cobblestone streets are punctuated with cafes, bars and restaurants of the family-run pocket-sized kind, typically with just enough space for an intimate table or two in the street surrounded by the highly picturesque.
The best way to find your ideal is simply to wander until a sudden turn reveals just the kind of place you were looking for. One of the hidden gems with a perfectly apt name is Le Jardin Secret. Surrounded by greenery and located in an old town side-street, this cafe-restaurant’s gorgeous little terrace really does make you feel as if you have stumbled into a secret place.
Another choice which, although not located in the historic old town, means you won’t have to go too far is Cafe Poet. This simple traditional little cafe which has been on the Cannes scene for decades sits at Le Suquet’s base and offers indoor or outdoor seating at its pavement tables. Cafe Poet has reasonable prices along with something of a reputation for quick service and warm, welcoming staff making it perfect for a coffee and cake break.
Not far away and located on a corner next to the iconic Marche Forville can be found another traditional little spot which has also been around for a long time and is beloved by the Cannes locals. Café de l’Horlogecomes complete with a collection of lovely little pavement tables so you can watch the market crowd buzz while resting your feet before your adventures continue.
Right at the other end of the scale is the InterContinental Carlton Hotel. Anyone who is anyone stays at this iconic Cannes institution when they are in town; it is THE place which epitomizes the town’s glittering face. Dating from the early 1900s, the Carlton comes infused with a history of silver-screen glamor and an impressive array of A-listers through the decades. It was used as a principal location in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950s ‘To Catch a Thief’ and was also where Hollywood actress Grace Kelly (later princess) met her husband to be –Prince Rainier of Monaco.
A luxurious coffee break here immerses you into the Cannes world of Hollywood-glitz-meets-the-Mediterranean and offers a glimpse into the world of the elite and rich.
Touring the Cannes Galleries
While Cannes doesn’t have any huge museums or galleries it does offer a surprisingly diverse range of smaller offerings along with some truly wonderful independent gems. Many of them are located very close together which means you can spend the rest of your morning taking in as many of them as you have the inclination and time for.
Its leading art museum is the decidedly chic Centre d’Art La Malmaison. Regularly hosting temporary exhibitions of around 100 works by artists of the 20thand 21stcenturies, famous names of the past have included Matisse, Picasso and Chagall.
Of the independent offerings the Galerie Neel which hosts several artists and sculptors and the Carlton’s Galerie du Carltonare two of the stand-out options. This latter can be found just 200m or so from La Malmaison and housed inside Cannes most opulent hotel. Such a location offers art fans the wonderful opportunity to experience a beautifully interwoven display of grand architecture and fine art. The collection features art works by some famous names such as Renoir, Picasso and Matisse along with local artists’ work and collections of sculpture and glassware.
Photography and visual arts fans should check out Espace Miramar, just a stone’s throw from the Carlton. Housed inside a former hotel from the 1920s, Miramar annually plays its part in the Cannes Film Festival when it screens movies for the crowds at its in-house auditorium. The rest of the year it has an exhibition space dedicated to the art of images both moving and still.
If you want to escape the bustle of town a little and explore some exceptionally lovely artist-designed and sculpture-rich gardens head out to the Villa Domergue. Located in the Cannes hills, bay views from this beautiful spot are all part of the experience. The villa was formerly home to the Parisian portrait painter Jean-Gabriel Domergue and his sculptress wife Odette Maudrange-Domergue who was responsible for the tranquil terraced gardens and ponds where you can wander to the sounds of waterfalls.
A Morning Alternative –La Croix-des-Gardes National Park
The credit for beginning the transformation of Cannes from small fishing village to a playground for the rich is often laid at the door of just one man -Lord Brougham. This English noble and his wife really arrived here by accident in the 1800s when forced to stop over on route to Italy due to illness. However, this beautiful Riviera spot captured both his heart and imagination and so he built his own chateau complete with beautiful grounds.
Today these very same grounds which cover 200 acres and lie just a couple of kilometers west from Cannes center have been turned into a beautiful national park littered about with trails and walks. The entire area is a serene city escape of lush vegetation with some to-die-for views of the Mediterranean and its coast. Make your way to the park’s giant cross (for which it is named) at the highest point for the best vantage look-out spot of all to take in the gorgeous views.
Lunch in Cannes
Whether you chose to wind up your morning exploring the galleries or wandering the national park trails no doubt you will now be more than ready for a lunch break. In Cannes this can really be whatever you want it to be –a traditional simple affair in some cozy corner or a lavish lunch amid luxury and glitz.
One option which allows you the opportunity for sampling some delicious local produce while also ticking off another Cannes highlight is the Forville Market. In Cannes -and indeed most of France -food markets are part of everyday life. The covered Forville is the town’s main market –the biggest in both terms of size and diversity –and is a foodie’s heaven of fresh fruit, vegetables, seafood, cheese, meats and more.
Lunching the Marche Forville way has two options. You can gather together a mouth-watering variety of produce to make up a gourmet picnic lunch and then head to the beach or a bench somewhere to work your way through it. Alternatively you can eat in the market itself, sampling some of the local specialties such as socca –a kind of savory crepe. Mondays is the only day when the food market isn’t open for business. On these days it becomes a flea market instead.
If you would prefer something a little more laid on you have plenty of choice and a variety of great locations to soak up a particular kind of atmosphere while you lunch. These include the beach, around the port, the picturesque old town and the iconic Croisette. This seafront promenade which runs from one length of the town to the other is the place to see and be seen. As all the most prestigious top-end hotels are located here it is also the prime celebrity-spotting area too. One lunch spot on Croisette’s western end is the stylish Factory Cafe located in the up-market Gray d’Albion Hotel. Complete with both veranda and a choice of terraces for watching the Croisette bustle, the Factory Cafe offers relaxed lunch dining or, if you prefer something a little more opulent, you can choose the hotel’s own restaurant which leans more towards the luxurious.
Heading further east along La Croisette will bring you to the Plage de Goeland–a private beach complete with absolute beachfront dining. The cuisine is Mediterranean and so is the view at this charm-filled dining terrace with the blue, white and bare wood decor highlighting the seaside theme. While the food offered from a diverse menu of seasonal ingredients along with home-made desserts and the service very definitely make this a fine dining choice, the overall feel is definitely that of a relaxed beach vibe with the cushion-filled sofa-like seating adding to the effect. If you really can’t bear to tear yourself away from such a place after you have finished your lunch you can hire a lounger and soak up a few Mediterranean rays.
The area around the old port has a plentiful supply of restaurants but most of them mean a rather large check at the end of the meal. One waterside choice which won’t break the bank however is L’Assiette Provençale. You can dine inside their elegant interior or take advantage of the views from their roofed outdoor terrace. There are two set lunch menus which offer exceptional value for money, especially considering the location, and an extensive wine list.
An Afternoon in Cannes
Few people are aware before they come to Cannes that sitting just a few minutes’ ferry ride from the coast are a group of charming and tranquil islands. Two of these can be visited and offer an experience far removed from the glamorous side of Cannes which is typically pushed more to the fore.
The Lerins Islands
Sitting just a couple of kilometers south of Cannes can be found the Lerins Islands –two of which are served by ferries from the town. The largest –Sainte-Marguerite –is just a 15 minute boat ride away and as ferries depart hourly throughout the day these little Mediterranean gems are easy and convenient to get to. Home to historical buildings, sandy beaches and a wealth of exquisite little coves, the islands are a world removed from the celebrity razzmatazz side of Cannes and a great choice if you want to see a natural side to the town.
From aerial photographs Sainte-Marguerite appears to be just one big splash of green amid the blue, broken only by the island’s lake and the fringing sand-colored outline of its beaches. Indeed the trees which make up this green are responsible for one of the first things you will notice on arrival –the scented tang in the air of eucalyptus and pine. Criss-crossed by forest trails and a coast-hugging path which does a full loop of the island, Sainte-Marguerite is a beautiful place to head for an easy but highly scenic hike. There is also a botanical trail for those interested in the area’s maritime plants which is marked with information points along the way.
The island also has a few bars and restaurants to enjoy and while most come here simply for a tranquil escape or some serene beach time with a picnic or snorkel in the crystal-clear waters the island is also home to a castle –Fort Royal. The majority of what you can see here today dates from the end of the 17thcentury when fortifications were extensively strengthened but decades earlier the core of the fort was actually constructed by the monks of Lerins on top of ancient Roman remains of which there are still traces.
Besides the Romans the fort has also been in the hands of other occupiers over the centuries including the Spanish in the 1600s and the Germans during the World War II years. Within the surrounding walls of this cliff-perched castle can be found a chapel, former garrison quarters, storage rooms for artillery and prison cells.
The prison here was not used to incarcerate common crooks however but typically important prisoners held in times of religious or political persecution. Its most famous prisoner is the mysterious historical figure known as the ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ who was held here for over a decade in the 1600s. Never identified, theories over the centuries have set out to prove the masked man was an illegitimate brother of Louis XIV, a love-child of the king’s wife and an individual who had got involved in political scandals. Today you can still visit the cell of this prisoner whose story has continued to intrigue the world for centuries.
Besides the military and prison aspects of the fort the museum here is also home to an aquarium room filled with the area’s typical flora and fauna, some ancient painted designs and a number of boat and ship wrecks. These latter are all watercraft which have fallen foul of the island’s coastal waters at some point and later been recovered along with certain wreck artifacts.
Privately owned by the monks of Lerins, this heavily-wooded island with its gorgeous abbey is an oasis of beauty and calm and not least of all because the monks here are of a silent order. Today home to a community of around thirty monks, Saint-Honorat’s history as a monastery site goes back to the fifth century with the current abbey dating from the 11th century.
The silent monks today live almost as they have since the beginning, tending vines, producing wine and growing lavender crops. If you are looking for a highly unusual souvenir you can browse the products in the small shop and take something home as a gift or as a treat to yourself. One of the products is a strong liqueur made from a closely-guarded secret recipe but known to include the use of around 30 different plants.
Located at a short distance from the abbey and sitting directly in the sea can be found a square castle-like tower, actually once part of the monks’ coastal fortifications.
The monks of Lerins have opened their exceptionally lovely island retreat to visitors who can explore the ancient chapels of the island -both ruined and 17th century-restored -or simply soak up the total serenity of the abbey and its vegetation and sample the wine. There is even a restaurant on the island if you want to linger for lunch here. You are free to wander the lovely coastal paths and explore the whole island where at one end you will find some cannonball ovens which date from the Napoleonic War era.
If you were hoping to visit both islands unfortunately it isn’t a simple matter of hopping from one to the other. If you do want to take in both islands you will have to go via ferry back to the mainland and catch another ferry back again.
Pre-dinner Drinks and Dinner in Cannes
When the time comes to bring your afternoon’s explorations to a close and settle down somewhere for sundowner drinks and dinner Cannes is full of enough choice to keep you going for several months without visiting the same bar or restaurant twice.
Well-known as a haunt for the super wealthy and the A-list glitterati, Cannes has a plentiful supply of glitzy drinking spots ranging from the classy and sophisticated to the bling-heavy over-the-top opulent. However, it also has an abundant supply of spots catering to those with smaller figure bank balances and offers some great venues. This is true no matter whether you are on the hunt for an elegant cocktail lounge, a relaxed wine bar or something tucked away and traditional. Cocktail fans especially are going to think they have arrived in heaven. Cocktail hour here means cocktails so no matter where you head you are likely to have a wide choice of everything from well-loved classics beautifully mixed to some inventive creations which you almost certainly will never have tried before.
One thing which Cannes features over and again is rooftop bars which means glowing sunsets, Mediterranean blues and otherwise lovely views are all part of the pre-dinner drinks experience. Le Roof at Five Seas Hotel is one spot with the aforementioned lovely views which is sophisticated enough to enforce a dress code but is still accessible to the town’s average visitor.
Sitting at the beach and watching the sky turn purple and gold as the sun goes down with a chilled drink to hand is pretty hard to beat anywhere. However, some of the Cannes beach-side venues are extra-special enough to raise the enchantment levels further still. Several of the Cannes beach strips are privately owned by the hotels which back them which means their restaurants and bars tend to be of the especially lovely variety when it comes to maximizing their location.
One such is the idyllic terrace of La Rotunde Veuve Clicquot at the prestigious Hotel Barriere la Majestic. This open-air champagne bar has unbeatable views of the Lerins Islands and also serves wine by the pitcher or cocktails. With the white of the furniture enhancing the blue of the Mediterranean and the splashes of tangerine hues harmonizing perfectly with the oranges growing from the surrounding trees you are left in no doubt you are in the French Riviera at its most elegant.
For a real air of cocktail sophistication try out one of the piano bars in town such as the Martinez Bar. Previously named Le Bar L’Amiral, this Hotel Martinez bar has recently undergone a total revamp and emerged with a wonderful new retro-themed look as well as a new name.The Martinez name is one of the biggest in town and its hotel rooms often booked out by the famous. However, its bar is very definitely for all-comers and, while its restaurants enforce dress codes, its bar doesn’t. A gin and cocktail-lovers paradise, the Martinez’s new decor of rosewood and blue leather with a highlight or two picked out in gold, call to mind the yachting and maritime glamor of a bygone era. This atmosphere is intentional and offers perfect surroundings for indulging in a relaxing pre-dinner drinks moment or two with a soundtrack of live piano music.
If picturesque charm is more your scene than sampling the high life head into the town’s old quarter –Le Suquet –and wander its magical little alleys lined by historic buildings until you stumble across just what you had imagined.
In general the French Riviera has a reputation as a food destination and Cannes is very much included in that sweeping description. Of course high-end choices are plentiful with prices ranging from those within reach of the non-super rich to those most definitely not. However, tucked away among all the well-polished glamor you can also find smaller and more intimate family-run affairs which will appeal to those who enjoy good food with a rather more relaxed ambiance. The distinctively different areas of Cannes also tend to dictate the dining atmosphere. Head up the hill to the picturesque old town and you will be spoiled for choice if you are looking for candle-lit and small-space charm. The iconic Croisette is where you will find most of the prestigious hotels with their opulent restaurant choices along with the beach-front options. For a no less great location but something different again the old port area with its luxurious yachts coming and going offers a mixed bag of affordable and high luxury.
Seafood is something of a recurring theme in Cannes as you might expect given its coastal location. The options here can seem almost endless but La Caveau 30 is one of the up-scale possibilities which is reasonably priced despite its former diners including the likes of Brad Pitt and George Clooney. An even more reasonably-priced seafood alternative is Le Voilier which sits against the iconic Carlton Hotel on La Croisette.
For a choice of romantic and affordable outdoor dinner venues with great views you would find the old town on its hill hard to beat. Every little nook and cranny of this fabulous labyrinth may deliver up a gem and as many of them don’t appear in tourist literature or have their own websites you really just have to go on something of a culinary treasure-hunt to unearth them. One of the district’s better known restaurants located in a backstreet which offers reasonably priced set menus is Table 22 which has an elegant interior and an atmosphere perfect for intimate dining
While La Croissette tends to get all the limelight for the beach restaurants those who want an alternative beach choice can head to O’Key Beach. Like many of its glamorous Croisette counterparts the other side of the old port, this Italian-themed restaurant has its own private beach but the air here is somewhat more relaxed with an emphasis on a simpler life. The setting however is every bit as charming with its gorgeous open-air deck restaurant and pontoon stretching out into the Mediterranean waters. The seafood-focused menu is also a delight while the friendly service falls within the high-standard category too.
An Evening in Cannes
For most people an evening in Cannes consists of strolling its famous promenade or hunting down some bar which fits a personal definition of idyllic or offers some kind of live music entertainment.
Strolling La Croisette
Dominating the town, the mile long promenade of La Croisette will almost certainly have figured already at some point in your day. However, your after-dinner hours give you a chance of really soaking up the atmosphere of this iconic strip which is often referred to as the ‘Cannes Catwalk by the Sea’. La Croisette is sandwiched between the Mediterranean on one side and abundant greenery and an endless series of bars, restaurants and hotels on the other. This strip is where you will find most of the town’s high-prestige hotels patronized by the rich and famous which makes it a celebrity-spotting hotspot. Arguably the most famous of these hotels is the dome-topped InterContinental Carlton which is worth a look for its lovely Bell Epoque architecture. La Croisette is not really about doing anything besides enjoying one its private beaches, settling down for a drink, shopping in its up-market boutiques or simply watching the people who frequent it along with the occasional street-performer. But you cannot say you have experienced Cannes until you have visited it. There are even free chairs along the way for you to pause and rest your legs.
Either at the end or beginning of your stroll depending on which end you start from you can check out the Palais des Festivals near the old port. Every time you have seen an image of a movie star on the Cannes Film Festival red carpet surrounded by camera flashes this is where it was taken. While you are here make sure you check out the steel-set hand-prints of the famous including Meryl Streep and Sylvester Stallone on the ‘Walk of Stars’ by the Palais des Festivales. At the very other end of La Croisette in the Canto port can be found the Cannes mermaid –Atlante. Set out on a water-surrounded rock, this gorgeous bronze statue depicts a very different kind of mermaid than the usual fish-tailed version. This one, erected at the turn of the millennium, is standing on her scaled legs. According to the sculptor its design is intended to represent a creature who has arrived to the land out of the sea, here to remind us to cherish our oceans and try and right some of the wrongs of times past.
The Cannes Bar and Music Scene
Besides strolling the famous Croissette, the other principle night-time activity in the town is simply settling into a bar somewhere and watching the evening go by with a drink of choice in hand. However, with such a plentiful supply of options, surroundings and ambiance come in a diverse variety with something to suit all tastes. You can listen to live music in every form including classical piano, jazz and rock bands. You can position yourself on a roof terrace or beach-side bar for great views of the sea by moonlight or hide yourself away in some secret little candle-lit garden in the historic old quarter. Your evening hours can be as tranquil or as wild as you choose and should you want to party all night long it really isn’t a problem here; Cannes, her locals and her visitors stay up late.
As already mentioned drinking venues are plentiful but if you already feel you have had you fill of bustle and now want to enjoy some quiet drink time make your way to the Grand Hotel’s Le Cercle Bar which has a resident pianist. Inside the atmosphere is cozy and armchair-filled while the open-air terrace has great sea views.
Jazz fans have a few choices, one of which is the Cotton Club lounge -part of the Auberge Provencale da Bouttau in the old town. This venue is also a charming restaurant -the oldest in town in fact.
During summer the night skies over Cannes are often spectacularly lit with firework displays. The best place to watch them is one of the beach spots. The tourist office or posters displayed around town will give dates and times.
Ready to experience the beauty of Cannes in person, contact one of our vacation planners today!