On paper, Cannes looks like just another quaint town on France’s Côte d’Azur — but trust me — it’s a universe all of its own.
When the Cannes Film Festival rolls-royces into town each May, Cannes morphs into a cinematic circus of glitz and glamour, peppered with paparazzi frenzy. However, if it all gets too much for the stars of the big screen as they make their way from one engagement to the next, there’s always the stunning Mediterranean for a quiet paddle.
Enjoy this Cannes travel guide.
Top cultural experiences in Cannes
Festival de Cannes is the world’s most prestigious film festival, so it’s no wonder the whole place goes slightly gaga.
Alongside the sessions, debates and screenings of films in various competitions (judged by star-studded juries), the world’s film industry celebrates and schmoozes in villas, on yachts anchored on the Bay of Cannes, at private beach parties and VIP bars.
Amongst the regulars are Woody Allen, Brad Pitt, Sofia Coppola, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Nicole Kidman, Quentin Tarantino and George Miller. But really, anyone who’s anyone has made an appearance here, from Snoop Dog to Kylie Minogue.
For the public, the festivities include street shows, classic films screened on the beach, free concerts, flash mobs and of course, star-gazing (many sleep overnight to get close enough to the red carpet for a glimpse of their favourite stars in the flesh).
Of course, you can avoid the festival altogether and experience a more relaxed Cannes. The Palais des Festivals stages theatre, comedy, concerts and dance shows throughout the year.
Must-visit museums and galleries around town include Le Centre d’art La Malmaison (for modern art) and Le Musée de la Castre. Its extensive collection includes Pacific art, Peruvian relics and Mayan pottery. Le Musée de la Mer (Maritime Museum) is another interesting option.
Cannes for history lovers
Cannes wasn’t always a hub for sophisticated film buffs, Russian billionaires and luxury-loving yachties.
Turbulent times followed the Roman occupation and the town was torn between Spanish, English and French traders, pirates and even monks!
Le Suquet is the historical centre and the name of the original road into Cannes, which ran below the walls of the old castle (constructed in 1035). The castle now houses the aforementioned Musée de la Castre and offers stunning views across the city and bay.
You can get a real taste of Cannes’ history by walking around the Vieux Port (old port) — a cobbled, pedestrian maze, now dotted with seafood restaurants, cafés, wine bars and pizzerias (and as you’re not far from Italy here, the bases are thin and toppings scrumptious!).
It wasn’t until the 19th century that Cannes really got its glam on. Former British Chancellor Lord Brougham visited the city in 1834, loved it and built a home there. The great and the good followed suit and before long Cannes became ze place to be on the Côte d’Azur.
In the 20th century, several luxury hotels opened around town. The Carlton Cannes, The Majestic and Hotel Martinez became the playgrounds of international movers and shakers. They are all worth a visit today to soak up the ambience.
Originally planned for 1939 but delayed by the outbreak of World War II, the Festival de Cannes began in 1946 — and the rest, as they say, is history.
Great places to eat in Cannes
Eating out in Cannes is an absolute delight.
This is definitely the destination where one should do something special and splash out on a French classic like lobster thermidor. Try the prawns with orange butter, artichoke risotto or monk fish carpaccio at the magnificent Majestic Hotel’s La Terrasse du Gray, which is under the stewardship of celebrated chef Maryan Grandon. The experience will be worth every penny.
For a more informal vibe, visit Bijou Plage for fresh grilled fish by the beach.
Meat-eaters, make your way to Grill and Wines, which offers — as the name suggests — exceptional steaks and a great wine list. The friendly service is a bonus.
Enjoy a good couscous in a friendly atmosphere just behind the station at Le Maghreb. Tell them I said salamalekoum!
Where to shop in Cannes
Ritzy retail options abound in this city.
Rub shoulders with the rich and famous along La Croisette and Rue d’Antibes — the places to stalk diamond studded stilettos and to-die-for Repettos.
Those on a more modest budget can still look and feel a million dollars. Try Zara, which has a stylish but more colourful range than its Paris stores. Complete your new look with a blow dry from one of the city’s hairdressers to the stars (well, for part of the year at least), or get your nails and makeup done.
Ways to relax in Cannes
Outside festival time, it’s not hard to relax in this sultry seaside town.
Cannes is small enough to go most places on foot. Pop on your sandals and head for the waterfront to swim, stroll, sip rosé, people-watch or window shop. Cruising the Promenade de la Croisette that wraps around the glorious bay is a pastime in itself.
Finally, relax in style with a cocktail or Perrier at Le 360 Degrees — the rooftop bar of the splendid Raddison Blu Hotel — and watch the glittering city lights dance on the bay below.
Do you have any tips to add to our Cannes travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Ruby Boukabou is a travel, culture and food writer based between Europe and Australia. Ruby has written for The Age, The Australian, Qantas, Issimo, The Diplomat, Paris Voice and Inside Film. She has also produced culture and travel stories for the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia. When Ruby’s not writing, she’s probably tap dancing — and is a founding member of the Paris Tap Crew. She’s also a member of jazz/world music group Le Shuffle Project, which records and performs in Paris and beyond.