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 glamour, celebration, paparazzi frenzy and fiesta. 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.
Here’s a city guide to the top things to see and do 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 smoozes in villas, on yachts, 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. There’s plenty to do all year round.
The Palais des Festivals offers theatre, concert and dance shows throughout the year.
Museums to check out include Le Musée de la Castre in the old town. Its extensive collection has objects from Pacific atolls, Peruvian relics and Mayan pottery. Le Musée de la Mer, the Maritime Museum, is also an interesting option.
Cannes wasn’t always a hub for sophisticated film buffs, Russian billionaires and chic coastal cruisers.
Turbulent times followed the Roman occupation and the town was torn between Spanish, English and French traders, pirates and yes, even monks!
Le Suquet is the historical centre and the name of the original road into Cannes just below the walls of the old castle (constructed in 1035). The small, hilly streets here have more or less the same layout today as they did centuries ago.
You can get a real taste of Cannes’ port history by walking around this 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 glitz on. Former British Chancellor Lord Brougham visited the city in 1834, loved it and built a home there. A flow of British aristocracy set up winter residences. Others 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 in the ambience.
Then in 1946 (though originally planned for 1939), the Festival de Cannes was born.
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. Perhaps try the prawns with orange butter, artichoke risotto or monk fish carpaccio at the magnificent Majestic Hotel — 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.
Grill and Wines offers exceptional steaks, a great wine list and friendly service.
Enjoy a damn good couscous in a friendly atmosphere just behind the station at Le Maghreb. Tell them I said salamalekoum!
Shopping in Cannes certainly gets the retail juices flowing.
Rub shoulders with the rich and famous on La Croisette and Rue d’Antibes — the places to stalk diamond studded stilettos and to-die-for Repettos.
Don’t worry there are also less expensive retail options. Zara Cannes has a more colourful, summery range than the Paris stores, and you also have your H&Ms etc.
Finally, enjoy a mid holiday-makeover with a blow dry by world-class hair dressers or get your nails and makeup done at one of the town’s many salons.
Outside festival time it’s not hard to relax in this sultry seaside town.
Cannes is small enough to go most places on foot. Throw 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. It offers panoramic views of the entire city.
Do you have any tips for top things to see and do in Cannes? We would love to hear from you. Please leave us a comment.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Ruby Boukabou is a travel, culture and food writer based between Europe and Australia. She 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 is probably tap dancing. She is a founding member of the Paris Tap Crew (which produces the monthly Paris Tap Jam) and a member of jazz/world music group Le Shuffle Project.