Few cities have a more exalted setting than Cannes. It curves like an elegant charm bracelet along the sinuous sweep of the Mediterranean coast, garlanded by a series of gently shelving, honey colored beaches that slip almost reluctantly into the sparkling waters of the Med itself.
The backdrop is just as beguiling; the fabled Croisette Boulevard is lined with belle epoque hotels like the legendary Carlton, looming like an overly fussed white wedding cake above the conga lines of slowly waving palm trees that march along the waterfront. Stretch limos the length of cruise liners purr silently past serried lines of umbrella shaded street cafes, packed with tourists enjoying the balmy weather. Some might idly wonder who is inside- Madonna? Tarantino? Could be anybody. Then, as always, it’s back to the serious business of croissants and cafe au lait.
This kind of casual, people watching lifestyle defines Cannes, as it also defines nearby Nice and, to a lesser extent, Monte Carlo. But- whisper it- Cannes is far classier than the latter, with its waterfront of high rise hotels and mantra that nothing speaks like money. And, while no one could seriously claim that Cannes is cheap, it often feels a lot better value than that preening, pretentious hell hole devoted solely to the God of Mammon
. Of course, the city is centre stage for the world famous Film Festival in May, when hotels like the Carlton and Martinez are overflowing with the great, the good, and the vacuous non entities of the film industry. Yachts the size of Yalta come looming into the sheltered bay, hosting parties until the early dawn, and sometimes even later. It does have a brittle glamour but- as it also coincides with the Monte Carlo Grand Prix- it can make travelling anywhere a nightmare on the roads. Also, expect the hotel prices to be stratospheric, right along the entire Cote D’Azur.
If you are thinking of going, I definitely recommend either spring or autumn as the ideal times. Temperatures are fine but, truth be told, Cannes is an exhilarating break even in the winter, when the crowds have gone, the hotel prices have dropped, and the weather is still relatively benign.
if you can drag yourself away from the swish sidewalks and beaches of Croisette, it is definitely worth taking a walk into the back streets of Cannes, and around the old town that looks down over the port. It’s a serene vantage point from which to catch your breath, and then take stock of the glitzy sprawl that hums and buzzes down below you. Those vast, vaulting old stone walls embrace the entire upper reaches of the town, and their ancient, solid ramparts look over a scintillating spread of red topped houses, flooding back in a tidal wave towards the sparkling Mediterranean. The odd languid date palm pops up here and there, too. In the background, a sea of masts from an armada of moored yachts splinters the springtime skyline. There’s a warm, welcoming breeze, marvellous ice cream and, above it all, a magnificent clock tower, frozen in time, that seems to watch over the whole scenic smorgasbord like some kind of benevolent deity.
The narrow, winding lanes leading back to the waterfront are full of old, Italianate shops, bars and cafes, with colourful awnings flapping lethargically in the breeze. Rickety chairs and impossibly small tables spill out across these winding, cobbled lanes. From wrought iron window boxes above you, the smell of jasmine and hibiscus floods the air, even as motor scooters do an awkward ballet with aloof, insolent felines that strut across the cobbles as if the city belongs to them. And in many ways, it does.
Strolling back towards the sea, there are beautifully proportioned open squares, with exuberant fountains, swathed in marble as centre pieces. Traffic barrels along the meandering sprawl of the waterfront. Lovers walk hand in hand under the splaying, splendid palms. They pass by dog walkers, clutches of excited school children, and hookers on lunch breaks, stopping in at the local tabac to pick up a paper and catch up on the latest world news. All human life is here in this fantastic bouillabaise of a town. In a city noted for it’s sumptuous and diverse cuisine, the only thing not on the menu is sheer boredom.
Cannes is not a city that has to shout and scream about it’s virtues, real or imagined. They are there for all to see; as evident as the aroma of Chanel, or the chilled perfection of Moet et Chandon And- over the top travel tip- if you really want to push the boat out (as it were) treat yourself to a glass or two of bubbly on the impossibly glamorous terrace of the Carlton Hotel, with its matchless views out over the sun kissed briny. The bill may induce a coronary in your bank manager but hey- you’re like L’Oreal. You’re worth it. It truly is one of those heady, once in a lifetime experiences you’ll never forget. And if you’d prefer a sweet, simple ice cold beer, they will serve you just as happily, and at a much cheaper price. Either is Heaven on a beautiful spring day, or in the last, mellow flush of the autumn sun.
Getting there? For Cannes, the nearest airport is Nice, about an hour away. Most of the major airlines fly here but, in most cases, you will need to change planes, either in Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Heathrow. Or you could do it old style, and relive memories of the legendary Blue Train, and travel across France by rail on the Eurostar/TGV connection. This runs from the UK and Belgium.
Cannes is one cool, classy act; smartly dressed and effortlessly chic, she still has a flirtatious, freewheeling vibe that makes her a compelling date for a few days. Come with an open mind, and don’t forget to pack your humour and your sense of wonder. Both of those will enjoy the stay as well. Bon Voyage!