Cannes: beyond the red carpet

by Dan.Hipgrave

Yes, Cannes is best known for its ritzy annual film festival - but for the non-A-listers among us, it makes a great weekend break destination at any time of year

Cannes is famous for attracting the beautiful, glamorous and wealthy and no more so than during the annual film festival held each May, when the population of this small French town virtually triples as thousands of filmmakers, journalists and fans flock to the event. But, glitz and glamour aside, Cannes is also a great destination for those looking for good food, golden beaches and easy access from the UK. It’s a pretty port town with many faces to it.
To the east, along La Croisette, big glitzy hotels dominate the landscape, with exclusive restaurants and bars with fantastic views out to the beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea. It’s along this famous boulevard that you’ll likely spot celebs sipping on a margarita or the rich-elite walking their pristine poodles or swanning around the stylish boutiques. The immaculate beaches off La Croisette are lined with sun-loungers that will cost you a small fortune to rent for the day.
To the west is the pretty old town, with more competitively priced restaurants offering superb fresh seafood menus. The bars lean more towards beer than cocktails and the shopping is more high street than Sloane Street but overall it’s friendly and more casual than La Croisette. Like the whole of Cannes, the old town still holds an air of exclusivity, with superb views overlooking the large super-yachts docked in the picturesque Vieux-Port. This is also where the ferry leaves to the nearby Islands Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat, just one kilometer from the mainland.
The old town continues up La Suquet Hill just behind the port. The narrow streets of La Suquet are a great area to head in the evening when the candlelit restaurants and cosy bars are buzzing with people. The atmosphere in Suquet’s eateries is more laidback and the dress code more casual. You can walk off dinner with a stroll through the winding cobbled streets to the top of the hill, where you’ll eventually reach the Chateau de la Castre with marvellous panoramic views of Cannes and beyond. 

Where to stay

My hotel was the Sofitel Cannes Le Mediterranee, overlooking the old port on Boulevard Jean Hibert. Unlike some of the other well-known chain hotels in Cannes, Le Mediterranee is relatively small, offering a more boutique-style service. The grand marble entrance is indicative of Cannes’ chic style and the Chez Panisse bistro/bar attached to the side is wonderfully French. The pièce de résistance, however, is the rooftop terrace, with unbelievable views and swimming pool. Its location is also very good with only a short walk to the bars and restaurant of the old town and La Croisette. City-view rooms start from c€205, based on double occupancy.
For something even more glamorous try the legendary Majestic Barriere. This hotel epitomizes Cannes, with lashings of marble, crystal chandeliers, oriental carpets, Louis XV silk furniture and colossal vases with fresh flowers. As you can imagine such extravagance and glamour has attracted some of the biggest stars in the world, like Harrison Ford and Robert de Niro.
On a budget? The Appia Hotel is about 200m from the beaches and palm trees of La Croisette, the Palais des Festivals and the train station, and 20m from the shops of the Rue d`Antibes. It’s a basic two-star but relatively comfortable. Rooms start at around €45. 

What to do

After you’ve finished tanning and celebrity-stalking, Cannes has plenty of culture to discover. At the summit of La Suquet Hill, inside the Chateau de la Castre, you’ll find a great museum exhibiting primitive art and Mediterranean antiques. It’s open every day except Mondays and is €4 entry. Next door is the Chapelle de Sainte-Anne, a 12th-century chapel, displaying musical instruments from all over the world.
A small ferry runs once an hour to the two nearby islands for 11 euros return. The first island, Sainte-Marguerite, is nearest to the mainland and is covered by a lovely forest of Aleppo pine and eucalyptus, with wide paths criss-crossing the length and breadth. Give yourself a couple of hours at least to explore or to find a nice little shady area for a picnic. The island’s big draw is the17th-century prison where the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask was incarcerated. An eerie replica of the mask hangs over the main entrance, setting a spooky tone for the rest of the tour of the barren prison cells.
The second island, Saint Honorat, the smaller of the two, is a quiet, calm place to visit. Walks are more limited here but you can visit the pretty abbey belonging to Cistercian monks. Much of it is surprisingly modern, with the exception of the ruins of the 11th-century monastery on the sea’s edge. A rule of silence around the monastery and a rule of quiet for the island are asked. The monks organise tours of the island and try to sell their produce to tourists, including homemade honey and lavender oil. But it was the wine that took my interest: if you’re seriously interested in buying a bottle, the monks welcome you to try some, It’s delicious and sells for around €35 a bottle. 


Most restaurants in Cannes are of a high standard, with a strong emphasis on provincial French cooking - but expect to pay high prices. Along La Croissete, in the Hotel Martinez, is the extremely stylish La Palme d'Or restaurant. The contemporary art deco interior and delicious modern Mediterranean menu make you feel a million dollars. And you’ll need that kind of cash to eat here – the turbot main course is €190! On the Suquet Hill prices come down a little, with most restaurants offering three-course set menus priced anything from €26 to €54. I enjoyed a top-notch meal of fois gras and a main course of scallops in restaurant Le Marais for €40 with wine. 


As you can imagine, Cannes is full of swanky bars and clubs. During the film festival, A-listers such as George Clooney and Brad Pitt can be regularly spotted enjoying a Bellini or two. In the heart of the Croisette is the swanky bar Caliente - come the early hours, it's packed to the rafters with a good-looking crowd downing South American cocktails to the sounds of samba and salsa. When you need a cool-down, get yourself a Cuba Libra (€12) and head to the terrace. It’s all very trendy!  

Getting there

EasyJet flies to Nice from Belfast, Bristol, Liverpool, London Gatwick, London Luton, London Stansted and Newcastle with prices from c£19.99 one-way (including taxes) and return from £36.36 (including taxes).