Chic pavement cafés, markets bursting with fresh local produce and evocative historic haunts - there is more to the seaside city of Cannes than the summer dazzle
All that glitters is in Cannes. Playground of the rich, bronzed and famous during the summer, this glamorous Riviera resort dims to a sophisticated sparkle in autumn and winter as temperatures cool and the celebrity contingent yacht-off for another season. Make the most of the calm (and low season prices), to experience the Côte d’Azur as the locals do, from the old quarter of Le Suquet and the chic shops on Rue d’Antibes, to the early-morning market of Forville.
What to do
Start with a morning stroll along the seafront boulevard of La Croisette, lined with historic palatial hotels. Look out for the art deco Hotel Martinez, stunning 19th-century La Malmaison and iconic Carlton International – whose towering gilt cupolas were inspired by the breasts of famous French courtesan, La Belle Otero.
You don’t need to be a millionaire to breathe in the crisp sea air and absorb glorious views across the bay, but start walking towards Rue d’Antibes and cash will certainly come in handy. The famous shopping strip is saturated with designer names, such as Bulgari, Louis Vuitton and Chanel.
For a more mellow taste of the city, head to Rue Meynadier: its pavement cafés and speciality craft shops are a welcome relief from the glitz of the new town and lead to the charming fishing village of Le Suquet. Perched on a hill above the Vieux Port, its crowning glory is the magnificent castle. Built by Îles de Lérins monks during the 11th century, it is now home to the Musée de la Castre. Old prints of Cannes sit alongside a collection of musical instruments from around the world, although the museum is worth visiting for the sea views alone. For a further glimpse of the city’s past, the 12th-century Chapelle de Ste Anne and Gothic-style Notre Dame de l’Espérance are both nearby.
And, if you still have the energy, end your day in style with a ballet performance at the Palais des Festivals (www.palaisdesfestivals.com); the events schedule is bursting all year round.
Where to stay
The place to be seen, Hotel Martinez is the king of La Croisette. Recently renovated, the bright white exterior and clean monochrome décor add an element of chic modernity to this lavish treasure. It's renowned for offering some of the most luxurious rooms in Cannes, but prices are reduced by up to a quarter during low season. For a brave departure from the popular waterfront accommodation, try the design-led 3.14 Hotel, complete with rooftop swimming pool and swish cocktail bar. Each floor represents a different continent, from the opulent silks of Asia, to the bohemian grandeur of the European rooms. Altogether more homely is Le Chanteclair in Le Suquet. The 15 simple rooms are set around a charming courtyard.
Where to eat and drink
Follow your nose through Forville market in Le Suquet, taking in the colours and aromas of its bountiful Mediterranean produce – from locally caught fish to fresh vegetables, fruit, flowers and herbs (Tue-Sun, 7.30am-1pm). Just a stone’s throw from the market is Mantel (00 33 4 93 39 13 10; www.restaurantmantel.fr), serving seasonal Provençal dishes. Their signature crêpe suzette is certainly worth sampling.
If it’s fresh seafood you’re after, nothing beats the world-renowned Astoux et Brun (00 33 4 93 39 21 87; www.astouxbrun.com), a Cannes institution; dine out on oysters by the dozen, seafood platters, scallops, mussels and delicious fish casserole.
Relax after an afternoon’s shopping at Le Comptoir des Vins (00 33 4 93 68 13 26; Boulevard de la République). Select a bottle from one of 500 French wine producers; local charcuterie and a selection of regional cheeses provide the perfect accompaniment.
Time running out?
Indulge your sweet tooth and pop into La Tarterie (00 33 4 93 39 67 43; Bivouac-Napoléon). Spacious, elegant and situated conveniently close to La Croisette, this modern salon de thé remains a firm Cannes favourite.
The picturesque island of St Honorat is just a 15-minute ferry ride away. Visit the medieval and 19th-century abbey buildings, cloisters and 11th-century fortress. Run by the 28 Cistercian monks who live on the island, there is a shop selling spirits, wine and honey – all of which are produced by the small monastic community (www.abbayedelerins.com). Boats depart regularly from the Vieux Port.
Currency is the euro. Cannes is one hour ahead of GMT and the nearest airport is Nice, a two-hour flight from London. The train from Nice to Cannes takes 30-40 minutes and departs every 20 minutes.
Eurostar (0870 518 6186; www.eurostar.com) has regular departures from London St Pancras to Paris, where passengers can transfer to a high-speed TGV to Cannes (eight-hours 25-minutes).
SNCF Trains: visit www.sncf.co.uk to find timetables for travel within France.
Cannes Tourist Bureau: 00 33 4 92 99 84 22; www.cannes.com.
This guide first appeared in Food and Travel magazine.