Cannes is located on the French Riviera, which in itself conjures images of mellow breezes, glittering white sand, and lazy sunsets. But because of the city’s association with the yearly gathering of international stars, the city has an air of chic sophistication around it.
As I watched the wake of the dazzling annual film festival, I felt that the event was merely an icing atop the luxurious and historic cake that is the French city. Outside the glamorous lights and the red carpet, tourists and locals alike enjoy the relaxing atmosphere on the beaches and by the sidewalks, in restaurants and in quaint coffee shops.
The city has been settled since 2 B.C., and it has been a point of contention among the Spanish, British, and French in the 18th century. As time passed, various structures have been built within its boundaries. These include grand villas that used to reflect the social importance of their owners. Many of them are still visible today, creating a distinct and endearing division between the monumental stones of old Cannes and the posh environs of the new, modern-day Cannes.
Because it is a favorite international hangout, Cannes has developed a bustling industry around tourism and commerce. As a resort town, it is famed for its beautiful beaches and pristine streets. As a haunt for celebrities and A-listers, it is also famous for upmarket shops and boutiques, imperial hotels, and other modern amenities. And there are lots of things to enjoy in Cannes. All you have to do is go on foot around both the old and new parts of the city.
Also called “Le Suquet”, the old town is a haven of traditional restaurants that serve gourmet cuisine. These are lined up along Rue Saint Antoine. Names like Le Manoir, Le Maschou, Le Saint-Antoine, and Le Méchant Loup will tug at your attention as you decide how to satisfy your palate. Beware, though as like most tourist places, there are tourist traps you have to avoid.
For specialty shops, head over to Rue Meynadier. The street is also chock-full of bakeries and cafes, to complement the authentic French experience. Boutiques also abound, and if you are looking to shop for souvenirs this is a good place to start. That is, provided you are not as concerned about the price of the items you will be taking home.
One place in the old town that offers a scenic treat is the Place de la Castre, where a grand view of the Cannes bay awaits. For a taste of the medieval, go to the Musée de la Castre. This is a 19th-century castle and chapel that has been transformed into a museum. Aside from landscape art of the Riviera, there are also lots of period items on display. Another must-see is the Église Notre-Dame d’Espérance, which is located on a hilltop near La Castre. Completed in the 1600s, this Gothic stone church also offers a view of the famous bay.
From here, heading back down to modern Cannes is like a trip through a time tunnel. A good example is the Promenade de la Croisette, a 2-kilometer boulevard along the Mediterranean Sea. This length contains a good portion of the city’s luxury hotels, shops, and beaches. The palm-tree-lined beach fronts are perfect any time of the day, but you don’t need to take a dip to enjoy it. Simply sitting anywhere here, with a camera and some snacks in hand, can be a very relaxing experience. And if shopping is your thing — whether it be for clothes, trinkets, food, or anything — then you can spend your entire day here and still come back the next for more. Then again, hotels like the magnificent Carlton are just a few paces away wherever you may be in the promenade.
For those who want to have a more private beach experience, Cannes has a lot of private beaches also found around la Croisette. These include Midi Plage, which also boasts off a gourmet restaurant. Some of these beaches cost around 12 to 18 Euros per head. Other famous private beaches include the Belle Plage and the Royal Plage, which are all in neighborhood of each other.
If you are an admirer of French fashion, don’t miss the Rue d’Antibes, one of the most famous streets in the city. Shops of all shapes and sizes can be found here, crammed cozily in the street which harkens back from the olden times. Stylish boutiques (names like Zara and Sephora) fill every gap, with competitive prices that draw flocks of tourists. Despite the level of activity, the atmosphere isn’t crowded at all. There are also little restaurants around, so you won’t have to leave early.
Another must-visit is Rue Hoche, which like d’Antibes is bustling with shops, restaurants, and fashion boutiques. In addition, there are also hairdressers and interior design shops, in case you would like some authentic French ornament for your home. The narrow pedestrian street is right in the middle of the town centers’ heart, and is a short distance away from the Palais des Festivals.
The Palais des Festivals et des Congrès is the city’s major convention center, and the seat of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. This is the second building, with the first located in the site of the Promenade’s JW Marriott building. The 25,000 square meter expanse of the current building contains some of the most modern facilities in all of France. The biggest of the 18 auditoriums in the complex has a whopping seating capacity of 2,300. Of course, don’t miss the famous red carpet and staircase that has served as the backdrop for oh-so-many celebrity pictures.
Cannes really encapsulates the French charm within its streets. From the history of old France to its new direction as the spearhead of global arts, Cannes has everything you need to see. So pack up your bags – the quintessential French Riviera is waiting.