Poor Cannes, so underappreciated.
Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, California: "There's no there there." Cannes, sadly, seems to suffer from a similar character flaw. Consider this arch comment from travelmeister Rick Steves in his 2006 guide, Provence & The French Riviera: "Cannes has nothing unique to offer the traveler, except a mostly off-limits film festival. You can buy an ice cream cone at the train station and see everything before you've had your last lick."
Clearly, Steves has no affinity for Cannes' je ne sais quois. But, given a chance, Cannes does deliver. Granted, the Palais des Festivals, which houses the International Film Festival, looks like some no-name warehouse, and its signature red carpet is absent except during the festival's run, so there is a sense of a let-down. But dig deeper and you'll uncover some rich history, a modest but sweet Old Town called Le Suquet, and La Croisette, a glitzy palm tree-lined boulevard that makes up for the missing red carpet.
Cannes Quick Facts
Boulevard de la Croisette just pumps with enthusiasm. If Cannes has a stage, this is it: a two-mile strip with grand hotels like the Majestic, the Carlton and the Martinez. Sublime, sandy beaches are attached to the hotels; yours for the price of admission. (Looking to rent a beach umbrella? It costs about 12 euros.) And glittering store windows with names like Cartier, Fendi, Escada, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Vuitton, just to name a few. If you see a "Cannes Prestige" sign in the window, it signifies the promise of over-the-top service and that at least one sales associate speaks English.
Just wander uphill, and you'll reach Le Suquet, the town's historic center. Narrow streets, like Rue Saint Antoine, wander up the hill, which overlooks the west end of the old port. Among the sights: St. Anne's chapel, dating back to the 12th century; the Castre Museum; and the church of Notre-Dame d'Esperance, built in the 17th century. This is where you'll experience the best views in town.
Cannes evolved into a world-known resort and film capital in large measure due to Lord Henry Peter Brougham, a Grand Chancellor of England who became smitten with the tiny Riviera outpost in 1834. Brougham became a poster boy for his adopted home, leading its development and talking it up among the English aristocracy. Now, primarily known as the host of the International Film Festival, Cannes absolutely erupts during the festival, and it's no wonder when you consider the next two statistics: 900 screenings and 30,000 movie professionals will be in attendance of the invitation-only 60th film festival, which will take place May 16 - 27, 2007.
A shopper's paradise, La Croisette and Rue d'Antibes are where you will find the luxury boutiques and art galleries. The six-block-long Rue Meynadier, which runs parallel from the port just a few streets uphill, is a colorful pedestrian-only zone with shops selling hats, clothing, wine and cheese, roast chicken and local crafts like the ubiquitous lavender sachets.
Saturdays, under the trees across from the port, there's a flea market selling everything from sterling silver and antique linens to inexpensive trinkets and movie posters. The daily market, where local farmers and fishermen sell their wares, takes place at Forville, two blocks inland from the Hotel de Ville on Rue Felix Faure. It converts to a flea market on Mondays.
French, of course, though English is widely spoken in the hotels and deluxe shops.
It's so simple. All you need is a comfortable pair of walking shoes.
Where You're Docked
You couldn't ask for a better location. Just across the boulevard from the port is everything you'll want to see: shops, restaurants and the historic center of town.
Staying in Touch
Dre@m Cyber Cafe (6 Rue Commandant Vidal), open daily 10 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Asher (44 Bd. Carnot), open daily 9:30 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Cafes, bakeries, restaurants -- it's hard to go wrong in Cannes when your stomach starts to growl. To soak in the ambience, consider afternoon cocktails at Le Carlton or Le Martinez, two legendary luxury hotels on Croisette. (Even Rick Steves likes the bar and cafe at Le Carlton, distinguished by its two domes.)
For something more rustic and of the region, try Rue Meynadier, which is dotted with cafes offering up local fare like duck, carpaccio de boeuf and specialty chevre cremeaux. The Rue Saint Antoine, leading up to Le Suquet, also has some cozy restaurants. Generally, lunch is served from mid-day to about to 3 p.m.
Another popular spot: the restaurant on the top floor of the Sofitel Mediterranee, just across from the port. It's got great views of the Cannes bay and is known for its regional specialties and a decent fish and vegetarian menu. It's open daily from 12:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
A typical shore excursion includes a ride through Cannes, with a brief stop for shopping on Croisette, followed by a visit inland to such destinations as Grasse, the birthplace of the French perfume industry or St. Paul de Vence, a charming 16th-century walled-in village.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the euro. Visit www.xe.com for up-to-the-minute exchange rates. The cheapest and easiest way to get cash is to use your debit card at an ATM.
Logistically speaking, Cannes could not be a smoother port of call. Ships anchor just off the Old Port (or Vieux-Port), then ferry passengers in by tender right into the town center. It's an eminently walkable city, very compact, and everything that's a must-see is, literally, within a few blocks. It's as simple as this: Basically, just walk to the promenade from the port, turn right and you'll bump into everything you want to see.
There's also a neat trolley service, Le Tour de Cannes en Petit Train, that departs regularly from Croisette, across from the Majestic hotel. It offers three tours: La Croisette (30 minutes) and Le Suquet (30 minutes) and a combination hour-long ride. Each of the first two tours, with commentary in English and other languages, costs six euros for adults and three euros for kids 10 and younger. The combination tour costs nine euros and five euros, respectively. Tours depart year round, from 10 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Editor's Note: The tourist information office is located near the trolley stop, next to the Festival Hall. You can pick up a map and brochures there and arrange for shore excursions. It's open daily: 9 a.m. - 8 p.m during the summer, and 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. throughout the rest of the year.
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