Click here for a special story about my experience at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002
When one hears "Cannes", the first thought probably entering the mind would be its famous Film Festival. While the Film Festival was certainly Cannes' main attraction, it was far from the only one. For the other 353 days in the year, Cannes was still more than just another city on France's Cote d'Azur (the "French Riviera"). It had it all -- beautiful scenery, excellent seafood, wonderful islands to hop, and extraordinary beaches with semi-tropical weather most of the year. It was a place worth visiting any time of the year!
Many do, and not just for the beaches. Cannes' extraordinary convention center, Le Palais des Festivals, maintained a busy schedule of conferences and other events when the film industry wasn't taking over the city. It also hosted the city's largest casino, always a popular draw. The Palais sat on a peninsula between the Old Port and the beach. It can be seen in the upper center of the first photograph, consisting of the white "ring" structure and the set of large buildings left of it. Surrounding the Palais landside was a huge number of hotels, cafes, and restaurants to handle the large numbers of visitors the city gets each year.
But make no mistake, the Film Festival was the city's premier event, and she flaunted it. For example, the walkways around the Palais had inlaid handprints displays like the ones in the second photo. I believe these prints were made in colored brick at far back as the 1980s, with the person's signature etched nearby. I encountered numerous such displays, each containing a half-dozen or so prints. I found a number of movie stars and personalities I recognized. Seeking them was like a game, and I wasn't the only one playing it the day I was there.
Cannes was definitely a place to find food. The beach, known as the Croisette, had over a dozen extraordinary restaurants. Eateries of all sizes, tastes, and budgets lined the waterfront. While each had a restaurant building inland, some of them had prime seating out on a dock going out to sea. By prime seating, I meant that the price for the romantic seaside venue was virtually double what one would have paid in the restaurant, perhaps because I was there on a Film Festival Day. Several of Cannes' grand hotels were also found along the Croisette. They include the Hotel Martinez (where a number of stars stayed during the Film Festival) and the Hotel Carlton, shown in the third photo with a Festival billboard in the foreground.
But there was a lot more to see in Cannes, and I didn't have to go very far to find it. For instance, Cannes had several beautiful museums. The most prominent was the Musée de la Castre shown in the fourth photograph, sitting in the former Castle of Cannes perched high above the city on the hill known as Le Suquet. This museum had exhibits of archaeological finds from across the world and a gallery of local artwork. I climbed the 12th Century tower and got the grand view of the city that I show in the first photograph. Other city museums were scattered around town, while the Musée de la Mer resided in the Old Fort, perched on a tall cliff on the Island of Saint Marguerite not far from shore.
Saint Marguerite was one of the Lérin Islands (Les Îles de Lérins) just off the shore, though time (and weather) didn't permit me the opportunity to see them. They were readily accessible by ferry from Cannes' Old Port. Saint Marguerite was the fortress island, with the Old Fort and several battlements constructed around its perimeter. By contrast the sister island, Saint Honorat, served a more peaceful purpose, housing an old abbey and several historic chapels.
If I were to recommend a walking tour of the city, it would begin at the Castle and a climb to the Tower. Then I would walk around the Old Port and visit the Quais Laubeuf and de Large to catch a bit of the city's history. Then I would pass the Palais and follow the Croisette to the Port Pierre Canto to gawk at the hundreds of huge, beautiful yachts parked in the harbor. Then, as the sun warmed the afternoon, work back across the Croisette slowly to enjoy a cool drink on the beach every so often. Be sure to walk all the way to the end and take in the massive flower gardens at the Pont du Alexandre. They were magnificent.
While the visitors often came for the big events, the locals were likely to engage in other pursuits. During my visit, I had the opportunity to witness a very intense boules tournament (the Italians call it 'bocce'). Compared with the manicured and well-dressed Film Festival denizens, the locals were quite down-to-Earth, ordinary people just happen to sip some quality red wine and blast an opposing metal ball into the next area code.
Cannes was a great place to visit, and ought to be considered even if one wasn't going there for the Film Festival. (Heck, I don't think there's a bad place anywhere on the Riviera.) It was conveniently located just a 45-minute train ride away from Nice, and just another ten minutes to Monaco. I had a terrific time, if only I could have actually gotten in the Film Festival itself!
Trip Taken 2-3 June 2002 -- Last Updated 04 October 2006 -- (C) 2006 Tom Galvin
Also, click here for a special story about my experience at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002