Harbour in Cannes
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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: "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 -- insisting the French Riviera resort offers little to visitors apart from luxury brand shopping and a day at the beach. But given a chance, Cannes does deliver. Granted, the Palais des Festivals, which houses the International Film Festival, looks like a no-name warehouse, and its signature red carpet is absent except during the festival's annual 10-day run in May, so there is a sense of a let-down. But dig deeper and you'll uncover some rich history, fabulous food, a modest and sweet Old Town called Le Suquet, and La Croisette, a glitzy palm tree-lined boulevard that makes up for the missing red carpet.
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Other Western Mediterranean Cruise Ports:
Barcelona • Cannes • Capri • Corsica (Ajaccio) • Elba • Florence (Livorno) • Fuerteventura • Genoa • Gibraltar • Ibiza • La Coruna • La Palma • Lanzarote • Las Palmas • Lisbon • Madeira (Funchal) • Malaga • Malta (Valletta) • Marseille • Monaco • Naples • Nice • Palermo • Palma de Mallorca • Portofino • Positano (Amalfi) • Rome (Civitavecchia) • Saint-Tropez • Sardinia • Sete • Seville (Cadiz) • Sorrento • Taormina (Messina) • Tenerife • Tunis (La Goulette) • Venice • Villefranche
For officially sanctioned souvenirs of the Cannes Film Festival, check out the boutique in the Cannes Tourist Office at the start of Boulevard de la Croisette, just across from the Majestic Barriere hotel. Locally produced items found in the city's many shops include woven baskets, lavender sachets, Provencal fabrics and wines of the region.
French, of course, though English is widely spoken in hotels and deluxe stores.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the euro. For currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. The cheapest and easiest way to get cash is to use your debit card at an ATM. There is a conveniently located ATM at Banque de France (8 boulevard de la Croisette).
Where You're Docked
Cannes is a tender port. Tenders arrive at a terrific location within easy walking distance of everything you'll want to see: shops, restaurants and the historic center of town. You'll find restrooms at the tender dock.
Cannes is an eminently walkable city, very compact, and everything that's a must-see is located within a few blocks. It's as simple as this: Just walk to the promenade from the tender dock, turn right and you'll bump into everything on your to-do list.
The tourist information office is located on the ground floor of Palais des Festivals (1 boulevard de la Croisette), about five blocks from the tender dock. You can pick up a map and brochures there and arrange independent shore excursions. It's open daily: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the summer, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. the rest of the year. There are no toilets at the tourist office.
If you want an alternative to walking, a neat trolley service, Le Train du Cinema, departs regularly from La Croisette, just past the film festival headquarters across from the Majestic hotel. It offers three tours: La Croisette (35 minutes) and Le Suquet (35 minutes) and a combination hour-long ride. The tours, with commentary in English and other languages, depart year-round, from 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Other transportation options include taxis and the city bus. The taxi stand closest to the tender dock is located next to Caffe Roma on La Croisette across from the Palais des Festivals. Taxis tend to be expensive. A 10 percent gratuity is the norm on top of the fare. The No. 8 bus, on the other hand, is quite cheap. It departs from the dock and travels the seafront until the boulevard ends at Palm Beach and its casino, the oldest casino in Cannes. The roundtrip ride takes about 40 minutes and does not include Old Town.
Passengers interested in do-it-yourself touring outside of Cannes will find two rental car agencies in the town center. Thrifty and Hertz are both located at 147 rue d'Antibes, about a 15-minute walk from the dock. Reservations can be made online. The rental agencies are closed from noon to 2 p.m. for lunch.
Watch Out For
Cannes is a tourist town -- and where there are tourists, pickpockets will lurk. Take the proper precautions. Also, much of Old Town is hilly with cobblestones, so wear comfortable shoes.
The elegant Boulevard de la Croisette 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. During the film festival, when the jet set descends, the royal suite in the Majestic goes for 40,000 euros a night. Sublime, sandy beaches are attached to the hotels, but you must pay admission. Prices are listed at access points on the promenade. A small slice of public beach is located behind the Palais des Festivals. All manner of luxury brands call La Croisette home -- Cartier, Fendi, Escada, Jean Paul Gaultier, Ferragamo, Dolce & Gabbana, and Vuitton, among others. If you see a "Cannes Prestige" sign in the window, it signifies the promise of over-the-top service and at least one English-speaking sales associate.
Just walk uphill, and you'll reach Le Suquet, the town's historic center. The maze of about 10 narrow streets and alleyways, most of them pedestrian-only, overlooks the west end of the old port. Follow rue Saint-Antoine uphill for the best views in town. Among the sights: St. Anne's chapel, dating to the 12th century; Notre-Dame d'Esperance, a gothic church built in the 17th century; and the Castre Museum. The museum, closed Mondays, is housed in the remains of a medieval castle and features Oriental art and antiquities as well as a collection of 19th-century paintings of Cannes and the French Riviera. At the foot of Le Suquet, the famous Forville market offers a gourmet pilgrimage through the flavors of southern France. The covered market, built in 1870, is open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day except Monday when it converts to an antiques market.
Cannes evolved into an internationally known resort and film capital in large measure because of 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. No visit to Cannes would be complete without a look at the statue of Brougham in the Allees de la Liberte square, which is also home to a flower market, and nearby, a flea market selling everything from sterling silver and antique linens to inexpensive jewelry and movie posters.
Cannes is also 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 to the port just a few streets uphill, is a colorful pedestrian-only zone with shops selling hats, clothing, wine and cheese, roasted chicken and local products like handcrafted shoes and the ubiquitous lavender sachets. Most stores accept major credit cards. (General opening hours are Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.)
Been There, Done That
Outside Palais des Festivals is Allee des Stars, Cannes' version of Hollywood's Walk of Fame. No surprise that Cannes' "sister city" is Beverly Hills. There are handprints from more than 200 celebrities who have attended the film festival, including Laura Dern, Ben Gazzara, Sharon Stone and Timothy Dalton. Locals refer to the festival hall as "the bunker" and no wonder: It's an unattractive slab of concrete that failed to get prettier when a new wing was added in 2012. To engage in some boat lust, check out the mega-yachts docked next to the complex, which includes a casino, broadcasting studios, a theater and 2,300-seat auditorium.
The Lerins Islands, just off the Cannes coast, offer a great getaway -- and an opportunity to experience something wildly different than its glitzy neighbor. It is said that the forest of green oaks and eucalyptus on the two islands, Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat, are among the oldest in Europe. Marguerite, two miles long, is the larger of the islands and is best known as the prison of the Man in the Iron Mask. There is a nature trail, a fortress, a prison and a marine museum, which opens daily at 10:30 a.m. Honorat has been the site of a monastery since the 5th century, and the monks there welcome visitors. A shop at the monastery sells wine, honey and a liqueur called Lerina -- all produced in-house. Water taxis depart for the islands from the tender dock multiple times a day year-round.
From Cannes, you can rent a car and sample nearby coastal towns like Antibes and Cap d'Antibes, as well as inland villages like Grasse and Saint Paul de Vence, in a day's time because everything is within an hour's drive. Closest to Cannes, roughly five miles away, is Antibes, known for its renovated Picasso Museum. (Place Mariejol; +33 (0)4 92 90 54 28; open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m., but hours may vary.) Cap d'Antibes, adjacent to Antibes, is a lush peninsula with luxury mansions, sparkling hotels and botanical gardens. Grasse, less than 15 miles from Cannes is famous for its leather goods and perfume industry. France's three largest, oldest and most prominent perfumeries still produce their fragrances there. The factories are open to visitors. Lastly, Saint Paul de Vence is a small, tucked-away 16th-century village that has long been a refuge for artists, art collectors and art lovers.
It's hard to go wrong in Cannes when your stomach starts to growl. Local specialties include bouillabaisse, a fish soup; tapenade; aioli, a mayonnaise made from garlic, egg yolk and olive oil; salade Nicoise; and socca, a chickpea flatbread. The French lunch is often a three-course affair. Be mindful that the meal is typically served from roughly noon to 2 p.m.
Auberge Provencale is the oldest restaurant in Cannes, and it's a favorite of media and film people. It's easy to understand why. Auberge Provencale has been known since 1860 for its rustic and traditional French food, and specialties include bouillabaisse for two, slowly cooked duck with a creamy tapenade, and a beef filet with mashed potato truffle and bearnaise sauce. You can order by the entree or select the three-course fixed-price menu. From its timbered ceiling to its stylish paintings, the restaurant exudes charm. One thing is for sure: You won't go away hungry. Prices range from moderate to expensive. (10 rue Saint Antoine in Old Town; open daily, noon to 2:30 p.m.)
Another locals favorite, Aux Bon Enfants, is an old-style cantina near the Forville market that serves traditional favorites like chargrilled veal kidney, grilled swordfish, calf's head and cod with Nicoise sauce in traditional crockery. Wine is served in pitchers. The third-generation eatery offers festive indoor seating, and in summer, its outdoor terrace opens up on the popular rue Meynadier. Prices are inexpensive. Cash only. (80 rue Meynadier; open for lunch from noon to 2 p.m.)
For star gazing, the lobby bar at the Intercontinental Carlton is a good perch. Much of the Grace Kelly classic "To Catch a Thief" was shot at the Belle Epoque hotel, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2013. The handsome lobby has nice views of the sea as well as the occasional star. Tea time features tea or hot chocolate and assorted pastries. There is also a robust all-day menu that includes salads, sandwiches and specialties such as duck foie gras and the day's "fresh catch." (58 La Croisette; lobby open from noon to 2 a.m., tea time from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily)
Staying in Touch
The most convenient Internet cafe is Web Center, a five-block walk north of the tourist office (26 rue Hoche; call 04 93 68 72 37 for hours). Just around the corner from the Carlton hotel is Dream Cyber-Cafe (6 rue Commandant Videl; open daily from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.). There is also a free Wi-Fi site next to the Hotel DeVille square, a few blocks from the tender dock. Many cafes also offer free Wi-Fi.
Best for First-Timers: Nothing beats a guided walking tour of Cannes, which includes the Palace des Festivals, a stroll along La Croisette, a wander into the Forville market and a walk up to Old Town. There, you will find a long tree-lined terrace offering a beautiful view of the city, the harbor, the sea and Sainte-Marguerite Island. The walking tour covers approximately three miles of uneven streets and several uphill inclines. It lasts about three hours.
Best for Romantics: The bus tour to ancient Frejus and the popular resort of Saint-Raphael includes a scenic drive along the Corniche d'Or, Golden Coast, a cliff road offering one of the most beautiful landscapes in all of the French Riviera. There are sweeping panoramic views of red rock mountains framing the brilliant blue sea. Many come to this tucked away corner of Provence to escape the summertime crowds in Cannes and Saint-Tropez in favor of relatively unspoiled natural beauty.
Best for History Buffs: Saint Paul de Vence, with intact city wall ramparts, is one of the oldest medieval villages in France -- and it's also a shopping mecca (a tasteful one) with art galleries, boutiques, artists' studios and antique shops. Built in the 16th century, the walled-in village is located on a rocky spur in the French countryside. Since the 1920's, it has been a favorite destination of artists, illustrators, writers and entertainers, and artist Marc Chagall is buried there. It's a one-hour drive from Cannes, and a half-day excursion includes a guided tour of the village and the cemetery, with free time for shopping.
For More Information
On the Web: Cannes Tourism
Cruise Critic Message Boards: France ports
IndependentTraveler.com: Europe travel guide.
-- by Ellen Uzelac, Cruise Critic contributor