Cannes is quaint and glamorous and buzzing and serene, depending on when and where you go. It hosts so many events like the Cannes Film Festival, the advertising conference Cannes Lions and the television conference MIP so it can fill up with foreigners but the French Riviera seems to relax people into such a good mood that you don’t even mind the crowds. You can dismiss it as being only for red carpets, billionaires on yachts and pretentious holidaymakers who want to shop and be seen… but after having spent a lot of time in this little seaside town I think this appraisal is completely wrong. I found a little French town that has heart and humble eateries and quiet corners that will transport the romantic or the cinephile into a scene from another era. There are many towns along the Mediterranean coast that have lost all charm and only cater to tourists, where no local can afford to live there anymore so it feels like a ghost town. But in Cannes I found there is still a community of locals and an atmosphere of French life that pervades irrespective of the day-trippers. You can still find old gentlemen playing boules or petanque near the old port and in the Place de l’Étang. You can lick a lavender gelato as you wander down the Croissette and find two locals playing chess or a man in vintage attire sitting in one of the many chairs that line the shore, his dog by his side, a cigar and a newspaper in his hands and a delightful disregard for the Ferraris and stilettos that glide by him.
Marché Forville Food Market
5-11 Rue du Marché Forville
Start with this wonderful undercover food market. Every time I go here I find very few tourists and I always wonder why. I guess it’s not in an open square or on the main promenade. Cheeses, pastries, fruit, breads, chocolates, flowers. Even if you’re staying in a hotel and can’t cook at home, there are enough readymade tasty sweet and savoury snacks that you can buy takeaway and then you’re only two minutes from the water where you can find a bench with a view to have a little picnic.
16, Rue Bivouac Napoleon
I love love love this place and it’s my first stop for lunch when I’m working or rushing around in between meetings but want lunch that is delicious and healthy and fresh. They have a few little tables on the street or you can get your lunch to takeaway. Their baguettes are made fresh with mozzarella, basil, tomato or any filling that you prefer. They also have quinoa and vegetables and fresh fruit and vegetable juices. The prices are reasonable, the staff are always jovial no matter how long the line is out the door and it’s right in the centre, just off the Croissette.
Hire a Bike
YouRent Cannes, 22 Quai Saint-Pierre
Cannes is so flat that it is easy to ride around arguably the coolest and fastest way to travel around quickly in the heat of summer. Taxis can be expensive and can sit on the Croissette in traffic forever. A car is difficult to park. With a bike, I would zip from my boat over to the market and then up to a stretch of beach where I was completely alone for a picnic on the shore. The wide promenades make it easy for families or even the most inept cyclist to feel safe and relaxed pedalling around at a slower pace and admiring the view. Be sure to ask the guys at this rental shop for a bike with a basket so you can carry supplies home from the market.
The Intercontinental Carlton
My first impression of Cannes and the French Riviera was as a little girl watching Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in the classic film To Catch A Thief. The Carlton hotel features in this romantic story and I’d thought that perhaps it would ruin my fantasy seeing it in real life. On the contrary. Sure, there are lots of pretentious networking Hollywood types in meetings out on the terrace and there’s a photographer at the entrance ready to snap celebrity guests as they come out of the lobby. But the essence of this historic hotel is still magical for me. You may not be able to afford to stay as a guest but I think it’s worth spoiling yourself with a coffee or a cocktail just for the experience.
1 Square Mérimée
This is where I love to come in the morning and order a buttery croissant and an espresso (or three) while sitting at a little table out on the street people-watching. The chairs are a bit gaudy and the cafe itself is nothing special but the location and the quality of the pastries is perfect. This place is always busy and in the thick of it so you’re guaranteed lots of interesting little vignettes to watch if you’re having breakfast alone.
11 Rue des États-Unis
This hair salon does an amazing blow dry and is full of stylish local gossiping ladies. They have a lot of staff so you can usually get an appointment quite last minute but if I ever have to wait, there’s a super cute little cafe just across the road.
Where to Stay
You’re probably best renting an apartment and there are plenty of companies that provide self-contained homes or locals who vacate their apartment during peak seasons. I find Le Suquet, the old town, is a safe bet. It’s full of little gelato-coloured apartments with shuttered windows and it’s the perfect base so you can walk to dinner, to the beach and into the more modern part of town if you want to shop.