Forget what you know about Cannes. True, it stands out as the Cote d’Azur playground for the rich and famous. But on closer inspection, Cannes has lots more to offer than millionaire playboys, their live-in super-yacht crews and helicopter jet setters.
Surprisingly, Cannes is not as big as you might think; only 74,000 people live there all year round. But what it lacks in population, it more than makes up in red carpets, film festivals and sophisticated architecture.
What to see and do in Cannes
Cannes Old Town
Wandering around Cannes is a must. Head to the Old Town to the Musee de la Castre, (Le Suquet, 06400, Cannes) to take in the wealth of lovely old buildings, the castle, local cafes and charming boutiques.
Murs Peints - ‘The Painted Walls of Cannes’
The Municipality of Cannes decided that a few of its everyday buildings were not quite up to scratch, so they commissioned murals to be painted on a selection of walls across the city. The murals celebrate famous screen legends, singers, comic book heroes and adored French celebrities including James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Batman, amongst others. There are 14 locations to explore, which are all very walk-able over an afternoon. Plus, it’s a great way to see parts of the city off the typical tourists’ trail.
Cannes Waterfront and Boulevard Beaches
The Port of Cannes is a glitzy marina. But Cannes’ contradictions are reassuringly human. You can even enjoy a Segway tour if you’re brave enough and you have no shame! Somehow, Segway and Cannes doesn’t sound like a marriage made in Heaven, but watching tourists waving at each other while donning helmets and smiling knowingly is well worth a laugh!
The cafes and beachfront bars are worth checking out and are perfect for people-watching and glimpsing Cannes’ eccentric characters. As you take in the views of the super-yachts and tall-ships, which probably cost more than some countries GDP, you're enchanted by the sound of sails in the marina.
I was amazed to spot Indulgence, a boat from a local marina in Poole Harbour, near my home in Bournemouth! But, after a short walk past these skyscrapers-of-the-sea, you come across a selection of very friendly and professional ferry service providers that will escort you to a little-known island paradise, just a 20-minute's boat ride away, making it a must for intrepid explorers, history fans and lovers of fine, organically produced wine…
Ile Saint Honorat
Deemed 'an oasis of tranquility that's close to the hustle and bustle of Cannes', Ile Saint Honorat sits just a mile offshore from the Port of Cannes by ferry in the glorious sun-drenched Mediterranean. It is the largest of the four islands that make up the Lerins Islands. At just 1.5 kilometres long by 400 metres wide, you can explore the island in under a day, making it a must-visit destination. You can catch the ferry via Planaria.
To book a ferry, visit: http://www.cannes-ilesdelerins.com
Ile Sainte Marguerite
Ile Saint Honorat's sister island, Ile Sainte Marguerite, also drenched in history and intrigue, famously hosted the mysterious Man in The Iron Mask as prisoner from 1669 courtesy of Louis XIV. Many films have been released over the years about this fabled tale, including the 1998 version, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, Gerrad Depardieu, John Malcovitch and Gabriel Burns.
Ferry services to Il Sainte Marguerite also depart Cannes regularly.
La Tonnelle Restaurant and Cafe
La Tonnelle is the first place you come to once you disembark from the ferry. It’s a cafe and restaurant that opens every day year round. We didn’t eat here, unfortunately, but there is a lovely view of the harbour as you walk past the eatery that’s a perfect spot for a picnic and a glass or wine as there are public benches in the welcome shade, where you can take in the splendid views.
Le Chateau de ile Saint Honorat
The Castle of Ile Saint Honorat is more than 1,000 years old and is a 15-minute's walk from the dock. It still stands tall and strong today, having been expertly preserved and protected by the local municipality. Originally, it was built as a defence from the Spanish, Saracens, Genoese and pirates and marauders en route to the mainland. Remnants of conflict can still be seen today as evidenced by the World War II gun placements found across the island.
During one spell of its history, because the attacks were so frequent and violent in nature, the monks had to move their prayer and monastic rituals from the abbey to within its fortress walls. This adds a unique charm to the atmosphere of this now popular tourist attraction. Remarkably, the marble stone steps still glisten and are more than safe to walk to the ramparts where the 360-degree views are remarkable.
Not only can you spend time enjoying the wonder of the glistening sea on one side, but it also overlooks both Lerin's Abbey and the monk’s vineyards. While we were there, you could hear the bells ringing in the gentle breeze.
Where to stay in Cannes - The Okko Hotel
This chic 4-star hotel with its all-inclusive business concept, which gives every resident access to the top-floor Club and a five-star departure lounge where you can sunbathe, catch a movie or pour a free glass of wine, has turned Cannes’ cosy hotel market on its head.
The Okko is perfectly situated to get everywhere you need – be it beach, boutiques, brassieres or boats – all within a short 15-minute stroll. One of our favourite perks was the 24-hour help-yourself bistro offers the finest local produce to tantalise your taste buds.
Here, you are pretty much guaranteed a wonderful night sleep, thanks to blackout curtains and noise-cancelling windows that ensure a peaceful slumber. What’s more, the staff are friendly and accommodating and the view from the sun terrace over the city is sensational.
Rooms from £122 during peak season (July and August) including breakfast.
The Sound of Cannes
Inspired by my visit to Cannes, I’ve compiled a mix of jazz, electronica, unplugged acoustic and beach house featuring Nina Simone, Air, Roy Ayers, Toto, Dexter Wansel, Maxi Jazz, Grace Jones, Vanessa Paradis, Daft Punk, Bebel Gilberto, Gerado Frisina, Miguel Migs and Re:Jazz. Click play (below) to listen…
During my visit to Cannes I was hosted by @Visitcotedazur, Palais des Festivals et Des Congres Cannes and We Like Travel. All views and opinions are my own.
We've rounded our favourite places to inspire your visit to France.