Cannes has long been the stomping ground for the rich and famous especially during its annual international film festival, which is now approaching its 73rd year.
Aside from the glitz, glamour, parties, red carpets and the luxurious shopping outlets, there is much more to experience in this resort town on the French Riviera.
A trip to Cannes can be a gateway to other nearby hidden gems as I discovered during my weekend getaway. My first port of call was to head to the Quai Laubeuf Pier where I hopped on board a ferry to the Lérins Islands, a group of four Mediterranean islands off the coast of the Côte d’Azur.
My destination is Saint-Honorat, an offshore island that has been inhabited by a small community of Cistercian monks since the 5th century. The exclusive sanctuary is only accessible by a ferry based service operated by local residents.
As we set sail we leave behind the Bay of Cannes and head into the turquoise hues of the Mediterranean Sea. The 15 minute journey is picture-perfect – we drift across the sun-drenched ocean while passing by million-pound yachts’ anchoring away from the island coast.
Upon disembarking the ferry we made our way towards what seemed to be a secluded natural oasis. Other than the sounds of our feet treading on stones it was a tranquillity of silence. Fellow visitors nod and speak in small whispers as they pass each other by.
While I was eager to spot a monk, there weren’t any in sight, which in the end was ok as it’s easy to go on your own voyage of discovery on these holy grounds. Except for the monastery, where the monks live, visitors have free roaming rights with no distractions to all of Saint-Honorat’s winding paths, luscious green natural coves and hidden beaches.
The 10th century Gothic style chapel is tucked away on the site but its doors are always open for both the curious and those who seek solitude. The chapel’s tour is self-contained with welcome booklets providing the historical background on the compound and the monks.
In the distance of the chapel looms the fortified monastery of Lerins Abbey, which was by far my favourite part, as it looks like it’s been taken right out of an episode of Game of Thrones. This open-aired 11th-century ruin is very much intact, offers shade from the sun and you can hike to the top of the structure, where you’ll be greeted with a 360° panoramic view of Saint-Honorat.
Another real dime to experience on the island is the monastery’s wine tasting tour, which may sound like a joke. But the local monks at Saint-Honorat are traditionally winemakers and have been vinifying on the island since the middle ages.
Currently, the monks are producing some of the region’s finest wine and liqueurs, with some dating back 150 years. I had more insight into their production as we met our tour guide Esmeralda on the eight-hectare wine estate.
During the wine tasting session there was tipple for every taste bud, the full-bodied 2014 Saint-Honorat Shiraz followed by the crispy and fruity Chardonnay Grande Cuvée. Needless to say I left the island feeling relaxed and a tad bit merry.
Cannes started to smell much sweeter as I headed to the Fragonard Parfumeur La Fabrique des Fleurs factory in Grasse. Located in the hills, north of Cannes, the area is known for its long-established perfume industry and is popular with both locals and enthusiasts.
Once inside, guests can have a guided tour in English to see how the factory creates its perfumes. I had the chance to put my senses to work as I concocted my own sweet smell of success.
After a busy morning it was back to the decadence of Cannes, where all the action seemed to be taking place in the Boulevard de la Croisette. Also known as the jewel of Cannes it curves along the coast and is lined with sandy beaches, upmarket boutiques and palatial hotels.
To escape the glamorous mayhem I head to Palais Stéphanie, the biggest private beach club on the French Riviera. Hidden away from the crowds I found myself lounging on a sunbed facing the view of the Mediterranean Sea while the resident DJ played sun-kissed grooves
With food and cocktails being delivered to my sunbed, I didn’t move for hours. It was the perfect spot to relax and watch the sun go down on Cannes.
Having reached my zen level requirement for the day it was tempting to head back to my hotel and sleep but that would have been boring as Cannes has a sophisticated nightlife.
The town comes into swing as a party destination from August with events such as Les Plages Electroniques, transforming the city into a clubbing hotspot.
Each year over 36,000 festival-goers attend this music festival – with parties taking place on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, the Beach, the Terrace, and of course, the Croisette. All the venues pave the way and become the stomping grounds for the best DJs and performers in the electronic scene.
Previous years have seen headline acts such as Major Lazer, DJ Snake and Kygo leave their mark in Les Plages Électroniques hall of fame. Consider yourself lucky if you get to experience this famous French gathering.
No trip to Cannes is complete without a culinary adventure at one its many esteemed eateries. Like most places in France alfresco dining is heavily a part of the food culture of the Cote d’Azur.
I went for lunch at La Sousta, which is beautifully positioned at the feet of Le Suquet, Cannes’ Old Town, on Rue du Pre. In this part of Cannes you can get an authentic and less commercialised glimpse of the traditional Provençal lifestyle.
The owner, Philippe, was welcoming and friendly and did his best to explain and make recommendations from the menu, which is only in French.
The list featured cuisines that showcased fresh ingredients from the south of France. I had the Bourride de la mer, a delightful traditional dish that includes monkfish, seafood, aromatic garnish and the famous aioli coming on the side.
Compared to other restaurants at the Croisette the prices are more than reasonable with main dishes costing around 16 euros.
Once you’ve finished at La Sousta you can hop on board the Petit Train de Cannes (the little train in Cannes), which has Rue du Pre on its route. On this mini tour you can explore the rest of the old and new town with the added bonus of having commentary being provided on headphones, for 12 euros.
Another foodie hotspot near Le Suquet is the Marché Forville market, which has been in business since 1934. It’s the ideal place to experience a traditional French market and to do food shopping while in Cannes.
Exploring the different fresh food stalls was a sight to behold for my eyes – the rainbow of vendors were selling large and bright red ribbed tomatoes, vibrant green vegetables, yellow cheeses, cured meats, seafood, olive oil and flowers.
Visiting here is an ideal picnic stop before heading up to the Le Suquet, or down to the beach at the Croisette. On Mondays, you won’t find any food, but even more pleasingly you’ll find a flea market instead.
Where to stay:
I stayed at the OKKO hotel which is in the heart of Cannes and is situated 100 metres from Cannes Train Station and 550 yards from the Palais des Festivals . The hotel offers its guests a sun terrace and sauna, an on-site bar and a buffet-style restaurant. The classic room costs €199.00 based on one night’s stay.
How to get there:
Easy Jet offers flights to Nice from all London airports including Gatwick and Heathrow. Round trip prices for the weekend start from £218. When you arrive, you can either take the train or catch the 210 bus straight to the center of Cannes.
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