Because You Cannes-Cannes-Cannes :: The Fabulous French Riviera
Recently, Travel Editor Jason Salzenstein headed to Cannes, on the French Riviera, in the south of France, for a bit of R&R. More importantly, he went to scope-out the best hotels, restaurants, beaches, and good times for EDGE readers. What he discovered was that while the classic glamour of the city is still in full swing, Cannes has also been "growing up," with more options for every vacationer. He also discovered that just outside the city lay some brilliant and beautiful towns full of a life of their own.
It seems that Cannes is not only the perfect beach town, but also a great base-camp for some diverse day trips.
Check out his report on Cannes, and make sure to check back in coming weeks for the scoop on the surrounding towns of Antibes, Juan Les Pins, Grasse, and Mougins...
Yes, you Cannes
Cannes is known first and foremost for hosting the world famous Festival du Cannes once a year, which brings major stars from around the world to this beautiful town to have their pictures taken, walk the red carpet, and look fabulous. With a long history as the preferred getaway spot for European royalty, wealthy tycoons, and the glamorous party crowd, for the past ten years Cannes has been evolving, and now offers an incredibly diverse mix of vacation activities and opportunities that rival any major city- while still managing to hang on to the excitement, sensuality and buzz that the town is known for.
Whether you want to sail a boat around the harbor, hike nearby mountains, check out local history, art, and cultural offerings, take in the official activities of the town (i.e. wear next to nothing, shop all day, drink Champagne and simply look fabulous), or just lie on the beach and get a tan, you’ll be happy here. Just outside of Cannes lie some incredibly diverse towns that are easy to get to, fun to explore, and make for incredible day- or weekend- trips (check back next week for three recommended excursions).
Cannes is much less expensive than Paris, and off-season (Nov-Feb) it’s even more reasonable. If you do your research and book ahead- no matter the season- you can always save some dough on hotels and airfare; Air France (the only way to get there, if you ask me) is always offering special deals- just sign up for their eNewsletters to get the inside scoop.
60 years of film
Cannes is most famous for their annual film festival, which draws celebrities and media from around the world. Last year marked the 60th anniversary of the festival, which was celebrated throughout the year with screenings, special events, and more.
If you’ve never been to Cannes- or if it’s been a few years- you should know that some fabulous transformations have taken place, and that the city keeps getting better and better. To be sure, the glitz and glamour is still there, but there’s also a new, younger, sexier style that’s recently been turning Cannes into the new hot spot on the Riviera. With this new "fabulosity," Cannes has been described as the French South Beach. Comparing Cannes to Miami’s hottest neighborhood, however, doesn’t do it justice; Cannes is much more exciting.
Being the French Riviera, Cannes will always be glamorous. And while the classic 4- and 4-star Luxe hotels (France’s hotel rating system doesn’t have 5-star) still reign supreme when it comes to service, style, and luxury, the younger, trendier crowd that’s now making Cannes the new hot-spot is demanding more contemporary, modern boutique hotels and services, and the industry is responding in a big way.
Next :: Where to sleep
The Hotel 3-14 is fabulous; the design is modern, with little ’warm touches’ that keep it from being too sterile. Decorated in a global style, each of the seven floors of the hotel represents a different continent; from the lighting in the hallways to the decor in the rooms, the feeling is refined, comfortable, and whimsical without being campy. Public spaces are also multi-culturally inspired, featuring "disco bowl" tables, modern Indian-inspired lobby (pictured), and blend of textures and fabrics that keeps it interesting, fresh, and fun.
Speaking of fun, the hotel definitely encourages it- especially if said fun is of the romantic nature. Along with your standard sodas, liquors, and snacks, in-room mini bars are also stocked with "love kits," a mood-enhancing CD, and a couple of "marital aids" for both his and her pleasure. Up on the rooftop you’ll find one of the most unique and beautiful pools in the city. Floating on your back surrounded by palm trees and stone, you’d never know you were in the middle of downtown. The terrace also features a few little ’hideaway cays’ where cohabitants can sneak away and "mingle" (and remember, this is France so there’s no need to worry about being a same-sex couple... or about being shy!). Make sure you don’t miss the Jacuzzi either- it’s slightly secluded and overlooks the Carlton hotel and the beach.
The owners and designers behind the Hotel Renoir have managed to pull-off a feat rarely done correctly in the design world: beautifully marrying classic architecture with contemporary style. How did they do it? I can’t tell you all the secrets, but when you visit, you’ll find light colors, clean lines, simple decor, plenty of space, and modern amenities- as well as excellent service and perhaps a wink from Hepburn or Garbo!
Bathrooms at the Renoir are large- especially by European standards. If you can swing it, go for a suite; they’re well worth the upgrade. Aside from a spacious bedroom, you’ll get a large sitting room with desk and dining table, as well as a marble bathroom with a separate shower and large tub. Don’t skip breakfast- it’s excellent, and served in the cute little lobby bar where you can get a cocktail or glass of Champagne each night before heading out.
The Hotel Renoir sits just two blocks from one of Cannes’ best shopping street, Les Antibes, which makes it nearly perfect in my book!
The last- but certainly not least- hotel I stayed at was the fabulously chic and superbly splendid Hotel Cavendish. A classic French 4-star hotel, Le Cavendish is managed by a fantastic French woman who’s every bit as chic, sophisticated, and charming as any classic French movie star (think equal parts Catherine Deneuve, Fanny Ardent, and Michele Laroque). Madame Messeant-Welter and her husband own the hotel, and most mornings (and often during cocktail hour) you’ll find them sitting with guests in the charming salon, making sure that you’ve had your fill of freshly made croissants, homemade jams, and other treats. The staff is welcoming, friendly, and happy to share their knowledge of the city, as well as make you feel like a member of their extended family rather than someone renting a room.
The hotel has been incredibly restored and features modern amenities, but it hasn’t lost its 19th century charm. Being a traditional French hotel, rooms tend to be relatively small, although what they lack in size they more than make up for in comfort, decor and style. The bathrooms are gloriously modern (without being sterile), and all rooms offer high-speed internet.
Next :: A fabulous villa...
Villa Garbo :: Now open!
While I was in Cannes, the owners of The Cavendish were putting the final touches on their newest property: Villa Garbo. I’ve since received word that this new boutique hotel is open for business, and after taking a tour during construction- and having seen beautiful photos since then- I felt like I had to share it with EDGE readers.
Even before the walls were painted, finishes applied, or furniture delivered, it was obvious that Villa Garbo was going to be fabulous. After seeing photos of the finished product, I simply have one thing to say: Villa Garbo is boutique hotel heaven.
Next time I’m in Cannes, this is where you’ll find me...
For travelers seeking a more traditional or classic hotel, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few other options. The Carlton Hotel is often the first choice for visiting celebrities and royalty, The Majestic has been recently renovated, and also draws an impressive crowd- as well as being right across the street from the Palais, which makes for an easy hop-skip-and-jump (or being Cannes, a slow saunter among millions of flashes- for celebs doing the red carpet), and the Hotel Martinez, which houses the Palme d’Or (more on that later), the most famous- and best, IMHO- restaurant in the city. They’re all world-famous, fabulous, and worth every penny.
One final boutique hotel seems slated to become the hotel of choice among design aficionados. The 4-star Cezanne looks like it flew off the page of Dwell Magazine or Met Home; every detail represents contemporary perfection, from the serene terrace to the fitness room, and I’ve never seen pink used in such an exquisite manner.
Next :: Where to eat!
I’m always a bit tired on the first day I arrive in France, so for dinner upon arrival, I took a short stroll down to the beach where the Hotel 3-14 has a fabulous little fusion-style restaurant heavy on fresh fruits and vegetables, and famous for their seafood. Being that I was in France, of course, I ate too much... and I don’t regret it a bit.
Worth it for the view alone...
Cannes is full of amazing views, but if you’re looking for the absolute best view in the city, the panoramic scene from the gastronomic restaurant Le Méditerranée at the Hotel Sofitel simply can’t be beat. Not only is the panoramic view of the entire bay of Cannes unmatched, the food is delicious and the decor lovely (think modern Man Ray style). For a fabulous lunch or romantic evening featuring gastronomic gourmet, this is definitely it.
Cannes is all about the beaches, and dining at one of the many restaurants, cafés and bars that fall between Le Croisette and the water is de rigueur. After a trip out to a nearby island, having worked up an appetite climbing up and down the stairs of an old monastery, we were happy to get back to the mainland and picked C Beach for lunch. Wondering what the ’C’ stood for (plenty of scandalous suggestions were offered), we sat down, indulged in the food, stared at the beautiful waiters, and were so happy with our choice of restaurants that we no longer cared.
Apparently to be a waiter in Cannes you need to be hot- or maybe it just comes with being French. At any rate, the food was also fabulous. The restaurant featured beautiful fresh fish, local specialties, and a pesto primavera that had me wishing I could return for dinner. I also appreciated the fact that being right on the beach, you can simply leave the water, dry off a bit, and sit down for lunch.
Or, you can simply sit and watch the other boys coming in from the water!
If you’re looking for authentic traditional French charm, you won’t do better than L’Auberge Provencale. It sits on a cobblestone side street in the old section of town, which makes sense because the restaurant is the oldest in Cannes. You’ll find a few tables outside, but unless you can’t resist the people watching and the weather is absolutely perfect, opt for one of the interior tables, where you’ll discover huge fireplaces, exposed wood beam ceilings, and authentic "old-school French" decor.
In my travels across France, I’ve certainly come across my share of old restaurants, shops, etc. that seemed to have survived solely on the fact that they were old and historic- this was clearly not the case with L’Auberge Provencale.
Serving traditional gastronomic French food, the restaurant relies on the talent of the chef and fabulous service rather than gimmicks, "surprises" or other craziness. This simple fact- as well as the fabulous food- has kept both locals and out-of-towners coming back for years.
And although it’s not exactly French, I had the best fresh ricotta ravioli that I’ve ever had in my life.
The Palm Beach
If you’ve seen coverage of nightlife in Cannes on TV or in the movies recently, you’ve seen Palm Beach, one of the largest and most famous casinos in town. With four restaurants, a lounge, and a huge open-air club on the beach, it really doesn’t get much better than this.
Dinner was divine, although sitting at a white linen-covered, candle-lit table on the beach in Cannes, how could it not be? The four-course meal was fabulous, filling, and reasonably priced. A wait staff that was extremely easy on the eyes certainly didn’t hurt either. The icing on the cake was the fact that after dinner we simply walked up a dozen or so glamorous white stairs to the outdoor club and continued the party until the wee hours of the morning...
La Palme d’Or
For a truly unforgettable experience, break out the credit card and go full-tilt at La Palme d’Or, the Michelin-starred gourmet restaurant at the Hotel Martinez. A multi-course meal should last at least two hours, giving you time to take in the incredible view of the bay, fantastically amazing cuisine, and service that’s second to none. The food is inventive, daring and delicious, with a menu that changes with the seasons.
More contemporary options
Alongside the classic French options, Cannes has plenty of trendy, hip restaurants that cater to a younger crowd. On the higher end is Tantra, a restaurant and club featuring gastronomic fusion cuisine in a sensual Asiatic setting. (Don’t miss the loft bar upstairs.)
Continuing the "Asiatic" theme (albeit in a completely un-PC way that can only be seen- and was hilarious- in France), Chink’s (would I make this up?) offers modern Thai food in its intimate bar, lounge and restaurant, with resident DJ and outdoor terrace. It’s located near the old port, and if you arrive and simply can’t handle the name- or the logo- there are plenty of other casual options nearby.
At least one morning, start your day with a leisurely walk along the beach on le Croisette, ending in the old part of the city; in about a dozen blocks, you’ll get to see a beautiful "history" of the city. Once you arrive at this neighborhood- Le Suquet- there’s plenty to do. We began by exploring Notre-Dame de l’Esperance, which- like much of the rest of the surrounding area- was built in the 16th and 17th centuries. We saw a building that (allegedly!) housed the man in the iron mask for a bit, before he was banished to the island just off the coast (more on that in a bit); it seems the only one who truly believes that story, however, is the man who lived there.
My favorite part of the old city however, was the fresh market. Every day but Monday, locals gather to sell everything from fresh produce, to flowers (three dozen roses for less than $15!), to honey, jams, cheese and desserts. The selection is amazing, the produce gorgeous, and the best part is knowing that it’s all organic and comes from just down the street (ok, neighboring villages and farms, but still...). I highly recommend taking a stroll through the market, picking up some things for dinner, and then making a stop at a wine store for an easy, simple, and delicious meal.
Speaking of wine, we happened upon Cave Sunshine, the oldest wine store in the city- in business since 1862. Set in a small corner store, they offer exclusively French wines, with a slight preference for regional selections, including some incredible rosés, which of course we had to try- a few times- just to make sure they were ok. Aside from rosés, "Sunshine" has a great selection of Champagne, and a young man (pictured) named Thomas who’s not only easy on the eyes, but more than willing to help out a weary traveler... with some pairing suggestions, of course.
After lunch we hopped on a boat for a short ride to the island of Ste. Margeurite, home of Fort Royal, and the cell that held the legendary Man in the Iron Mask. Try as we might however, we simply couldn’t find Leonardo, so decided to walk around the island exploring the botanical paths, and Museum of the Sea. We ended the afternoon feeling more than a bit Kennedy-esque; sunning ourselves on the beach, waving to passing yachts, and taking occasional dips in the crystalline water to cool off.
Monks, mass, and wine
Speaking of islands, while I’m not big on the Catholic church, I do appreciate the occasional historic monastery, and there’s something about monks that seem to be very, well, let’s just say intriguing. In that spirit- and being that it was Sunday- we decided to go to the Isle Ste. Honorat, just off the coast of Cannes and attend a mass given by the Cistercian monks at the Abby of Lérins.
First of all, these boys run the entire island, which includes a vineyard, a fruit and vegetable farm, and gift shop (of course). The most interesting part of the island however, is the historic monastery built between 1050 and the end of the 15th century. Built to defend the island, you can climb the tower of the remains of the fortress and take in the one of the most amazing views along the Riviera; standing at the top you can see from Monaco to St. Tropez. (You can also recreate "that Marilyn moment"- see picture.)
For me, the mass was a bit on the dull side, but the island itself and the monks’ lifestyle are interesting and beautiful. They produce wonderful wines in small batches, as well as various liquors, fruit candy and other gourmet treats. For history buffs, Catholics, and anyone looking for a unique gift, it’s well worth the 20-minute boat trip.
Being so close to some of the most fabulous boutiques in the world- and having a couple of hours before dinner- I decided to take a walk... purely to take in the local culture and get some fresh air. Needless to say I returned to the hotel with more than a few shopping bags, including one from Gucci, where I scored a fantastic messenger bag at half price. Of course this isn’t the norm- in France sales are allowed only twice a year (ensuring you’re actually getting a discount and not a small discount on an inflated "regular" price)- but although the dollar is weak as hell (thanks Georgie), if you’re in the market for European designer goods, you’ll still save a bit over what you’d pay in the states once you factor in the lack of tariff and tax rebate.
Aside from good deals, shopping in Cannes is a cultural experience, and when you’re here, you’ve got to do it. The stores along the Croisette read like a veritable Ab-Fab wardrobe special: Christian Lacroix, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Celine, Chanel, Fred Jewelers, Cartier, Gianfranco Ferré, Farrago, Hermes... the list goes on and on. Just one block up- on Rue des Antibes- you’ll find the "more approachable" standards, including Zara, Galleries Lafayette, and dozens of fabulous smaller boutiques for men, women, children and home. Needless to say I could spend days there.
It’s the French Riviera- plan on spending at least a couple afternoons on the beach. Most hotels either have their own private beach or have an arrangement with larger hotels that allow guests access to theirs. Take advantage of this, rent a lounge chair, umbrella, and towels and bask in the glory of the sun, sand, cocktails, and eye candy.
Of special note is the Hotel Martinez’ beach, Z Plage, which aside from surf and sand, features a fabulous Mediterranean restaurant offering fresh salads, pastas, fish, and more. Go early, have a light lunch, and take in the rays!
Don’t think that sipping Champagne, shopping, staying out late, and lying in the sun are the only things to do in Cannes; the city also boasts some fabulous museums, including the Musée de la Castre (old town), the Museum of the Sea (Ste. Marguerite), and Gallerie de la Malmaison, right on the Croisette, which hosts three exhibitions a year including heavyweights like Matisse, Cesar, and Picasso.
...and Sexy Nights
My first evening in Cannes began with cocktails and tapas on the roof of the Hotel 3-14. A fabulous bartender mixed his version of Sex on the Beach, which aside from packing a little hidden kick of fun (or as we sometimes call it, extremely high quality vodka!), also had a "secret ingredient to keep you going all night." He assured us it was legal, natural, largely fruit-based, and would do us good; considering how late we stayed out, I’d have to say I believe him...
If you’re looking for a party, simply head down to the beach- it’s lined with restaurants and bars serving up cocktails and dancing after midnight. Local gay establishments include Zanizibar (a cute little bar with a few tables on the sidewalk; pictured), La Hype (a trendier bar near the train station that also serves modern French food from a restaurant in back), and Le Marais, a restaurant serving excellent home-style Provencal cuisine.
Other gay and gay-friendly bars include Pink Bar (81 rue Felix Faure), Le Rachel’s (10 blvd du Midi), Le Divan (1-3 rue Rouguieres), Le Vogue (20 rue Saint-Antoine), and Le Twiggy Bar (3 rue des Suisses). All are within close walking distance from one another, so take a short stroll and pop-into the one that catches your fancy.
White Beach Club :: Dinner and dancing under the stars
With a sound and light system that would put most circuit parties to shame, the White Beach Club knows how to throw down the beats, and they do it well. A large circular bar is surrounded by booths and lounges (including exclusive VIP sections... guess where I was!), a raised stage for the DJ, and an open-air and canopied dance floor full of fabulous people, all having a great time. At some point (after 2, although I can’t tell you when exactly...) the raised center bar became a makeshift shower and we were happily surprised to see dancers appear for our entertainment! Sadly they were all women, but they got the (mixed) crowd going and we danced into the wee hours of the night...
What makes Cannes so fabulous? How about the fact that the city’s got all of the beauty and culture of nearby Nice, without all of the drama and attitude? People mix freely, the locals are friendly, and the "new Cannes" offers the style, elegance, and entertainment that only a chic city on the French Riviera can give. If you book now you can get incredible deals; go "pre-season" and you’ll not only save beaucoup bucks on airfare, but you’ll pay nearly nothing for your hotel... although if you simply must go in the "hot season," if you buy now you’ll save almost 50% on airfare and still get a decent rate on rooms.
Now go pickup some sunglasses, sunscreen, and the teeny-tiniest of bikinis!
When you go:
Air France :: www.AirFrance.us
The Carlton :: click here
Cavendish :: www.cavendish-cannes.com
Hotel Cezanne :: www.Hotel-Cezanne.com
Chink’s :: www.lechinks.com
France Guide: www.FranceGuide.com (the best tool for planning any trip to France...)
Hotel 3-14 :: www.3-14hotel.com
Hotel Renoir :: www.hotel-renoir-cannes.com
The Majestic :: cick here
Le Méditeranée :: click here
Palme d’Or :: www.hotel-martinez.com/en
Villa Garbo :: www.VillaGarbo-Cannes.com
For more vacation ideas in France...
Paris :: Paris, Je t’Aime
The Loire Valley :: For the Love of the Loire
Cannes :: Because You Cannes, Cannes, Cannes
The Alps :: The French Alps :: A Skier’s Dream
Grasse :: Cannes & Beyond :: Grasse
Antibes and Juan-les-Pins :: Cannes & Beyond :: Antibes and Juan-les-Pins
Champagne :: Coming Soon...
Jason Salzenstein is a writer and editor; design, image, and marketing consultant; and professional shopper. His work has appeared in numerous national and international publications and he has clients around the world. For more information :: www.JasonSalzenstein.com