Cannes: Always Ready for Her Close-Up

The flavor of fair Cannes can be accurately summed up in the telling of a single anecdote regarding its world famous hotel, the Carlton Inter-Continental, which was designed by the noted architect, Marcellin Mayère, and erected in 1912. When asked what inspired him to create the hotel’s much admired twin cupola design, Mayère reportedly explained that he was fascinated by the décolletage of one of Canne’s most renowned courtesans, La Belle Otéro, and that he had fashioned the cupolas after her breasts. The fact that the hotel immediately filled with filthy rich European businessmen and royalty from every corner of the world, most of whom were spending millions in pursuit of La Belle Otéro herself, in addition to other courtesans such as Émilienne d’Alençon and Liane de Pougy, seems to lend credibility to this persistent rumour. In any case, the story’s validity is perhaps not as important as its style, with its heady mixture of sex and glamour, sophistication and playfulness, as all of these traits are lodged firmly in the heart of Cannes.

Cannes, often referred to as the “star” of the French Riviera – and not just for its jet-setting crowds and famous international film festival – had decidedly humble beginnings until it was “discovered” in 1834 by Lord Henry Brougham and Vaux, Lord Chancellor of England, on a thwarted attempt to visit Italy with his daughter, Eleonore Louise. On finding the border closed due to a cholera epidemic, Lord Brougham stopped at Cannes on his way to Grasse. He was so charmed by the era that he built a beautiful home, Villa Eleonore, there; within a few years Cannes was catapulted into the modern world as the building of its port allowed more and more visitors. Soon Cannes had cemented its rightful place in history as an aristocratic city of excellent beauty and unique character. By the time the Belle Epoque and the Roaring Twenties spun their way through Cannes, it was one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet.

Modern day Cannes continues her reign of splendour and prestige by hosting some of the world’s most renowned festivals, such as the instantly recognizable Cannes Film Festival; MIDEM, or the March International Du Disque, de l’Edition Musicale; and MIPEM, a massive international real-estate festival.

Of course, there is no greater festival that the Cannes Film Festival, which began in September 1945 and has been held every year except 1948 and 1950, when a shortage of funding led to its cancellation. Now held annually each May, the festival grew over the years into an event of great size and importance, and it is now a major event for all members of the motion picture industry. The festival is incredibly diverse, and places continued insistence on the importance of cinema as art, without prejudice as to the style, school or genre to which a film may belong. Although the festival is undoubtedly a four-star international event, however, it may not be to the taste of all visitors to Cannes, as it can be attended only by accredited, badge-carrying members of the industry, ensures that hotels, restaurants and other attractions will be quite crowded, and causes the city to have an exclusionary feel to those not “in the business.” On the other hand, visitors in search of celebrity sighting experiences and the sense that they are rubbing elbows with the upper crust will certainly enjoy this time in Cannes, and may get a special thrill from imagining that when they place their hands in the handprints lining the promenade to the Festival Palace, they may be touching a spot recently vacated by the very movie stars in question.

Unlike the film festival, MIDEM, held each year in late January, does sell a limited number of tickets to the public, so anyone wishing to attend this massive musical trade fair and hobnob with many of the music industry’s greats should get their tickets early by visiting either the Palais des Festivals or the website. Having just celebrated its fortieth anniversary in 2006, MIDEM hosts one of music’s largest trade fairs, providing concert organizers, lawyers, record companies, music lovers, and artists new and old a chance to network. In addition to the trade fair, there are international awards ceremonies such as the NRJ music awards and the European Border Breakers Award, plus live concerts, movie screenings, and a conference attended by the biggest names in the business. With its continued emphasis and influence on the arts, it is no small wonder that Cannes is home to an event that would be any music enthusiast’s dream.

Though MIPIM, one of the real-estate market’s largest international events, may not sound as glamourous as the aforementioned festivals, anyone seeking to break into worldwide real estate in a big way, or simply learn more about their trade from the globe’s best companies and realtors, would do well to attend this event. With nearly two thousand companies representing sixty-seven countries in attendance, MIPIM is the place to be for senior members of this trade, whether they are already household names in the global marketplace, or merely seeking to become one.

Luckily for visitors to Cannes, while the festivals are a major part of the city’s allure, they are in no way its sum total. Cannes also offers its inhabitants the chance to access phenomenal shopping adventures and their pick of gorgeous sandy beaches.

For serious shoppers, Cannes is second only to the faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris, because its colossal collection of high-end shops is truly unparalleled elsewhere in the world. While the main shopping streets are Rue d’Antibes and Boulevard de la Croisette, countless haute couture shops are scattered throughout the city, including the ninety-one shops that make up the Cannes Prestige Shopping network. Members of the Cannes Prestige are dedicated to offering only those items which are precious, priceless, and in some cases, one-of-a-kind. Women’s shops belonging to this group include such instantly identifiable brands as Valentino, Chanel, Fendi, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Kenzo, Trabaud, and Missoni. All of these shops save Chanel also carry men’s lines, and the Trend boutique caters exclusively to men. Christian LaCroix, Escada, and Escada Sport serve men, women and children alike, and children can find heavenly high-end clothing aimed solely at them at La Diablerie. Those who want to show off their new outfits in style can then visit the local Rolls Royce dealership to purchase a fancy touring car. At the other end of the shopping spectrum, buyers seeking to purchase bargain goods instead of breaking their pocketbooks need only take a short bus trip to the industrial zone (ZI) known as “Les Tourrades“. Though it is far from the scenic tourist area of Cannes, it does offer a wide selection of shops in an outlet style setting, all carrying good quality dishes, clothing, carpets and the like at surprisingly low prices. If shoppers don’t mind trading views of the seaside for some time out near the highways snapping up bargains, they should love this shopping option.

Finally, visitors who would like to experience the feel of the Riviera’s famous old towns in mostly modern Cannes can tour up and down Rue Meynadier, which runs parallel to the port for nearly six blocks and contains markets and shops with meats, fish, produce, fruit, and souvenirs. Cannes largest outdoor market, the Forville Market, can be found at the end of Rue Meynadier, where it joins with Rue Felix Faure. Spanning an entire block, the Forville Market offers a vast variety of the sort of fresh foods for which French markets are revered, plus a flower market at the west end of its covered area. On Mondays, it also transforms into a flea market. Once shoppers have gotten a taste of Forville’s flea market and grocery stands, they may also opt to tour the flea market held every Saturday beneath the trees opposite the old port, or Place Gambetta, a smaller but equally well-stocked market north of Rue d’Antibes. All of the above offer a wonderful opportunity to pair a casual stroll with the opportunity to make purchases both modest and decadent, or to simply take in the more mellow sights and sounds of Cannes.

If shopping does indeed cause one to want to “drop”, the best place to do so might be one of Cannes princely public or private beaches. Their soft sand, much preferable to the pebbly beaches of other cities along the Riviera, provide the perfect atmosphere to sunbathe and nosh on goodies from a beachfront care, or to take advantage of the sunshine by sailing, horseback riding, water-skiing, scuba-diving, or simply swimming. Cannes offers lots of beaches to choose from, from the public beaches of La Bocca and Mourre Rouge to a number of private beaches on Bvd Jean Hibert and La Croisette, to a mixture of both public and private beaches along the Golfe de la Napoule. Though the private beaches do require an entrance fee, they can sometimes be a welcome alternative when the public beaches become particularly crowded during the top tourist months. Should the onshore beaches come to seem old hat, serious beach-bunnies can take the boat ride from the Palais des Festivals to the Iles de Lernins, a pair of island beauties dubbed Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat. Any beach-goer selecting Sainte-Marguerite can also add a smattering of local history to their tour by visiting Fort Royal, which includes the prisons that housed the infamous “Man in the Iron Mask” and the Maritime Museum with famous wall murals painted by Jean le Gac and an esteemed collection of underwater archaeology. After touring the fort, visitors can then hike through the botanical gardens and surrounding pine forests.

For visitors who find that sand and sun is not what they had in mind, a walking tour of any of Cannes fabulous historical monuments or beautiful public and private gardens, such as the Bellini Chapel-Museum, Malmaison Gallery, or the Butte de Saint Cassien is sure to please. Though Cannes boasts as many, if not more of such features than any city in the French Riviera, however, it can hardly be said that these are its biggest draws. The heartbeat of Cannes undoubtedly pulses with a force that is sexier, saucier and more vital than all the Riviera’s other cities combined, an indefinable magic that sets it above the rest. Though its style and class keep it from becoming the black sheep of the family, there is little doubt that its penchant for glamour, high art, grand festivals and pricey brand names make it as memorable as the famous courtesan that it inspired its most celebrated hotel.