Life in Cannes is turned on its head during those two weeks in May, when scores of paparazzi, industry bigwigs and the world’s biggest stars are in town for the famous film festival. The remainder of the year it’s a sleek pleasure garden for the world’s wealthiest people, and a honeypot for people seduced by the glamour.
Check the prices on Boulevard de la Croisette, sashay up the red carpet at the Palais des Festivales and see if you can get in touch with the real Cannes, at the Marché Forville and the old quarter around Le Suquet.
Lets explore the best things to do in Cannes:
1. Le Suquet
West of the harbour is Cannes’ original hillside settlement, where the pattern of the scurrying little streets hasn’t changed in hundreds of years.
If you’re out to dinner in the evening chances are you’ll spend at least some time on Rue Sainte-Antoine, which twists its way up the hill between old fisherman’s houses.
You can let your curiosity take over and climb the stairways, slowly making your way up past ochre-painted walls and bougainvillea blossoms, until you get to Place de la Castre.
There you can stand at the terraced garden next to Notre-Dame d’Espérance and see the harbour, the Palais des Festivals and the arc of La Croisette all below.
2. La Croisette
Call it a cliché but this beach and promenade is the place to see and be seen.
It’s about as posh as it gets; across the Boulevard de la Croisette the luxury fashion houses line up to be counted, and on the shore is a chain of private beaches with fine golden sands.
The public beach is furthest to the west, near the Palais des Festivals, and like all of the shore can be heaving with people in mid-summer.
But it’s a small price to pay (or a big one, if you’re on a private beach!) for an unadulterated dose or Riviera glamour.
3. Palais des Festivales
The venue of the Cannes Film Festival has been photographed so many times that it’s taken on a kind of universal recognition.
You can go on a tour around the Grand Auditorium, following in the footsteps of the world’s most famous personalities and where some landmarks in recent movie history have taken place.
Naturally you’ll have the chance to walk the red carpet on the stairs that lead up to the Gran Auditorium by the Promenande de la Croisette.
There won’t be any paparazzi around but maybe you can ask a loved one, or even a passer-by to take your photo on these famous steps.
4. Film Festival
In mid-May the world’s most famous film festival transforms Cannes and brings the great and the good to the city, as upcoming releases are judged and the famous Palme d’Or awarded to the best.
It runs at the same time as the Marché du Film, described as the world’s largest film market, where thousands of filmmakers, distributors and other industry professionals rub shoulders and make contacts.
What does it mean for us mere mortals if we don’t have accreditation? Well, for two weeks there’s a special buzz around the place, and you’ve got a great chance of spotting celebrities.
If you’re all about the movies then there are also fee screenings of former Palme d’Or Winners on La Croisette in the evenings.
5. Marché Forville
Every morning you can go on a journey through Provence without ever leaving Cannes.
All you have to do is visit this covered market, where seasonal produce and regional flavours are sourced from around the south of France.
It’s also favoured by locals, which is grand because glimpses of real everyday life can be rare in this ritzy city.
What’s on offer can range from fruit, veg, flowers and fragrant herbs right up to exquisite hand-crafted confectionery, truffles and gourmet olive oils.
And you can round it off with a glass of wine from one of the bars just outside, while there’s also live music on Saturdays and Sundays.
The food market sets up daily, except on Mondays when there’s a flea market instead.
6. Île Sainte-Marguerite
Just 15 minutes by ferry from Cannes’ old port, Île Sainte-Marguerite is the closest of the two Lérins Islands to the mainland.
It’s the perfect option if the beaches and streets of Cannes get a bit much: The island has deep, aromatic forest with stone pines and eucalyptus trees, and even on busy days you can get a little solitude.
There’s historical interest here too: On the north coast is the star-shaped 17th-century Fort Royal, which kept prisoners like the mystery Man in the Iron Mask.
These days it’s a diverting maritime museum with items retrieved from local Roman and Moorish shipwrecks.
7. Île Saint-Honorat
Île Sainte-Marguerite’s neighbour has a different flavour, and has been a pilgrimage site for 1,600 years.
A monastery was founded on the island in 410 by St.
Honoratus, and a monastic community soon formed around him.
There have been deadly raids and expulsions since then, but today there’s still a significant Cistercian community, making a living selling homemade honey and wine.
On a walking tour you can see the picturesque ruins of various abandoned chapels, as well as the ruins of a cannonball oven from the Napoleonic period.
If you have time, nip inside Lérins Abbey and the dramatic 15th-century fortified monastery on the south coast.
8. Musée de la Castre
After struggling up the hill in Le Suquet you can step inside this museum, which is in one of Cannes’ few medieval buildings, a fort built in the 11th century to defend the bay.
On display are the city’s public collections, and they’re as diverse as you can imagine, with primitive art from pre-Colombian America, Oceania the Himalayas and the Arctic; ancient artefacts from the Mediterranean, musical instruments from around the world and three rooms dealing with 19th-century French landscape paintings around Cannes and the Riviera.
At the end of the tour you can climb 109 steps the to the top of the square tower to improve on that view of the bay from the terrace.
9. Église Notre-Dame-de-l’Espérance
Next to the old fortress you can also beat the heat for a few minutes in this solemn gothic and renaissance church, constructed in the 1500s.
It’s an austere-looking building from the outside, but there are some things to pique your interest inside.
In the Chapelle des Baptêmes there’s a 16th-century sculpture from Burgundy depicting St.
Anne, the Virgin and child.
And above the entrance is a cute Pavia organ added in the 19th century.
Time your visit for Christmas and you can bring the little guys to see the musical nativity scene, which was crafted in the 1920s and has some 200 figures, some of which are mechanical.
10. Villa Domergue
In the quiet hills behind Cannes is an art deco mansion that does the neat trick of looking modern and ancient all at once.
That’s because it was inspired by Venetian palaces, but was built by the painter Jean-Gabriel Domergue in 1934. His sculptor wife, Odette Maugendre designed the beautiful Mediterranean-style terraced gardens, and the whole property was the venue for some legendary Riviera parties.
It was bequeathed to the city in the 70s and is now a sophisticated location for music events like Jazz à Domergue, and where the Cannes Festival jury retires for its deliberations.
Take a tour of the villa and see the Bay of Cannes from the exquisite balustrades on the terraces.
11. Luxury Shopping
Beginning at La Croisette is a shopping area that has pretty much every high-end brand you can name.
It’s impossible not to feel a little underdressed as you shuffle by branches of Dior, Chanel, Gucci , Miu Miu, Bulgari and Prada.
In fact you could walk for an hour or so and pass nothing but luxury boutiques.
Unless you have expensive habits or happen to be extremely wealthy you’ll mostly be doing window shopping in this part of Cannes, but it’s an education to see how the other half lives.
This is especially true of the Carré d’Or, between La Croisette and Rue d’Antibes, where glitzy jewellery shops rub shoulders with the most select bars in the city.
12. Rue d’Antibes
A few streets in from the La Croisette and parallel to the bay, Rue d’Antibes is a lengthy shopping artery with international high-street brands like Desigual , Lacoste, Mango and Sephora, alongside all the French favourites such as Fnac and Devernois.
So you can go on that Cannes shopping trip without breaking the bank or being turned away before you can even step inside the shop! The incomparably chic location will make your outing feel that little more special too.
And interspersing the stores are luxury bakers and chocolatiers, for a bit of extra indulgence.
13. Painted Walls
Since 2002 the city has started embracing its position in world cinema by putting up large murals showing iconic actors, characters and scenes from cherished movies.
So on Boulevard Vallombrossa there’s a painting of Charlie Chaplin and “The Kid” on a strip of celluloid.
There’s a touch of trompe-l’oeil to many of these, like the painting of Harold Lloyd on Louis Braille, which shows the silent star hanging from the clock hands, as in Safety Last from 1923. If you know your movie cars, you’ll appreciate the fresco at the Berthelot-ex Diabolika car park where there’s the Batmobile, Travis Bickle’s Taxi and Starsky and Hutch’s Gran Torino.
14. Cap d’Antibes Sentier du Littoral
Here’s another way to retreat from the commotion of Cannes for blissful privacy, in a wonderful natural setting.
The coastal walk on the lower reaches of Cap d’Antibes hugs the steep and rocky shoreline.
In places the walk is so open to the elements that the path is occasionally closed off when the winds are up, but towards the east side of the cape things are calmer, and you’ll find spots where you can sunbathe on the rocks and take a dip in gleaming waters.
So in the summer two things are essential: Good walking shoes, and swimwear, because the sea will be very enticing on a hot day.
15. Le Nomade and Port Vauban
The wealth on show at the port in Antibes will take your breath away.
This is one of the most expensive places in the world to moor your boat, with rates exceeding a million Euros.
And some of the vessels will have you rubbing your eyes; they look more like ocean liners than private yachts and are owned by the very richest people in the world.
The best view is from the aptly-named Quai des Milliardaires, but there’s also an enthralling piece of public art to investigate.
Le Nomade is the giant figure of a person looking out at the Mediterranean, and consisting of hundreds of white letters.
It ‘s the work of the Catalan artist Jaume Plensa, and is magical at night when lit up from within.