Travelling to Cannes, France

June Travel: The glitz and glam of Cannes and Milan.

Credit: Antony Hare

Travelling to Cannes: Glitz, glam, and old-world

Sure, there’s the glitz and glam of the film fest, but seasoned Cannes visitors know where to look for old-world charm too.

WALKING THE RED CARPET of the fabled Cannes Croisette, I am a star, at last – at least in my own mind. During festivals this sunny showbiz city on the Côte d’Azur illuminates 800 metres of the glamorous 2.5-kilometre seaside promenade in red so everyone taking an evening stroll treads the “luminous carpet.” Illusion is important here in the place that movies built.

WEATHER The Mediterranean climate is generally mild, at its best from June to September (20 to 23 degrees Celsius).

CAN’T MISS Grab a seat at a sidewalk café, have an apéro (aperitif) and watch the beautiful people strut by.

COOL EATS Join the locals at Le Pacific, a small lunch-only restaurant just down the street from the train station.

BEST BED In a city of fabulous hotels, the beachfront Belle Epoque Carlton stands out. For the film festival, book at least a year in advance.

British aristocrat Lord Brougham changed the fate of the longtime fishing village when he built a villa here in 1834. The British upper classes quickly adopted Cannes as a deluxe health resort (the sun was just becoming considered beneficial instead of unhealthy), then Russians and Americans followed. Commuting to Cannes from St. Raphael, Juan-les-Pins or Antibes – it is almost impossible to find a hotel room in Cannes itself during events or conventions – I can appreciate what attracted Brougham. The rugged coastline is stunning, with rocky cliffs and perfect crescents of secluded little beaches, white houses with red tile roofs and imposing châteaux.

The film festival, the marquee Cannes event, started in 1939 and continued annually after the Second World War. Now, for 10 days every May, the entertainment world descends on the city and all eyes (and camera lenses) are on the Palais des Festivals’s red carpets. It is a circus, with crowds gathering outside for hours in the hope of glimpsing some star or starlet and pestering delegates for tickets to the latest movies. Photographers, like scavenging jackals in their tuxedos, prowl the Palais in a pack. The action spreads into the streets, with the beautiful people in tuxes and evening dress wandering between parties and limos and police bikes, sirens wailing, roaring by.

The action extends to the Croisette, with numerous street entertainers (including a masked cavalier mime with two trained cats), would-be moviemakers hustling for cash (“I am seeking a financial partner,” says one pamphlet) and a woman with a sign saying, “I am beautiful and I am looking for beautiful people” (I won’t even speculate for what). Meanwhile, local grande dames promenade with their pampered little pooches as fashion accessories, trying to pretend the vulgar intruders are not there.

“Is it always like this?” I ask Cannes’s amiable mayor, Bernard Brochand, one afternoon as we stroll the animated Croisette.

“There is always something going on,” he says, with obvious satisfaction. “There is a convention in Cannes 306 days a year.” They come to this scenic city for good reason, he points out. Zoning laws ensure that at least 50 per cent of the city remains green, with none of the skyscrapers that scar so much of the Mediterranean coast.

Wandering Cannes, I am constantly reminded of its movie connections. Old black-and-white photographs of movie stars grace the walls of some cafés, while colourful movie posters decorate others. Random cinema-bilia is found all around. A massive old film camera stands on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant by the Palais, and some 15 giant murals decorate buildings scattered across the city.

One day I take a walk to escape the madness, past the bus depot and a building adorned with a large Hollywood-themed mural, up the steep street to Le Suquet – the hilltop old quarter with its ancient stone water fountains, the 12th-century Tour du Mt. Chevalier and the Château de la Castre. Below lies the yacht harbour, Palais des Festivals and Cannes Beach, the glamorous capital of the entertainment world for several weeks a year.

Who: Nancy Bendtsen, co-owner, Inform Interiors
Where: La Libera, Milan, Italy
Why: When we go to the annual Milan Furniture Fair, we work from morning to night. Afterwards we escape to this homey little restaurant that serves super fresh food. The owner is very dapper with a bow tie and fancy suspenders, and the staff never changes. We pick our wine the first night, so they serve us as soon as we walk in. It is like a mini vacation from the chaos. Via Palermo, 21