Early spring in Cannes, going beyond the clichés – Meanderings through France n° 176
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Since 1946 in early May Cannes becomes the world’s film capital for a crazy fortnight. During the Film Festival, stars, film directors, producers, journalists and thousands of aficionados invade the city and turn it into a maelstrom of glamour and fun. But before this, in early spring, Cannes already enjoys a mild weather with plenty of sunshine. Mimosas and flowers bloom everywhere, restaurants welcome guests on their outside terraces and it feels wonderful to stroll on the beach. It definitely is the best time to discover the hidden charms of this Mediterranean pearl.
An authentic ancient city centre
Cannes’ history begins in Antiquity. It was then a small fishermen village and remained so for centuries until British and Russian aristocrats fell in love with this magnificent area during the 19th century. They built beautiful villas along the seaside turning the little fishing port into a trendy resort that has been highly successful ever since.
The fishermen village was originally built on a low hill that is today the Suquet district. In the Middle Ages monks from St Honorat Abbey built a castle on top of the hill to give the villagers shelter from pirate or Saracen attacks. Nowadays the whole area is a pedestrian precinct and walking up the hill to the castle you will have plenty of time to admire the beautiful houses that line the small winding streets.
The castle now is a museum, the “Musée de la Castre”, displaying the collections of Dutch baron Lycklama. In the 19th century this well-travelled man collected dozens of ethnographic and archaeological objects from Oceania, Himalaya, the Americas and Mediterranean antiquities. It’s an entertaining and instructive visit and even if you’re not interested in old artefacts you should go there to climb up the castle tower and get a wonderful view over Cannes and the Croisette, the bay and the nearby islands, and the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps in the distance. Simply beautiful!
Going downhill you will get to the Forville market and to the Rue Meynadier, the old shopping district. Forville is a true Provencal market opened every morning (except on Mondays) and a feast for the eyes. Colourful local vegetables, flowers, fresh fish, olive oils and tapenade… Don’t leave the market without tasting the typical socca, a large pancake made with chickpea flour, olive oil and a pinch of salt. It’s meant to be eaten with your fingers, still hot and right out of the oven. Simple and delicious!
The Lerins Islands
The Lerins Islands are a small archipelago of two islands, Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat. These two small islands are close to the coast and it takes only a few minutes (15 to 20 min) to get there and be taken into a totally different world. Away from the cheerful bustle of Cannes they offer quiet beaches, a preserved nature and great picnic spots. Their underwater world is a protected reserve and attracts divers from the whole planet with their intact Mediterranean flora and fauna.
It is said that Sainte Marguerite’s castle that once was a prison, hosted the famous and mysterious “Man in the Iron Mask”. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t really matter anymore and the island has much more to offer than this legend. It has been entirely reforested in the 19th century and is a real paradise for all plant lovers. Walking in the wood you will be surrounded by cypresses, cedars of Lebanon, palm trees, banana trees, lemon, orange or grapefruit trees, almond, fig or almond trees and of course olive trees. All the while the pervasive smell of thousands of flowers will almost make you feel dizzy. The island has 15 small beaches where people of Cannes enjoy sunny weekends almost all year round.
Saint Honorat is quite different from its sister island. Much smaller, it belongs to a small congregation of Cistercian monks. The monks grow vines and make wines on Saint Honorat since the Middle Ages and today they produce award wining wines as well as herbal liqueurs. The monks proposes day trip to the island including a visit of the vineyards and a wine tasting. Once on the island don’t miss to visit the monastery, its cloister and chapels and end up by climbing up its tower from where you’ll get an amazing view over the island’s vineyards, Sainte Marguerite, Cannes and its bay and the snowy Alps. Swimming is allowed as well as picnic but you can also enjoy lunch at the island’s restaurant and have another opportunity to taste the monks’ wines.
More information on http://www.cannes-ilesdelerins.com/en/
Glitzy and glamour Cannes
Back in Cannes the Croisette will inexorably attract you. Built in 1866 thanks to the British jet set of the time, it stretches along the beach and definitely is the place to be. Everybody goes there, joggers, ladies walking their dogs, people wearing the most extravagant outfits, celebrities, people taking advantage of the benches to sunbath… and of course tourists. To be honest one must admit that the Croisette well deserves its reputation. With its tall palm trees, colourful flowerbeds, luxury hotels and shops, casinos, beautiful Art Deco buildings and of course with its iconic Palais des Festivals where the film festival takes place every year in May, it is one of the most famous boulevard in the world.
Why not treat yourself and have lunch in one of the legendary grand hotels of the Croisette? You will easily spot the “Grand Hotel”, it is the only luxury hotel on the Croisette that has a huge garden right on the seafront. Following the talented Christophe Poard, a new chef, Hervé Busson has just recently taken on the cuisine of the “Park 45”, the hotel’s gastronomic restaurant.
Now that the warm weather is back you can have a 5-star lunch on the terrace in the gardens and have a 3-service meal for less than 40 euro! For example you can start with “Iberic ham, pequillos and salt cod with Xeres anchovies, peas and squid”, continue with “Wagyu chuck of beef, organic carrots, Rigatoni’s pasta with mushrooms” and end with a delicious “Hazelnut eclair with ice cream and chocolate chips”. A really affordable feast in a wonderful setting! Herve Busson will soon add new dishes to the different menus with the same demand for quality, taste and creativity. The “Park 45” is also opened for dinner proposing gastronomic menus emphasizing a Mediterranean cuisine made with seasonal and local products. This is Cannes!
More at: www.grand-hotel-cannes.com/en/restaurant-cannes.html
More about Cannes at: www.cannes-destination.com
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes