Cannes is the epicentre of the French Riviera and the nearest thing in Europe to Hollywood, a place where glamour used to abound, but now Cannes is rather overblown and overbuilt. Nevertheless it remains fun – it is a place of excess, which is a vital ingredient on the French Riviera.
Cannes was ‘discovered’ by an Englishman, Lord Brougham, who wintered there in 1834 because there was a cholera epidemic in the established resort of Nice. Cannes at the time was a fishing village with one small hotel. Brougham was so enchanted that he built a villa in Cannes, and was followed by other English and Russian aristocrats. Building went on unrelentingly until the 1970s when it was brought under control – by which time none of the coast actually remained untouched.
The heart of Cannes is the Croisette, the promenade and road that runs along the shore and along which the best hotels are stacked, principally the still-gorgeous Carlton. The beach is sandy and split up into beach clubs and hotel sections, all private.
There is one small public beach by the Palais des Festivales, and again if you round the headland the other way past the new port. This port, Canto, is where the gleaming superyachts gather. On the other side of the bay is the old port, which still has a few wooden fishing boats.
By the old port is the old quarter of Cannes, Le Suquet, working its way up the small hill to the church and ramparts at the top. This part retains some character, as does the old port with its restaurants along one side.
A couple of blocks inland from the Croisette there is a big covered market at Forville, which takes place every morning.
The main shopping street is rue d’Antibes, running parallel to the Croisette, and at the western end is the rue Meynadier with small food and clothing stores.
If you want to get a sense of Cannes before it became Cannes, take a ferry ride to the two lovely little islands just offshore, the Iles de Lerins. These are time-locked oases 15 minutes from the madness, where cars are barred and pine trees dominate as they did on the mainland. The larger of the islands, Sainte-Marguerite, has some places to eat, a couple of small museums and the Fort Ste-Marguerite which is famed as the place where the Man in the Iron Mask was incarcerated (even though he did not, strictly speaking, exist).
St Honorat, the smaller of the two islands, is inhabited by Cistercian monks, and played a big part in the Dark Ages. In the 7th century the monastery of St Honorat had 4,000 monks, which it sent out all over Europe. St Patrick served his apprenticeship here before heading over to Ireland. Monks still live here, producing honey and wine, and the religious buildings can be visited. There is just one place to eat on St Honorat.