We are exploring more of the beautiful French Riviera traveling by train from Nice to Cannes — it's an easy trip, it only takes about 30 minutes, it's 40 km distance, and they have got a couple of trains every hour, so Nice makes a very good home base from which you can get out to see beautiful cities such as Cannes, and later in the day we'll continue to Antibes. The Cannes train station is right in town so in a few minutes walking you'll reach the pedestrian zone.
The compact size and layout of Cannes consists of three adjacent neighborhoods, which makes it very easy to navigate on foot, so touring strategies can be summed up in a nutshell: Old town; beachfront; Old Town; downtown pedestrian and shopping lanes. Alternatively, we might consider skipping the uphill walk to the small Old Town if we have already seen enough other villages with their old pedestrian lanes.
Upon leaving the train station you are facing interesting streets no matter which way you turn. If you want to get to the beach right away, walk straight out from the station for five blocks along Rue des Serbes, also a lovely commercial road. Mid-way note that beautiful shopping street, Rue d’Antibes, which you can explore later. After 300 meters you will arrive in five minutes at Boulevard de la Croisette, one of the world’s great waterfront promenades, lined with luxury hotels and high-end shops on one side and private sandy beaches along the shore.
Alternatively, if the beach can wait a little while, you could take a right outside the station and walk two blocks over to Rue Meynadier, a pedestrian shopping lane that extends for 600 meters to the Old Town. Of course there are plenty of souvenir shops and a variety of merchandise for sale all over Cannes. We will get you back to this lovely pedestrian lane later in the chapter but for now you would probably rather get down to the waterfront, the beautiful highlight of Cannes that makes this town so unique.
Depending on the season, there may or may not be very much beach action. Cannes is one place that it might be more exciting to visit in the summer when the beaches are quite busy, but in the off-season it is not so crowded or hot. If seeing those nubile, exposed bodies is important, you would be better off visiting here in the summertime despite the crowds and astronomical prices.
The main boulevard, la Croisette, is lined with large fancy hotels starting with the Majestic to the right, at that first corner with Serbes where you just arrived. The Majestic is one of the grandest of the hotels. The lobby is open to the public, so go in, have a look around the Egyptian-themed lounges, sit down, relax, use the facilities, maybe have a snack at the café. Of course the Majestic Hotel is very highly rated, for example on Trip Advisor, people love it – it got 306 excellent ratings out of 606 reviews, a very good record. You would find it also can be affordable in the off-season -- you might find a room for under $300.
Walking east from there will take you along the main seven blocks of the boulevard’s luxury row including the usual boutiques catering to the upper .01% who come here and buy ever more jewelry and fancy scarves as they flaunt their extravagant lifestyle at Hermes, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, Harry Winston, Valentino, Ferragamo, Dior, Chanel, etc. After a few blocks you reach three top hotels, the Grand, Marriott and Carlton. This is one of the great sections of the city that you just absolutely must come and spend time at. Notice the real estate office offering simple apartments for €10 million, a little reminder of where you are.
It's a fine neighborhood for walking but if you don't have the time or energy, or you're just feeling a little lazy you can ride around in one of those little tourist trains that run along the main streets and continue uphill to the Old Town for an easy tour while sitting down.
Perhaps the most spectacular hotel lobby along the strip is at the Marriott with a huge atrium. It used to be the Noga Hilton and the Marriott has taken it over and done a fabulous job.
Further along, the Carlton Hotel is generally considered the grande dame of Cannes – one of the most elegant resorts along the Riviera, a magnificent structure one century old but sparkling like new. You might be pleasantly surprised at how affordable it could be in the wintertime, in the off-season – even in November. If you come in the late fall, early spring you could probably get a room here for under $300, but double that in the busy summer season. Obviously during the film festival it would be unaffordable to just about everybody except the film industry types.
Here's a typical comment from Trip Advisor about the Carlton Intercontinental "the hotel is absolutely beautiful, the setting is awesome and the bar at the front is just the best spot in the world for cocktails and people-watching.”
The baroque dining salon dates to 1911 with original décor intact, and the elegant lobby also features a lovely lounge. The Carlton is on the waterfront with the beach across the street and, of course, another row of high-end shops out front.
Have a peek at the high life exemplified in these extraordinary hotel palaces. Nobody will stop you from walking through their fancy lobbies, use the facilities and perhaps pause for some refreshments. The hotels really don't mind if you come in, behave yourself and have a look around – they welcome you as a future customer, so feel free to take a look. You might just be freeloading, walking along from one hotel to the next, dropping into the lobbies and departing to the next hotel, but don’t feel guilty – you are saving lots of money, and perhaps some lucky readers will actually be checking in for a most enjoyable stay. For the rest of us, we can always dream.
There are a variety of less expensive hotels away from the beach area but most likely you don't need to sleep in Cannes, especially if your home base is in Nice, which is a much larger and more interesting city.
For your return walk, cross over to the waterfront side of the Croisette and stroll along the famous Promenade, with views of the beach and a long, landscaped park with benches, fountains, statues and wonderful greenery. Notice the sweet sculpture of a lion and her cubs — a reminder about a major convention that happens in Cannes every year -- the Lions International Festival of Creativity which celebrates those working in advertising, communications and related fields.
This path will lead you west towards the huge Festival Hall, site of the Cannes International Film Festival and many other conventions. Cannes is perhaps the best-known town along the French Riviera because of that festival, the most highly regarded film festival in the world. It takes place every year during the last 2 weeks of May, which is a great time to be here, but you will have big trouble finding a room in Cannes at that time. You could stay at one of the nearby towns and shuttle in by train or bus and that way take part in the excitement, get to see some of the stars and some of the great festivities happening
The sidewalks all around the festival hall are dimpled with many impressions from the big stars – their handprints and footprints and signatures. They flock here during the festival to show off and promote their latest flicks. Everybody comes to Cannes for the festival, and it's a big buying market for the television industry as well, it's not just for the movies.
Naturally there is a casino here, on the other side of the festival hall, along with the very helpful Office of Tourism where you can drop in and pick up free maps and brochures, get sightseeing tips from the friendly staff, sign up for tours, and find a hotel if you're looking.
Next door there is a large marina in Le Vieux Port on the west end of the waterfront, loaded with mega-yachts, and offering a fine view towards the adjacent Old Town up on the hill.
By this point you have seen the main highlight of Cannes -- the gorgeous waterfront, with its shops, hotels, beach and parks. If you are in a rush you could depart, but there are more fine sights to enjoy, especially downtown with a mix of pedestrian and elegant shopping streets, and perhaps the Old Town up on the hill.
A moment of truth has arrived – should you climb that hill to the Old Town? If you have already seen plenty of old pedestrian zones on your journey this hill might not add much of interest, but if you have a little energy, you could enjoy it and you would get a nice view from the top.
You do have to look for the Old Town because it is easily missed by those hesitant to walk uphill or those who don't have a map, or for those who just don't notice it – but don't be dissuaded. Called Le Suquet, this simple neighborhood is a welcome counterpoint to the ostentatious display of wealth down below.
It just takes about 30 minutes round-trip for a little stroll through old Cannes. The Old Town’s pedestrian zone gently rises from the west end of the marina via staircases and the upward sloping pathway of Rue Saint-Antoine which becomes Rue du Suquet, a narrow, pedestrian lane that winds up the hill with homes, shops and cafés along it.
Once you've made it to the top of the hill you get your reward — the view looking back across the boat harbor to the beaches, elegant hotels, Festival Hall and the rolling hillsides in the far landscape — it's beautiful.
The “Quartier du Suquet” at the top of the hill is a pleasant neighborhood with a few restaurants, ice cream shops, always a creperie nearby and sidewalk cafes. The Old Town is up on the hill of Mt. Chevallier, 147 feet high. Typical of the early villages along the Riviera, its first existence was because of the rocky hill. You can see the Church of Notre Dame from the 17th century and above that, the church of St. Anne from the 13th century -- the oldest buildings in Cannes.
Then you come back down the same lane into the modern town. Walking downhill is much easier than walking up, especially if you find that quick speed and delicate balance, leaning slightly forward where you can almost float down. Alternatively if you don't want to walk up the hill you could take the petite train. It's called the “Train du Cinema” offering a half hour tour that you can catch from downtown.
After that enjoyable short stroll you've arrived back in the main commercial part of town, connecting from downhill Rue Saint-Antoine to Rue Meynadier, a picturesque shopping lane for pedestrians only that extends for about 600 meters towards the train station. Although Cannes is one of the most legendary of towns along the Riviera, an area famous for luxury and high society, this busy shopping lane is surprisingly down-to-earth, with normal prices and a friendly atmosphere. Meynadier is the main pedestrian street of Cannes, with a few automobile-free short cross streets.
You could easily end up back at the train station in 10 minutes following this route, but don’t do that -- there is one more superb shopping street, perhaps the best of all, waiting to be explored: on the west end called Rue Félix Faure, and in the east, Rue d’Antibes. This is a deluxe road extending about 12 blocks with a lovely mix of expensive and affordable shops, and tempting restaurants on adjacent side streets. The design is brilliant, with wide sidewalks and just one lane for automobiles, with a low speed limit – very peaceful, extremely nice. Even if you are not a shopper, the ambience of this place will delight you, and the people-watching is superb, with jet-setters and glamor dolls all around. It is like is like a human-scale Rodeo Drive but down-to-earth, with many normal shops as well as upscale, something for everybody.
It's a great street and yet you might easily miss it in your visit to Cannes because it's not that famous waterfront boulevard with the great hotels and the Film Festival Hall, and it's a bit apart from the old town – so be sure to look for this street because you'll enjoy taking a stroll here.
It’s an easy two block walk from here back to the train station where you can continue your journey. That wraps up this visit to Cannes. A half-hour train ride brings you back along the beautiful coastline to your home base in Nice.
HISTORY of CANNES
We are accustomed to think of Cannes as modern, but it is in reality a place of great antiquity. Although the early history of Cannes is obscure, the area was in all likelihood first settled by the primitive Ligurian people several thousand years ago. Subsequently Greek sailors arrived and established themselves as merchants and traders throughout the region. And then according to legend the Ligurian natives had annoyed the Greek settlers and traders on the coast, and the Greeks complained to Rome about the ill-humor and rough deeds of these Ligurians. The Romans sent an army led by Consul Quintus Opimius to aid the Greek merchants and obtained a victory over the Ligurian tribes in 155 B.C. The Romans subdued the natives without much trouble, and then gave this settlement they called Aegitna to the citizens of Marseille.
Rebuilt under the name of Castrum Marcellinum (Château Marcellin), from the relics of a martyr of that name supposed to have been brought there from Africa, it was twice destroyed by the Saracens in the eighth and tenth centuries. Sometime around the tenth century it became a fief of the powerful Abbey of the Lerins, to which the whole of the adjacent country had gradually become subject. On the slopes of the castle hill and round the harbor at its base were erected the houses of the ancient town, approached by steep and narrow alleys.
Repopulated by a colony from Genoa, one of the Counts of Provence called it Castrum Francum, or Château Franc, on account of the freedom from taxation which he conferred upon it. Its modern name of Cannes was derived from the long reeds or "cannes" which formerly grew in immense abundance in the marshy grounds around, and imparted a peculiar appearance to the landscape.
After a time the patron lady of Cannes -— according to the legend -— appeared one day to a young peasant girl watching her flocks in the meadows by the sea, and sent her to inform the inhabitants of the village on the rock that they might leave the security of their elevated fortress and build their houses on the plain round about, and she would protect them from their enemies. This supernatural permission was speedily taken advantage of by the cramped inhabitants, and the margin of the small harbor and the eastern slope of the hill were soon covered with their squalid houses; this quarter of the town receiving the name of Suquet, the main street forming part of the famous Corniche Road extending from Marseille to Genoa along the coast.
Early Cannes was perched, after the manner of most ancient Provençal towns and villages, on the top of an isolated rock called Mont Chevalier, and had little to show besides a few narrow steep streets, quaint gables, old arches and doorways crowding round an ancient castle, with a church on the highest point. The summit of the hill is crowned with the only buildings in Cannes having any claim to antiquity. These consist of the " Tour du Chevalier," the ancient Church of St Anne (formerly the chapel of the castle), and the more modern parish church of the seventeenth century, the church of Notre-Dame-d'Esperance, the whole being surrounded with the remains of walls, towers, and bastions of various periods, enclosing open spaces and courtyards, and presenting a very varied and picturesque ensemble.
The "Tour du Chevalier" is a structure of peculiar interest, being the first we have met with of a series of similar towers which were erected in the eleventh and twelfth centuries for the defense of the towns and churches of this district. These towers are generally square in plan and have walls built with courses of square dressed stones, having the faces left rough. The square tower of the castle—which is popularly termed Saracenic, but was actually built in the eleventh century and was admirably adapted as a place of safety in troubled times, having its door high up, accessible only by a ladder. The ground floor is vaulted, and is entered only from the first floor by an aperture in the vault. The entrance doorway to the tower is on the first floor, at a considerable height above the ground; being so placed for security and being only approachable by a moveable ladder. Of the original structures the only one besides the tower now remaining is the church of St Anne, which, according to the Abbe Allier, was erected towards the end of the twelfth century. This church forms an example of the simple style of Cistertian architecture, which, as already remarked, was largely adopted in Provence—especially in many of the smaller churches. In these we find the Cistertian plainness combined with the plan of a simple nave without aisles, terminated with an apse at the east end. The Church of St Anne, although erected in connection with the castle, also served originally as the Town Church. It is of the same simple type as Thoronet, but on a much smaller scale. The plan consists of one long nave, 87 feet in length by 20 feet wide, with a round apse at the east end; and it has no aisles.
Not until 1788, the year before the Revolution, did the town become free from its religious masters.
The modern culture of Cannes as a resort developed in the 1830s thanks to the British who started coming down to the Riviera and enjoying the mild climate. The 'second founder' of Cannes was Lord Brougham, Lord Chancellor of England, who on his way to Nice in 1834, was prevented from crossing the then Italian frontier on account of cholera. Charmed by the beauty and salubrity of Cannes he took up his abode there, built a villa which he named after his daughter Eleonore Louise, and died there in 1868. Cannes, thus brought into notice with English society, developed from the small fishing village into a town of fine residences and splendid hotels extending for about four miles along the coast, finally evolving into the favorite and fashionable resort of today.