Cannes, Revisited ~ France

In the 1950s, the Festival became more popular thanks to the attendance of celebrities such as Kirk Douglas, Sophia Loren, Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot, Cary Grant, Romy Schneider, Alain Delon, Simone Signoret and Gina Lollobrigida.

Marilyn Monroe is pictured on the poster celebrating the film festival’s 65th anniversary. Otto L. Bettmann took this photo of Marilyn.

Today, May 16, marks the start of the annual Cannes Film Festival that runs until May 27. In a nod to its 65th anniversary, Marilyn Monroe was chosen as the icon to grace the festival’s official poster; it also pays tribute to the star on the 50th anniversary of her death.

I visited Cannes in May 2011 – my first taste of the French Riviera. This is an international scene stretched along the coast of the Mediterranean complemented by the provincial feel of its charming old city. As I have written about my time in Cannes previously, I thought it would be fun to revisit those sentiments and display them here. Enjoy this reblog!

The Allure of Cannes

originally posted on November 19, 2011

Prior to visiting Cannes, I had associated it with the glitz and glamor of the Côte d’Azur; a town frequented by the paparazzi, and super stylin’ jet setting crowd who would make it their base during the warmer months, seeking respite on their super size yachts anchored in the marina whenever necessary. I knew it to be the town that bestows such honours as the Palme D’Or at its annual Film Festival and the Lion Award at the International Advertising Festival (having worked in the media industry I would regularly speed read through this annual list of awards, which were accompanied by social snaps of ad exec’s dressed to the nines, in the ad trade magazine: Ad Age).

Armed with all this knowledge, I thought I knew enough about Cannes to justify not buying a guidebook. I was simply prepared to expect the expected – and I hoped, at the very least, to be pleasantly surprised with a typical French pastry: a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth croissant that seems oh-so-hard to come by in New York.

Wall Art in Cannes

Well here’s the clincher – I got what I expected… and more. Our trip to Cannes had coincided with the final preparations for the Film Festival, so not only had the town propped itself for our arrival, but Cannes had also charmed us with its French provincial appeal.

The main shopping street, Rue D’Antibes

Cannes doesn’t even need to try to seduce you because you’re drawn in by its effortless beauty as soon as you arrive. The one main street that runs along the waterfront, La Croisette, is fringed with palm trees: lined on one side by la plage, and on the other, by huge hotels overlooking the sea that are interspersed with outdoor cafes for the all-important sport of people watching. Though the Film Festival hadn’t officially started during our visit, the streets were filled with a joie de vivre. There were people from all over, walking around with their ‘media: authorised access’ neck tags, zoom lens cameras and notepads.

Accents were flying left, right and centre; paparazzi were staking the best spots outside the festival’s main venue, Palais des Festivals et des Congrès ; hospitality staff were setting up beachside cabanas for private events; the police were madly trying to control the traffic orchestrated by a bunch of small cars – Citroens, Renaults, and Peugeots.

The hotels were covered in full on film and press regalia: a Daniel Craig cutout adorned the Carlton hotel (that the closest we got to seeing a film star); Variety magazine had dressed up The Grand Hotel, and even rolled out the red carpet; The Weinstein Company seemed to have misplaced the memo and brought the bare minimum – a sign with just their name in bold type, stuck to the penthouse balcony of the hosting hotel. All this jazz could have easily made Cannes look and feel like a European version of New York’s Times Square, though it didn’t. There was a certain je ne sais quoi about it all. The place was buzzing.

One street behind La Croisette is the main shopping area, home of brand name stores for deep pockets such as Valentino, Jimmy Choo, Escada, as well as the more affordable Zara and Mango. Cannes is a pretty small town so with no real use for the token tour bus, we boarded their tour train. If but for no other reason than saving our feet from an uphill climb to the Old Town, La Suquet, it did also provide the obligatory commentary via headphones that covered a very brief history of Cannes (note: more music than words) as it drove around part of the island’s circumference (all beach and apartments) before getting to La Suquet.

The train wound its way through La Suquet‘s cobblestones streets, a mainly residential part of Cannes. You know you’re surrounded by family homes when laundry is hanging out of the windows to dry. Here, the streets become narrower and their scape is a photographer’s dream.

The multi level buildings are painted in yellows, greens, whites; their windows hinged with coloured shutters; their iron balconies and rooftop gardens abloom with potted plants. Bars, boulangeries, and other small stores selling such things as linens and homewares unexpectedly pop up throughout the neighbourhood.

At the top of La Suquet, the view of Cannes is panoramic. The terracotta tiled roofs of the homes, a mosaic of different shades of brown, frame the city to one side; the Mediterranean frames it on the other. It’s up here that you will find the Musee de Castre, housed in a fortified tower and in the Chapel of St Ann, which features a rather eccentric collection of decorative arts and relics.

Decidedly, I was probably better off without a guidebook for this day trip to Cannes as the town is superb in letting your day unfold perfectly, naturally. You may be asking whether I bought myself that delectable croissant. Well, yes I did, from a patisserie. And not only that, but I purchased the most beautiful bunch of my favourite flowers. After we had alighted from the tour train to take a final stroll through the town centre, I had spotted a weathered Frenchman, sporting a classic beret and wearing overalls. He was pulling a wooden cart full of his latest flower offerings. I just had to have the most spectacular bunch of blooming pink peonies that stood out from the other bunches of fleurs. They may have cost 10 Euro but hey, but when in Cannes, you can.