Cannes – How to get there and what to do!
Cannes started out as every other village on the French Riviera, a small fishing village, in the place that is today known as the old town of Cannes – Le Suquet, including the old harbor, known as Le Vieux Port, where the fishermen came in and docked their boats, after having caught fish.
The name Cannes is first known to have appeared in 1030. The word Canue comes from a Ligurian word, which means ”height’ or ‘Peak’, and refers to the hill on which Le Suquet and its iconic watchtower is located. The reason for the watchtower which was built by the monks was to be able to warn both its citizens and the nearby islanders of invasion. When wary sails were seen on the horizon, the town was lit to signal to the island.
Today, Cannes is a fetching and glitzy seaside town recognized as one of the social hubs of Europe. Cannes moment of glory comes every May when it’s Palais des Festivals holds its annual Cannes Film Festival, promoting the art of filmmaking. Thousands of fans patiently waiting beside the red carpet and the famous steps for their beloved celebrity, actor or director.
If you don’t visit the city in the time of its greatest fame, don’t despair there is always Allée des Stars. Film directors, actors and other international celebrities have left a print of their hands and their signature on the Allée des Étoiles du Cinéma, for posterity, like in Los Angeles at the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Find them in front of Palais des Festivals on Esplanade Pompidou and in the park.
But Cannes holds other super important events every year such as International Real Estate Market (MIPIM), International Audiovisual Market (MIPCOM), International Market for Television Programmes (MIPTV), Cannes Lions, Cannes Yachting Festival, Pyrotechnic Fireworks Festival and many more.
The best option is by train. Take a train from any of the train stations in Nice, the journey takes about 40 minutes and one way ticket will cost you €6.10. The trains run regularly, approximately every 45 minutes, the schedule can be found on SNCF website.
Le Suquet – Old Town
The hill of Le Suquet is the birthplace of Cannes. Rising quite sharply above the Vieux Port, this is were the fishermen and their families used to live before Cannes was discovered by the good, great and filthy rich. You can reach it by different routes, walking up the steep roads. With its medieval houses and winding alleys, it is a great contrast to the glamorous boulevards of Cannes. You’ll be delighted with a traffic free pedestrian quarter, filled with bars, restaurants and shops selling what you actually “do not need”. The best time to visit is early in the morning or later in the evening to still get a sense of the place. Yes, it is touristy but there are still some interesting places to see in the small old town of Cannes.
Notre Dame de l’Espérance – Suquet
Place de la Castre, 06400 Cannes
Sitting on the top of le Suquet, the Notre-Dame de l’Espérance is the most significant church in Cannes. Built in the late-Gothic style in the 16th century including a Renaissance porch and impressive Madonna on the high altar dated back to the 17th century. There is also an old cemetery that dates back to the 16th century. During the Second World War, the church was temporarily used as a hospital. Today, the church is still a place of religious worship. Every July, for one week, the courtyard in front of the church becomes a magical outdoor venue under the stars for the Nuits Musicales du Suquet (Musical Nights of Le Suquet), a world class festival featuring both large symphonic concerts and smaller solo performances by violinists, pianists and vocalists.
Musée de la Castre – Suquet
Place de la Castre, 06400 Cannes, Tel: +33 (0)4 93 38 55 26
The museum is located on the heights of Le Suquet, overlooking the port and the bay, Croisette, and Lérins islands, in the remains of the medieval castle that once was used as a land base for the monks of Lérins Islands. The museum presents prestigious collections of primitive arts and archaeological material, musical instruments, orientalist paintings and objects from the five continents. Its square tower from the 12th century (109 steps) offers an exceptional 360 ° panorama of Cannes and its region.
October-March 10.00 -13.00, 14.00-17.00
April – June, September 10.00 -13.00, 14.00-18.00
July-August 10.00-19.00 Opened every day
Admission Fee: Adult €6, under 25 years old €3, Free for under-18s and students under 26. Free on the first Sunday of the month from November to March.
Tour du Masque – The Tower of the Man in the Iron Mask – Suquet
9 rue du Mont-Chevalier, 06400, Cannes Tel: +33 (0)4 93 39 24 53
This 12th century tower, located in the old town, takes its name from the famed 12th century Man in the Iron Mask. It is said that he spent his last days in the tower after escaping the Bastille on Sainte-Marguerite island, and that his ghost haunts the tower to this day. The exploration of this tower will delight fans of history and literature. The Tour du Masque is one of the sites that contributed to the legend of the “Man in the Iron Mask”. One of the 50 versions of this very mysterious story…
One of the oldest ports on the French Riviera built in 1957 lies beneath the historic quarter Le Suquet. Beside its use as a dock for sailboats and yachts it is a launching point for Royal Regatta. It is one of the most famous destinations along this coastline, where many boat and yacht owners like to stay, particularly during the spring and summer. It is located in the centre of Cannes, directly west of the Palais des Festivals and the famous Croisette. The marina is perfectly integrated into the town centre of Cannes, without barriers and with large docks, making it a very popular place for walkers and visitors as well as boat owners.
Marché Forville – Market
5-11 Rue de Marché Forville, 06400 Cannes
Near La Croisette at the bottom of Le Suquet, a covered market and rather legendary institution opens its gates every morning around 7.00 am. You can taste and take away a lot of stuff including socca (a chickpea delicatessen), olives, dry sausages, fruit and veg, seafood paella, homemade stuffed pastas. Some great ideas for an afternoon picnic especially if heading to Lérins Islands (more about this trip idea later). The market starts packing up around 12.30 and on Mondays is replaced by the flea market.
A splendid palm lined promenade curving along the bay is as famous and legendary as her sister Promenade des Anglais in Nice. It extends from Palais des Festivals to the park La Roseraie. Some parts of the boulevard are very built up, lined with upscale boutiques and fancy hotels while others are less busy. A great place for a stroll and people watching. Especially on little “places des boules” where the French take a part in the national past time – pétanque. And boy, do they take it seriously!
With its soft white sand, fantastic views and calm Mediterranean waters ideal for swimming, Cannes beaches make a welcome change to those in Nice. Including the nearby îles de Lérin and Estérel coastline, Cannes proudly owns over seven kilometers of beach land.
Public Municipal Beaches in Cannes
There are two municipally managed beaches in Cannes Macé Beach on the western end of Boulevard Croisette and Zamenhof Beach on the eastern end.
Both of them offer a rental of a lounge chair and a parasol for less than half the price of a private beach. The sun beds are not declining as on the private beaches but are durable and you get to soak up the sun comfortably without spending a fortune. To rent a sunbed and a parasol costs only €3.70 each for half a day, €6.70 full day, restrooms, hot showers included, locker is extra.
The municipal restaurants prohibit food but snack bars can be found on the promenade just above it. Both beaches are opened between 1st June – 30th September from 8.30 till 18.30.
Free Public Beaches
Also available for public use (and free of charge) are the Plage de la Casino along the Boulevard de la Croisette; with gorgeous views and golden sand; the Plages du Midi, a long sandy beach near the center of Cannes; and Mouré Rouge Beach near the fishing ports. The lesser-known Les Rochers beach located opposite of La Bocca railway station is a well kept secret and is the best choice for snorkeling. Bring some bread and the fish will eat out of your hands! Bijou Plage is especially suitable for handicapped people. Note that Les Rochers and Bijou beaches are non smoking beaches and the fine is €11.
The 33 upscale private beaches and restaurants are mainly in the town along the Bd. Croisette and on the Bd. du Midi, around the corner from the old port. Plus one, Plage des Sports, half way along the Midi beach towards La Bocca. They are only open for lunch in winter.
Plage Croisette, the Royal Plage, CBeach, Bâoli Beach, Maema Plage, to mention a few. They offer either fine or casual dining with typical Provençal cuisine, seafood and live music in the evening.
All private beaches have excellent facilities, are very comfortable and have an easy going ambience. The prices for a sunbed and umbrella start at €25 per person in high season, food and drink is obviously extra.
For those who wish to escape the hustle and bustle of the busy French Riviera for a couple of hours, we recommend a real gem, and one of the best secrets of this area, the Lérins islands.
Located just a few kilometers off Cannes mainland, they consist of two main islands, Sainte Marguerite and Saint Honorat and two inhabited islands Tradelière and St. Féréol.
The ferry trip out to Sainte Marguerite takes just about 15 minutes, but what a difference 15 minutes can make when comparing Cannes to the tranquility of this island (imagine no cars, no scooters). The little village off the boat terminal consists of only 20 houses, the rest is covered by pine trees and eucalyptus. The stunning sandy and rocky beaches and pretty coves with crystal clear waters offer great opportunity for snorkeling, swimming and sunbathing.
The main attraction of the island is the fort and old prison, The Royal Museum of the sea. This 17th century Fort is famous for holding the ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ prisoner during the rule of Louis XIV (remember Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie?) The museum also holds shipwrecks and other pretty interesting artifacts from Roman and Saracean era and there is also a small cemetery dedicated to French and North African soldiers.
Two high end restaurants and two more affordable snack bars can be found on the island but to bring your own picnic is the way to go, there are several picnic areas with tables and benches along the walking paths.
Saint Honorat is the less visited and unspoilt of the two islands, around 25 minutes boat ride from Cannes. It is named after Saint Honoratus from Arles, founder of the monastery (legend has it that even Saint Patrick, the patron Saint of Ireland, spent some time studying here).
Today, 20 monks still live here producing their famous Lérincello (limoncello made of lemons from Menton), Lérina liquer (secret 19the century recipe using 44 different plants), honey and award winning wines. These wines are being grown on 8.5 hectares and sold every year at charity auctions with all the proceeds donated to the poor. Each wine is sponsored by a benefactor who in return gets a small plaque with his name on the bottle (most famous is Prince Albert II of Monaco). You can buy these wines in the gift shop on the island (be prepared to pay between 30 to 300 euros though).
The whole walk around the island takes about an hour. The highlights include a visit to the Cistercian abbey built in 1088, where monks still live today and also take guests for a couple of week long spiritual retreats (you must be willing to follow strict monastic rules). The abbey has stunning Mediterranean gardens full of flowers and palm trees.
Along your walk you can visit 5 beautiful chapels and see cannonball ovens built by Napoleon in order to protect the island from the sea invaders. Do not miss an amazing 360 degree view from the top of the Fortified monastery made up of three floors, each with its own cloister.
Note that it is prohibited to smoke on the island (except of designated areas such as restaurant) and to walk around just in swimsuits.
Hopping between the two islands is not possible (only on private boats), the monks who manage the island (along with some business people) have decided against it in order to limit the number of visitors and protect the pristinity of the island.
The ferry terminal for the boats is found in the southwest corner of the Cannes harbor, in Quai Laubeuf. Return ticket for adult costs €15, children 5-10 years old €9.50, teenagers 11-14 years old / students / seniors over 65 go for €13.50 and children under 5 and dogs travel for free.
You can check the regular departures on www.trans-cote-azur.co.uk. The tickets can be bought directly in the port or for a discounted price (€13.50 instead of €15).