The French Riviera: One Day in Cannes

Mention Cannes, and the first thing that comes to mind is the Cannes International Film Festival– where famous celebrities descend upon this beautiful beach town for a couple of weeks of glitz and glamor in the name of film-making. During the rest of year, the town still radiates with charm and charisma; people come here to unwind on its gorgeous beaches, stroll along its stylish boulevards, stay in its grand hotels, shop in its luxury boutiques and eat in its lavish restaurants.

Cannes is enchanting– from the moment you step in the town, whether you’re packing a pocket full of cash or you’re going solo on a budget… you’ll feel like a movie-star on a holiday.

Fort Royal on Sainte Marguerite Island

Getting There
While based in Nice, I made a one day trip to explore Cannes. It was one of the cities I chose to explore while in the Cote d’Azur… I just couldn’t come to the French Riviera and not make a visit here. Getting to Cannes from Nice was rather easy, I was staying closer to the Nice Saint-Augustin station so I took the train from there. There are more frequent trains from the main Nice Ville Station. The ride to Cannes Station takes about half an hour or so and costs €15 (US$16) for a round-trip.

Sainte Marguerite IslandBoat Ride to Sainte Marguerite Island

Trans Cote d’Azur Cruise
Upon arriving in Cannes, I made my way to the Cannes Port, which was about a half hour walk from the train station. My first destination of the day was to the island of Saint-Marguerite, located off the coast of Cannes. The only way to the island is by boat from the port, which runs every half an hour (€13.50=US$14) and takes 15 minutes.

Sainte Marguerite Island

Île de Sainte-Marguerite
The biggest island of the Lerins Islands cluster, the Saint-Marguerite island is most famous for its old fortress, and the prison that housed the Man in the Iron Mask. That was the main reason I wanted to visit the island.

From the jetty leading up to the fortress; I passed by the village, lined with lovely flower-decorated houses belonging to the local fishermen, and small restaurants overlooking the sea. The island is filled with pine and eucalyptus plants– and is a great place for a stroll. Marked trails are available around most of the island.

Fort Royal on Sainte Marguerite Island

Fort Royal
The Fort Royal (6=US$6.50) was built by the Romans in the early 17th century; and was later converted into a prison. Many notable prisoners were housed here– including Austrian war prisoners, protestant pastors and the infamous Man in the Iron Mask (he was held for 11 years from 1687 and no one ever knew who he was!).

The fort offers sweeping views of the sea and Cannes in the distance. I had fun exploring the fortress grounds– peeking through the windows of small houses and barracks, looking into the wells and walking along the high walls surrounding the fort. There is also a chapel in the vicinity. Most of the spaces are now used as youth hostels for camps and sorts; I bumped into a few groups of children.

Fort Royal on Sainte Marguerite IslandMusee de la Mer - Prison of Man in Iron Mask

Musée de la Mer
This Museum of the Sea is located inside the Fort Royal grounds; and is a marine archeological museum on one side, housing goods salvaged from shipwrecks– like jars and pots; as well as wall paintings.

The other side of the museum is the very jail cell where the Man in the Iron Mask was held, complete with a stone fireplace, a toilet ‘hole’ and a wooden steel door. In the cell there is also a window looking out to the sea; but it is secured with three levels of steel bars. The enclosed space smelled musky with age, and was dark and glum. There are historical explanations on the wall in English and French.

Sainte Marguerite Island

Port Cannes (Le Vieux Port)
By the time we were done exploring the Royal Fort, it was almost noon and time for lunch. We bought some bagels at an island shop before taking the boat ride back to the city. We were dropped off at our starting point, the Port Cannes. I couldn’t help admiring the many yachts on display at the dock– and picking the ones that I would one day have!

Cannes Le Suquet

Le Suquet
Walking up from the port, I came across the old quarter of Cannes, Le Suquet. The place dates back almost 400 years ago and was the site of Cannes’ original fishing village. With its winding cobbled lanes and narrow stairways; Le Suquet exudes an old-charm and nostalgic atmosphere.

I passed by many local restaurants, bars and shops in the old quarter– they now occupy most of the area together with a few clusters of old brick houses. The steep road towards the hill in the middle of the old town was a tiring climb (especially under the summer sun)– but the view from the top more than made up for it.

Château de la CastreChâteau de la Castre

Château and Musée de la Castre
On the summit of the hill in Le Suquet stands the Cannes Castle and Museum. It was built in the 11th century by the local monks of Lérins. I didn’t visit the museum; but spent some time admiring the sweeping views of Cannes and its bay, the outer part of the castle, its clock tower and the small chapel.

The castle is also a good place to view the houses of Le Suquet down below; there were some spots around the hill where I could catch a glimpse of pretty flowery courtyards.

Cannes Palace of Festivals and Congress Hall

Palais des Festivals
Going downhill from the Cannes Castle was easier… and a short walk across the port brought me to the famous Palais des Festivals– home of the Cannes Film Festival. This festival site was opened in 1982 and is continuously expanding and evolving. The Cannes Tourist Information Center is located here.

Entry into the main area of the building is restricted, but I couldn’t resist the urge to take a picture on the red carpet– pretending I was a superstar about to enter the film festival, even though I didn’t have a gown!

Promenade de la Croisette

Boulevard de la Croisette
Just a quick walk down from the Palais des Festivals is the beautiful palm-lined Boulevard de la Croisette. This is the place to have a cup of coffee and people watch; or lie on the beach and soak in the sun. If the pebbled beach of Nice is not for you… then the Bay of Cannes offers a fine sandy beach. The late-afternoon sun that day was lovely, and I was on the sand in a second!

On the other side of the boulevard are rows of luxurious hotels, high-end boutiques and elegant terraced restaurants. I was hoping to spot a celebrity or two– but I guess the lure of the beach got to me and I was distracted (or more likely, sleeping).

Rue d'Antibes

Rue d’Antibes
What better way to end the day than browsing through the many shops along Rue d’Antibes, the main shopping street of Cannes. This shopping haven is parallel to the Boulevard de la Croisette and offers a variety of shops; from boutiques, jewelers and beauty parlors to cafes, tea rooms and confectioneries. They suit anyone with any budget and any taste– so everyone can shop, including me!

And that’s how I ended my day in Cannes. Shopping.

Cannes City Hall

The beautiful architecture of the Cannes City Hall.


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