Cannes, a multi layered, glamorous city

By | Category: Travel destinations
Cannes film festival crowds

festival fans queue up for a screening

I arrived in Cannes a few days before the Film Festival started.

Every time I visit there seems to be a new adventure awaiting me and I always manage to discover new dimensions of this luxurious city. I wanted to see how the city prepares for this special event as well as doing some exploring before and after the festival.  This city, which hosts a very large number of tourists and visitors from all over the world, is almost as Paris and has stamped its brand name on the world map. The mere mention of the word Cannes immediately conjures up an image of wealth and glamour; a playground for the rich and famous.

However, what is beneath this charming city? What is the feeling of the ordinary people who live here and what do they really think about all this buzz of excitement? They rely heavily on tourism, especially the various festivals that take place throughout the year. Festivals for them mean business, employment and entertainment.  As I walk through the Boulevard de la Croissette, I see the workmen installing big flowerpot troughs in the streets to block the entry, policemen closing off roads and workmen paint new markings on the streets.  The festival banners are raised; tents are erected and stylish, temporary stages and cabins are built by the beaches. It is an unusual scene with huge cranes lifting the furniture to the top floor of 7 star hotels and high-rise buildings in preparation for large parties. It is amazing to see how a quiet city is transformed so quickly and smoothly.

a sand sculpture on the beach at festival time

a sand sculpture on the beach at festival time

As I walk through the modern part of the city going from one street to another, I realised that there are different layers shaping this city. The restaurants and clubs occupy the main part of the seaside promenades.  The sandy beaches, stretching from the Palais Des Festival in the west to Palm Beach in the east are privately owned and exclusively used by the major hotels for their guests but there are two sandy beaches on either side of this stretch for the public to enjoy. All the major luxury hotels such as Carlton, Martinez, Majestic and Hilton are in the Boulevard de la Croissette. There are many expensive high-rise residential blocks, trendy gastronomic restaurants and stylish cafes along with chic boutiques and designer shops. Along the Boulevard itself, palm trees and flowerbeds add to the many factors that make this street one of the ‘poshest’ streets in the world.

While the rich people relish their life in exclusive hotels and apartments, enjoying parties day and night, there is also somewhere for everyone to enjoy, relax and forget about their worries. The children are playing in a fun fair near Palais Des Festival.  Street performers are showing off their many talents while others are displaying their acrobatic prowess. An artist is painting the portraits of people. Another one is selling his landscape paintings which are displayed near the beach. The old men, watched by the friends, are sitting on benches playing backgammon. A sand artist is working on the beach finishing off a fortress alongside other sandy sculptures. Everywhere you look there is an atmosphere filled with laughter, happiness and joy.

art for sale - with a festival theme

art for sale – with a festival theme

Running parallel to the Boulevard there is Rue D’ Antibes, a fashionable and very classy street with numerous shops, cafes and restaurants. There are a few banks and some major brand stores. It has a different atmosphere in comparison to Croissette. It is a nicely paved shopping street and accommodates the more budget minded shopper. The flower baskets hanging from well-designed buildings combine with the one-way traffic create a tranquility for shoppers.

As I walk to the north I find the city’s richness begins to fade away as the poorer parts take over. The Rue Jean Jaures and the city’s main train station seem to be in a different world to that conjured up by the name Cannes.  It is not luxurious here but there is still a charm and a sense of tradition. There are butcher’s shops, grocery stores, supermarkets and cheaper hotels along this road. It just looks like the backyard of the city. It is interesting to see such diversity in very close proximity in the neighborhood known as La Banane (named because of its banana shape). The area is embraced within the outer semi-circle ring road of Boulevard D’ Alsace. Beyond this Boulevard, there are residential neighborhoods with villas, houses and apartments.

Cannes- narrow lanes

one of the many lanes in Cannes

I pass through narrow alleys and find myself at a large reddish building called Marché Forville, near the old town. It is the city’s main market offering local produce of high quality.  It is a fascinating market selling fresh vegetables, fish and flowers, attracting not only locals and Cannes best known chefs but also tourists and visitors. Some prefer another market -Marché Gambetta – which is not too far from here.

Walking back down towards the Croissette I pass the Hotel De Ville, the city’s ‘Town Hall’. It is an elegant and charming building full of character, built between 1874 and 1976. To the east is the attractive Allées de la Liberté with lines of green, plane trees. In the mornings, the antique market and flower market are held in different days of the week in this area.

Further down, I found the small water-square with the statue of Lord Brougham. Through his efforts, the small fishing village of Cannes on a picturesque coast became a popular seaside resort. He visited this place in 1835 quite by accident but liked it enough to buy a strip of land and start to build on it. His choice attracted many British people to this region and made it famous throughout Europe. The people of Cannes still honour him.

From here I could see many boats and luxury yachts moored in the Vieux Port (Old Port) or Port de Cannes, just below the old town of Cannes. The Cannes harbour can accommodate boats of all sizes and is ideally located close to Palais Des Festival and Croisette.

Cannes harbour - gin palaces galore

the wealth and glamour in the harbour at Cannes

The Palais Des Festivals was constructed in 1982 and hosts many important events such as Cannes Film Festival throughout the year. It is a modern building with sophisticated sound and lighting systems.

I love everything about Cannes. It is a dream city with many amazing features. But beneath all this glamour there is an ugly side, the poverty so Africans will sell you umbrellas when it is wet, sunglasses when it is sunny and East Europeans will just beg. I suppose the wealth of the city attracts those entrepreneurial enough to try and acquire some of that wealth for themselves.

I could not finish my stay in Cannes without going back up the hill to see the old town again. The luxury part of Cannes, with all its allure contrasts dramatically with the old town with its charm, traditional feel and ancient. I see the Mont Chevalier Watch Tower at the top of summit, which stands like a crown watching over the city, inviting me to make my way up the hill. From there you have a stunning view of the city.

advertising festival time in Cannes

Cannes – streets lined with shady trees – and festival posters

The old town which is called Le Suquet is the oldest part of Cannes and was established in Roman times. The narrow streets of Rue du Suquet and Rue Saint-Antoine zigzag up the hill which is jam-packed with small houses converted to restaurants and souvenir shops. It is a must-see area for tourists. The beautiful stepped street of Traverse de la Tour is decorated with colourful flowers and leads towards the Chateau de la Castre. This castle was built in the 11th century by monks from the monastery on island of Saint-Honorat, one of the Lernis Islands. There are unconfirmed rumors that they also built a secret tunnel from the castle to the island but if it exists no-one has found it. The old castle house, Musee de la Castre provides access to the tower so you can enjoy a panoramic view over Cannes, the mountains and Mediterranean Sea. The church of Notre Dame de l’Esperance with its gothic style and a bell tower, built in the 16th century is located next to the castle.

Cannes is a dream resort, full of excitement and variety with lots to offer to its permanent residents and visitors alike. It is a relaxing oasis to escape our chaotic world.  I love to come back to Cannes again and again to explore all its hidden places and get to know more of its peaceful inhabitants.

For more about Cannes, click here.

Images and story © Mohammed Reza Amarinia.

For more images of Cannes, go to www.amirinia.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: , ,