It was there that Grace Kelly met her husband Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Welcome to the InterContinental Carlton Cannes, where glimpses of Hitchcock’s 1955 film To Catch A Thief flashed by as I walked past its daunting white pillars, down its stairs. Monochrome turned to color as I approached Promenade de la Croisette, only a few feet away.
The Croisette was as charming as the French can get. A glamorous setting to say the least; picture elegant French women strutting swiftly with their pocket-sized pooches throbbing out of their designer purses as content, elderly couples of miscellaneous origins silently devour some “crepes sucre.”
Comparatively modest and not half as bad was my stroll on the Croisette towards the Palais des festivals et des Congrès (the venue for the Cannes Film Festival) with an espresso in hand. I reminisce about my last time there when I visited during the Festival. Flashing lights of the paparazzi competed with dresses of haute couture at this very point. By comparison, this time the French commune was comparatively relaxed, but still breathed the same panache it did during my last visit.
The avenue of Alleys of Liberty is a short walk from there and considering it was the weekend, I headed to the antiques and art flea market (open Saturday-Sunday 7:00 AM – 5:30 PM). The art was edgy and the cascading plane trees quietly drew attention – not a bad place to pick some quirky collectibles to take back home.
Cannes is not that vast in terms of size and its foremost shopping area, Rue d’Antibes, is only a short walk from the Croisette. This high-street is a fashion haven with labels that cater to all kinds of budgets and styles. Lined with eminent international brands, it also prides itself on an array of local boutiques.
A break from all that “à la mode” was the winding cobbled street of St Antoine that sloped above to the oldest part of Cannes – Le Suquet. The walk was bordered by intimate cafes that couldn’t accommodate more than five to ten guests at a time.
As I went higher, the modernity of the French commune seemed far away and I arrived at the original quarters of Cannes perched atop a hill. A series of stairs led to the Musée de la Castre (open 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM, 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM; €6.50/$7) located in the ruins of a medieval castle. Known for its primitive art, antiques and landscapes from the Middle East, Europe and Mediterranean islands, the museum is a contrast to the chic Croisette.
There is an antique stone tower situated in the terrace of the museum and a dilapidated staircase inside took me to a breathtaking view of the bay of Cannes. From the mountains hiding beneath a sheath of clouds to the Lérins Islands in the distance, the view was postcard worthy.
On the way back through St Antoine, the horde of restaurants nestled in this quaint street spoiled me for choice. An early supper at the lovely La Mirabelle, set in what could have been a cave, was a charming conclusion to the eventful day.
Love of Posh
The view of the sun kissing the clouds above the azure Mediterranean Sea woke me up next morning. These hours of the day are ideal for visiting the Forville market (open 7:00 AM – 1:00 PM every day except Mondays), known for its fresh produce including fish, fruits and flowers. Try the chickpeas pancake called “Soca” prepared at a live kitchen in the market, for some interesting local flavor.
That evening was spent on the larger of the Lérins Islands – Sainte-Marguerite Island – that can be accessed by a 15-minute boat ride from the Cannes port. The infamous story of the “man in the iron mask” has its origins at the former prison on Sainte Marguerite Island. Legend has it that this prisoner arrested in the reign of Louis XIV hid his face during his imprisonment, leading to various theories about his actual identity.
My interest in this mysterious folklore and history was gratified at the Maritime Museum (open 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM, 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM; €6.50/$7), that also depicts archaeological finds from the time when the Romans inhabited this island. For a picturesque dip in the crystal clear Mediterranean Sea, head to Sainte-Marguerite Island’s pebbled shore.
Next morning, along with some croissants and expresso at the open-air Carlton restaurant that faces the sea, I soaked in the grandeur of Cannes yet another time before I departed further south. It was my first time in the little French town of Saint Tropez, located about 55 miles from Cannes and 60 miles from Nice.
It bears a resemblance to its cousin Cannes, especially its inherent love of yachts and all things posh. As I walked from Hotel de Paris (where I stayed) toward the pier, boutiques of luxury fashion houses tucked into old-fashioned buildings enveloped the route on both sides. There was something charming yet classical about this town painted in shades of ochre and orange. Smaller in area than Cannes, it isn’t difficult to get used to its streets and winding cobbled alleys.
I stumbled upon an atelier by the artist Ivon Hor, who specializes in nautical artwork he crafts with paper. Ivon, wearing his hat and vintage glasses, sat in his studio experimenting with his creations, as we engaged in brief conversations about his unique talent. Saint Tropez prides itself on many artists like him who create avant-garde work in their studios set in the alleys of this settlement.
A short drive from the center brought me to Pampelonne beach, situated about 3 miles from Saint Tropez. While this beach isn’t really in the town, it is still considered to be a part of St. Trop (as it’s casually called). The Mediterranean Sea glistened with hues of azure I had never seen before and the sun generously shone in the pastel sky.
No sojourn in France is complete without a wine tasting experience of the region you’re in. After a rendezvous with the art and history of Saint Tropez, I headed to the family-run vineyards of Château des Marres (chateaudesmarres.com) for a tryst with some vino from the French Riviera. Situated in Ramatuelle, close to Saint Tropez, it stretches across a lush 67 acres.
I examined the grapes on vines as Florent of Château des Marres explained how the family converted their passion of creating fine wine into a business in 2004. Like the rest of Provence, this vineyard also finds its expertise in rosé. Try their Prestige and 2S rosé varieties – not too overpowering with a pleasant finish.
Walking past the coast, I noticed a boat by the name of Brigitte Bardot. It reminded me of And God Created Woman, the 1956 movie starring the actress that was filmed right here in Saint Tropez. The actuality of this town was pretty much as depicted in the movie. Fancy, yet not over the top.
It was time to depart, and I reeled back to reflect on my experience in all of Côte d’Azur – and color turned to monochrome once again.
By Akanksha Maker