Cannes has a love/hate relationship with the huge influx of visitors that the annual congrès events and Cannes Film Festival bring to this popular destination.
Bars crammed with people, traffic jams and a visible presence of the charming motorbike cops can overwhelm visitors – but Cannes remains one of my top French Riviera destinations for people-watching.
I’ve had coffee at Le Cirque on rue Hoche, bought Italian leather boots at the Cannes Shopping Festival discounted from €149 to €30 (!), visited Jean-Luc Pelé on rue Meynadier for tasty macarons and walked the length of the Croisette so many times I deserve my own star on the Allée des Étoiles.
If you want to discover the side of Cannes that I love and venture beyond the seafront offerings of the Croisette, here are my recommendations for the ‘Top 3 things to do in Cannes outside Festival time’:
1. Marché Forville
Marché Forville is definitely one of my favourite markets on the French Riviera. As well as being covered (meaning you can still visit when the region experiences the odd rainy day), it is a one-stop shop for your culinary basket.
The market is open every day from 7am-1pm, except on Monday when it is a bric-a-brac flea market. As with most French markets, its advisable to take cash in small change (avoid €50 notes) and take your own shopping bags. Any day is great to visit, but my tip is on Sunday as that is when the farmers and produce growers go to the market to sell their wares and all the locals visit.
Browse the stalls for fruit, vegetables, tapenades, cheese, cured meats, fish, olive oil, herbs, flowers, fresh pasta, honey and home-made conserves. I often find items here much cheaper than supermarkets like Fleur du Sel de Camargue (the salt from Aigues-Mortes), morel mushrooms or courgette flowers.
Surrounding the main market area are specialty shops including a roast chicken store, caviar and salmon boutique and boulangerie. There’s a Fish and Chip shop, socca vendor and even an oyster/wine bar. Other grocery items can be found at a couple of supermarkets – LeaderMarket, SPAR, and for frozen foods go to Picard (convenient for people staying in apartments who are self-catering).
If market shopping wears thin, grab a glass of wine or hot drink at one of the restaurants – I’ve spent far too much time at the outdoor tables at Café de l’Horloge decorated in French bistro-style with clocks adorning the walls (Tip: There is an accessible ground-floor toilet).
2. Le Suquet
Situated on the fringe of Marché Forville, is the tiny district of Le Suquet that is Cannes Old Town.
The energetic can walk up paved rue Saint-Antoine (best done on a clear day) where you will be rewarded for the climb to the top of the hill with panoramic views across Cannes, the Lérins Islands and the Esterels. If you don’t have the energy, jump on the petit train that departs near the Palais des Festivals and weaves up to the top.
At the summit, there is a Gothic Provençal church, a watchtower and the Musée de la Castre (the museum has a small entry fee but if you visit the first Sunday of the month it’s free).
I like Le Suquet for the mix of old houses with vaulted entrances, small cobblestone alleyways draped in bougainvillea and numerous restaurants.
3. Lérins Islands
I’m often surprised how many ‘locals’ have never visited the Lérins Islands! Situated a short boat ride off the Cannes coast, they are a welcome escape from the crowds on the Croisette and you can find your own piece of island paradise, even in summer months.
Île St Marguerite is the busiest of the islands and accessible via ferry boat that is stroller or wheelchair-friendly. Please note that while the ferry boats and island are suitable for wheel access, most paths are not paved (they are a dirt/fine gravel mix) so there is uneven ground.
There are many walking trails that cross the island under pines and eucalyptus trees, and small rocky coves for a refreshing swim.
Disabled toilet facilities on the island are located up the hill from the boat jetty. There are stairs to the Fort on the island.
For ferry timetables to St Marguerite and prices refer to http://www.riviera-lines.com/
The other island you can visit is Île St Honorat, the home and haven for 21 Cistercian monks. The island can be circumnavigated easily, and is a lovely place for a wander past lavender gardens, fruit and olive trees and the small operating vineyard. Coincidentally, the monks sell their wine and lérina (a citrusy-herb liqueur) so if you fancy a glass of Chardonnay or Syrah crafted by the monks drop by to say ‘Bonjour’.
The grounds of the Abbaye de Lérins are off-limits to tourists, but you can stay there as a meditation retreat. Day trippers can visit the shop or make a reservation at the island restaurant La Tonnelle.
Ferry timetables and prices are here: http://www.cannes-ilesdelerins.com/site/index.php/fr/
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