Top 3 things to do in Cannes outside Festival time

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.

Marché Forville, Cannes

Marché Forville, Cannes

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.

Le Suquet, Cannes

Le Suquet, Cannes

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.

Lérins Islands, Cannes (map:     )

Lérins Islands, Cannes (map: wikimedia)

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.

Isle St Marguerite

Isle St Marguerite

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

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’.

Isle St Honorat

Isle St Honorat (image: wineterroirs)

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:

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Sightseeing – CANNES (Film Festival on a budget), 14-25 May 2014

Cannes was put on the map by Lord Brougham, the British Lord Chancellor, who stopped there in 1834 as he was unable to reach Italy due to a cholera outbreak in Nice. Charmed by the landscape and mild climate of what was then just a small fishing port, he built a villa there named after his daughter – Château Eléonore – and from then onwards foreigners followed suit and Cannes developed as a resort.

Still one of the major tourist destinations in this region, Cannes, is preparing to lay out the red carpet again for the upcoming Cannes Film Festival 2014, to be held 14 May – 25 May 2014.

The Cannes Film Festival is iconic and epitomises the glamour of Cannes – celebrities dressed in haute couture dripping with jewellery from the leading jewellery houses, photographers clicking away incessantly on the red carpet outside the Palais des Festivals, and tourists jostling on the Croisette for a glimpse of a celebrity.

New Zealand film director Jane Campion – who is the first and only woman to win the Palme d’Or for the atmospheric cinema gold that was The Piano – has been named as the head of the jury of the main competition in 2014.

The long-delayed (and controversial) film, Grace of Monaco, will open the festival out of competition. Grace of Monaco stars Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly, and Ms Kidman is expected to make an appearance at the festival screening.

The films competing for the Palme d’Or in 2014 were recently announced, and as per each year they include a selection from across the globe including entries from Canada, Switzerland, Japan and the United Kingdom.

The Palme d’Or is the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival. The palm design is a tribute to the coat of arms of the City of Cannes. This year the trophy which is crafted annually in the Chopard workshops since 1998 will appear with ‘fairmined’ certified gold.

Cannes coat of arms

Cannes coat of arms

Palme d'Or crafted by Chopard (image Chopard)

Palme d’Or crafted by Chopard (image Chopard)

For first-timers to the Cannes Film Festival it may seem like a crazy place with road blockages, numerous security personnel and photographers and camera crews occupying every spare inch of pavement on the Croisette. However, it’s a fantastic place for people-watching and you really do see all walks of life during the Festival. Spectators bring their own seats and ladders to the Croisette in the hope of seeing a movie star on the red carpet – frequently, their view is of the back of someone else’s head, but we can all dream of a slice of cinema magic.

The official Film Festival and the Main Marketplace are closed to the general public, so unfortunately you’re out of luck if you intend to buy a cinema ticket and hope to sit beside a Hollywood star. Residents of Cannes can win a ticket to a free screening; they apply to the Mairie (Town Hall) and they are entered in a lucky dip.

If you’re attending the 2014 Festival, here is a map of the Palais set-up FestivalMap

And also a map of Cannes for orientation for tourists Map Cannes 2014

You may be one of the fortunate ones to have a Press Pass or a Festival badge. If not, you can still enjoy Cannes and the atmosphere at the Film Festival for free (or a low budget):

La Croisette: Undeniably, one of the best seafront promenades on the Côte d’Azur, the Croisette will be thronging during Film Festival. Imagine eager tourists, families with children on scooters, dolled-up ladies in cocktail dresses, champagne at terrace restaurants, and private parties on superyachts. To break up the frenzy for families, there is a small fairground area with carousel (small fee to enjoy this one) and a public playground near to the Palais, and also another small public playground at the other end of the Croisette. There are accessible public toilets along the Croisette.

Allée des Étoiles du Cinema: Outside the Office de Tourisme at the base of the Palais des Festivals, you can see handprints from movie stars but it is nowhere near as extensive (or publicised) as the Hollywood Walk of Fame. If you’re really into immortalised handprints, Juan les Pins also has a Walk-of-Fame of jazz stars from the annual Jazz à Juan Festival, and Monaco has a Champions Promenade which pays tribute to some of the world’s best footballers.

Allée des Étoiles du Cinema, Cannes

Allée des Étoiles du Cinema, Cannes

Open-air cinema: Every evening during the Film Festival, there is a free open-air cinema at Plage Macé opposite the Majestic Hotel screening out of competition films and Cannes Classics. Who doesn’t love an open-air film sitting on a deckchair? Screenings start from approximately 9.15pm nightly. The Tourist Office advises to ask them for an invitation, but it’s not necessary – just show up at this annual Cinema de la Plage and grab a deckchair.  The programme hasn’t been released yet…watch this space…

Croisette hotels: The Croisette has many immaculate seafront hotels, most with private beaches. Security is intense during Film Festival, though that hasn’t prevented a few jewellery heists over the years.

Some of the main ones are the Carlton, Martinez and the Majestic Barrière.

You can join the spectators and paparazzi crowding the road frontages for free, but enter inside you better have a hefty credit card limit.

This year, a free public exhibition of vintage travel posters in association with Christie’s Auctions is being held during the Film Festival at the JW Marriott hotel, 50 boulevard de la Croisette, open 10am-6pm daily. The exhibition is a rare opportunity to see original travel posters including examples by Roger Broders before being auctioned in June in London.

Free art exhibition during the Cannes Film Festival 2014

Free art exhibition during the Cannes Film Festival 2014

Vieux Port (old port): Stroll for free along the port admiring the expensive superyachts berthed there. Many yachts host private parties in the evening so it’s a good time to wander past for a nosey.

Le Suquet: While the Croisettte, Palais des Festivals and the seafront hotels are frenetic (and expensive) during the Festival, Le Suquet awakens each day almost unaware an international festival is happening mere minutes away. Le Suquet is Cannes Old Town, interspersed with old houses with vaulted entrances, small cobblestone alleyways and numerous restaurants. Walk up rue Saint-Antoine, and if you’re feeling energetic you will be rewarded for the climb to the top of the hill with panoramic views across Cannes, the Lerins Islands and the Esterels. At the top of the hill, 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).


Le Suquet, Cannes

Le Suquet, Cannes

Cannes cinema murals: Since 2002, Cannes has been developing a series of film-themed murals scattered around the city on walls of buildings. There are 15 in total, including murals of Marilyn Monroe, cars from films and Charlie Chaplin. For the location map and details about each mural, download from the link here Murs peints de Cannes

Cannes cinema murals

Cannes cinema murals

Festival TV: If it all gets too much ‘on location’, you can still watch the Film Festival action from your hotel room. A pop-up TV stage is set up on the Croisette, with presenters interviewing stars, directors and other industry notables, available 24 hours a day in English or French on Canal Satellite and Canal+ on channel 17.

Festival updates: A free bilingual mobile application ‘Festival de Cannes’ available for iPhone, iPad, Android, Android tablets and Kindle Fire for Festival news, hour-by-hour coverage, videos from the red carpet and more. On Twitter, you can follow @Cannes and @FdC_officiel for all the latest Film Festival news.

Transport: My recommendation is to arrive via bus or train. There are road blockages during the Festival, notably the Croisette, and police frequently block roads for major stars exits from hotels and restaurants.

The large carparks nearby and under the Palais des Festivals are extremely busy.

Cannes is walkable, and the walking distance from the train station to the Croisette is only 5 minutes.

Outside of Film Festival season (due to the Croisette closures) there is a navette (called City Palm) that travels a circuit regularly between Hôtel de Ville, the Croisette, rue Latour-Maubourg, eastern end of rue d’Antibes, the train station (Gare SNCF), and rue Félix Faure. The circuit is shown below, each trip costs 60 centimes, signal the driver to stop for you.

City Palm

City Palm

Cannes train station: Still under renovations (May 2014), the Cannes train station (Gare de Cannes SNCF) is much lighter and brighter than it’s predecessor, with ample glass to let in more natural light and more seating.

There are ticket counters with attendants, but you can also purchase your train tickets from the blue ticket machines and then validate them in the yellow machines at the platform entrance. Tips: As at 07 May 2014, there is just one yellow validating machine – located at the entrance to the westbound platform (Voie 2) – so ALL tickets must be validated here whether you are using either eastbound or westbound platforms. Use coins for the ticket machines if you are an overseas tourist as often they can’t read non-French issued credit and debit cards.

The train station has newsagents selling newspapers, phone credit, cigarettes. Snack kiosks and vending machines onsite. Well-maintained public toilets are located just outside the station 50 metres to the left of the station entrance, open Monday-Sunday 7am-10pm, these toilets cost 50 centimes; pay the attendant at the counter. There are 2 ladies toilets, 2 men’s toilets and a parents room with baby changing facilities. All are accessible.

Buses: Cannes is on the Bus 200 line (between Nice and Cannes), timetables current as at 07 May 2014 are found here 200

It takes around 1.5 hours for the full oneway journey from Nice to Cannes, but it is by far the cheapest option at €1.50 oneway.  You pay the same fare regardless of distance travelled anywhere on the route.

The Cannes stops are the Gare Routiere (near Hôtel de Ville and the port), and outside the train station (the 200 stop is opposite Hotel Ligure).

Local Cannes buses with Palm Bus (previously known as BusAzur) cover the immediate central area and extend to nearby Le Cannet, Palm Beach and Mandelieu-La Napoule, their website with maps and timetables is here

Food, glorious food – it’s true that Cannes has some of the finest restaurants in the region, however don’t be put off visiting Cannes for fear of breaking your bank balance dining out.  I’ll be kicking myself later for sharing this inside information, but here are some of my favourite places for well-priced eats:

Le Tikawa is a snack kiosk (located right beside Le Grand Café) on the Allées de la Liberté. It’s by no means fancy but they sell tasty salads, paninis and cold drinks – all for a fraction of the price at neighbouring restaurants. My favourite salad costs a wallet-pleasing €6.50. Grab a table beside the plane trees, have a quick bite to eat and watch the locals playing pétanque.

– A pan-bagnat is a regional specialty (of Nice) and comprises of a pain de campagne (French sourdough) or white bread bun filled with salad Niçoise. For one of the best pan-bagnats in Cannes, head to promenade de la Pantiero beside the port to the blue and white snack kiosk called Philcat.

Philcat on the promenade de la Pantiero

Philcat on the promenade de la Pantiero

Marché Forville is great for people-watching! Whether you are a foodie or not, you will find the selection is extensive including fruit, vegetables, fresh pastas, tapenades, sun-dried tomatoes, sauces, cheese, cured meats, fish, eggs, honey, olive oils. You will also find products here that are sold much cheaper than a supermarket such as courgette flowers, morel mushrooms and Fleur de Sel de Camargue, the salt harvested near the town of Aigues-Mortes.

There are specialty shops surrounding the main covered market including a shop selling regional products and duck, a salmon and caviar store, a bakery (boulangerie), a roast chicken store and Socca’nnes, a socca vendor. There are also a number of supermarkets there – LeaderMarket, SPAR, and for frozen foods go to Picard (good for people staying in apartments who are self-catering).

Marché Forville, Cannes

Marché Forville, Cannes

Many restaurants, bistros and bars fringe the Marché Forville including an oyster/wine bar and a Fish ‘n’ Chips shop, Le Fish and Chips. My pick is Café de l’Horloge with it’s French bistro-style with clocks adorning the walls. There is an accessible ground-floor toilet and outdoor seating. A café noisette costs €1.60 or stop by for a glass of wine after your shopping.

The market is open every day from 7am-1pm, except on Monday when it is a bric-a-brac flea market.  Tips: 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.

Le Cirque with it’s suave, efficient staff is right in the heart of Cannes, but this caféteria/bistro has a modern cosmopolitan vibe that wouldn’t see it out of place in New York, Melbourne or London.

Situated on a corner site at 30 rue Hoche, it has a modern décor (design geeks will love their quirky logo, and interior fittings) with good coffee and most mains are under €15. A café noisette cost me €2.

Plenty of seating – indoors includes a second-level, or outdoors with terrace tables. There is a high-chair for babies, and a baby change table in the toilet facilities upstairs.


Le Cirque, Cannes

Le Cirque, Cannes

Le Cirque, Cannes (all images Access Riviera, except bottom image

Le Cirque, Cannes (all images Access Riviera, except bottom image

Factory Café is situated in the arcade for the Galerie du Gray d’Albion between rue des Serbes and rue des États-Unis (actual address: 17 la Croisette Gray d’Albion).

They serve burgers, meat dishes, pasta ranging up to €15 and most are served with fries and coleslaw. Friendly staff.

Seating indoors, or outside including a small patio area with wine barrels as tables (perfect for resting a pint of beer).

Has played non-intrusive jazz/lounge music in the background on my last few visits. A café noisette cost €1.80. Mainly corporate clientele. A bonus is they have free Wifi.

Cocoon, 18 rue Bivouac Napoléon, is the type of cafeteria that I could recommend for a broad cross-section of people.

You could visit with friends for a coffee, bring your mother (or grandmother) for a slice of cake and a cup of tea, or enjoy a meal with a colleague with vegetarian inclinations (Cocoon’s menu has ‘V’ for vegetarian options).

Totally unpretentious and a world apart from some of the brash Croisette eateries, it exudes a cosy ambience with a hint of vintage from teacups, photo frames and a lovely chandelier.

Seating indoors, upstairs or outside at terrace tables. Ground-level accessible toilet onsite. A café noisette cost €2.20.

Staff are friendly and hospitable, and while they don’t have a high-chair for babies or Wifi you will be won over by the smell of baking and their window display of tempting cakes and desserts.

Cocoon, Cannes

Cocoon, Cannes

Cocoon, Cannes

Cocoon, Cannes

Cocoon, Cannes

Cocoon, Cannes

Cocoon, Cannes - coffee & bonbons

Cocoon, Cannes – coffee & bonbons

– Jean-Luc Pelé’s reputation as a master chef pâtissier-chocolatier is evident with 4 stores on busy pedestrian streets in Cannes and Antibes. If you visit Cannes, you are sure to be amazed at the wonderful delights in the windows of one of his stores including on rue de Meynadier or rue d’Antibes. My pick (if you haven’t already spent your money on the tempting macarons, chocolates or cakes at his stores) is La Boulangerie par Jean Luc Pelé, 3 rue du Vingt-Quatre Août, they serve artisan breads, salads (most priced around €6-€7), sandwiches, fruit salad (€4) and yoghurt, open Monday-Saturday 7.30am-7.30pm.

Le Jardin Secret, 2 rue Frères is an eclectic place in Le Suquet with entry through a narrow bar area/art gallery. They serve tapas-style dishes. Lovely little garden courtyard and Wifi. Open from 7pm, also open for weekend brunches. Look for the entrance on rue Frères through the old door and the sign with the key. Follow them on their Facebook page for current news on opening times.

Le Jardin Secret, Cannes (look for the old door and sign with the key!)

Le Jardin Secret, Cannes (look for the old door and sign with the key!)