Cannes was once a small fishing port with about 500 houses around Mont Chevalier, the area now known as le Suquet. In 1834 Cannes was discovered by Lord Henry Brougham, the British Lord Chancellor. Accompanied by his daughter Eleanor, he was on his way to Nice, still part of Italy but already a fashionable winter resort for the British aristocrats. However he was turned back at the border, which had been closed by the auhtorities due to a cholera outbreak in Nice. As it was already getting late, they stopped for the night in Cannes. They were so pleased with this quaint fishing village, that they stayed on. Eventually Lord Brougham had a magnificent villa built, which he named after his daughter. The London high society soon followed his example and and Cannes expanded rapidly. The port was being built and similar to Nice, a grand promenade along the seafront, La Croisette. In those times, where the English went, the Russian aristocracy followed. They were soon setting up their own grand mansions. In the 1850s the first grand hotels were constructed and within two decades a small fishing village had been transformed into an exclusive winter resort with elegant villas, lush gardens, grand avenues and promenades. The population grew and Cannes became the Côte d'Azur's leading resort town. The French high society finally arrived in the 1880s, following an enthusiastic account given by Guy de Maupassant.
From the 1880s until World War I Cannes thrived. Famous landmarks were being built, like the Hotel Carlton with its extravagant domes. It is said, that the Swiss hotelier Henri Ruhl was captivated by Mademoiselle Carolina Otero, la Belle Otero, a famous Spanish dancer, actress and what was then called a "paramour". It was rumoured that having failed to convince her to become his wife, he had the hotel's cupolas modelled after her most prominent features! Hard to say if the story is true - but the Carlton's formal dining room is named La Belle Otero in her honor. Cannes in those days became the playground of the rich and famous with lavish parties, shows and plenty of money being thrown around. World War I brought all of this to a sudden end. Many of the hotels were used as hospitals and shelters for wounded soldiers and refugees. In 1921 the Allied Peace Conference was held at the Carlton. During the 1920's, the "Roaring Twenties" the first singers and film stars started to appear in Cannes. Plenty of gossip and scandals, like in Hollywood today. Aga Khan III (grandfather of today's Aga Khan) married a local beauty queen and shopkeeper, Andrée Joséphine Carron. Bankers and industrialists like the Rothschilds, Citroens and Michelins, artists and politicians, like young Winston Churchill came and went. Not to forget aristocracy, like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who continued to descend on Cannes during the winter months.
Cannes Film Festival
Every May the prestigious Festival de Cannes takes place. Film stars and starlets, producers, directors, screen writers, critics and journalists take over the town, not to forget the usual VIPs and ersatz playboys. La Croisette is the place to see and be seen, that is unless you are really famous or at least have enough dough. In that case you retreat to the Eden Roc on Cap d'Antibes or to your own yacht. Hard to believe but there is actually some film watching going on in the Festival Hall. Few remember that the Cannes Film Festival started, when the Mostra di Venezia, the Venice Film Festival, the non plus ultra for the European film scene at that time, was taken over by Italian and German fascists in the mid 1930s. The French Minister of Fine Arts promoted Cannes and the first film festival opened in the Municipal Casino on September 1, 1939, the day the Nazis invaded Poland. The next day the film festival was halted and on September 3 Britain and France declared war on Germany.
The film festival was finally held in 1946 and the films shown are classics today, such as Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious and Gilda, where Rita Hayworth's emerged, and Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast. Over the years Cannes has expanded its "festival" business, it hosts broadcast and advertising festivals, antique festivals, autoshows, boat shows, an International Pyrotechnics competition and many trade shows. Everyone loves to come to Cannes, especially when it is on a business expense account.
Cannes is a bit similar to Miami's South Beach, both are urban beach resorts. Instead of Ocean Drive with Art Deco buildings you have Boulevard de la Croisette, the boulevard of the little cross, where magnificent late Victorian area buildings mix with more contemporary apartment houses. La Croisette runs from Place du Général Charles de Gaulle in the west to Pointe de la Croisette in the east. This is the promenade where you go for your daily strolls, before lunch and before dinner - if you want - the entire length of 2.5km (1.5 miles). It is a magnificent promenade lined with palm trees, a fine sandy beach on one side and the grand hotels, the nightclubs, bistros, cafés and exquisite shops on the other side. Walking east from Place du Général de Gaulle you see the "le bunker", that's how the French call the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, a 1982 design of questionable beauty. Nothing is perfect on this world, not even in Cannes. Walking east under the shade of palm trees and along well tended public gardens you reach the Pointe de la Croisette, the end of the promenade. Here is the Palm Beach Casino with restaurant, cabaret, disco and swimming-pool. A small cross used to stand here, which gave the promenade its name. The Ile Sainte Marguerite, the largest of the two Iles des Lérins, lies 2km across the sea - you can easily spot Fort Royal on its northern shore. Walk around the point over Place Franklin Roosevelt onto Boulevard Eugène Gazagnaire, where an entirely new view opens up of the Golfe de Juan and the Cap d'Antibes. At the Port du Moure Rouge, a marina, turn left onto Avenue des Hespérides, which rejoins Boulevard la Croisette after about 1km (0.6miles). The Espace Miramar (Corner la Croissette and Rue Pasteur) displays the work of young artists from the region. Walking west on la Croisette you reach No.47, La Malmaison, the first Grand Hotel of Cannes, now the site of a temporary fine arts and cinema exhibition. One block east and running parallel to la Croisette is the Rue d'Antibes, the best shopping street in Cannes.
Walking west from Place du Général de Gaulle on the Allées de la Liberté, with its morning flower market, you reach Place Bernard Cornut Gentille, named after a former mayor of Cannes. To the left is the Vieux Port and up on the hill lies le Suquet, the oldest part of Cannes. One block inland from the Allées de la Liberté runs Rue Meynadier with many food shops and one block further on is the Marché Forville, the primary fruit, flower, and vegetable market. On Monday's there is a brocante (used knickknacks) market here.
Le Suquet is the oldest part of town on the slopes of Mont Chevalier. It can be reached from Place Bernard Cornut Gentille or any of the small streets leading up the steep hill. From the medieval château on top you have magnificent views over la Croisette, the Rade de Cannes and the Iles de Lérins (see below). The château was built at the end of the 15th century, but the Romanesque Chapel of Sainte Anne and the cisterns date from the 11th century. The ancient Canua, as Cannes was called, was a defensive structure for the monks of the Iles de Lérins. Next to the vestiges of the ramparts is the 17th century Église Notre Dame de l'Espérance with its Romanesque belfry. Nearby is a 12th century square tower, which served as a defensive lookout. It now houses temporary photographic exhibitions. Inside the château is the Musée de la Castre displaying an extensive art collection from the Himalayas, the Far East, Pacific and the Americas, Orientalist and Provençal paintings, Mediterranean antiquities and musical instruments from all over the world.
From Le Suquet drive west on Avenue du Docteur Raymond Picaud, turn right into Avenue Jean de Noailles and take a look at the Rothschild Villa, one of Cannes' finest grand mansions. An assortment of Classical, Palladian, Renaissance and Baroque styles, it was built in 1881 by Baron James de Rothschild replacing the earlier Villa Marie-Theresa, which belonged to Lord Brougham. James de Rothschild employed a staff of 35 to service his villa. It was purchased in 1947 by the city of Cannes and now houses the municipal library. Noteworthy is the magnificent garden with its exotic plants and flowers.
From la Pantiero on the Vieux Port drive north until you reach Avenue de Grasse. Number 205 is the entrance to Le Grand Jas, the large terraced cemetery and the largest park in Cannes. It was built in 1866 and includes the Cimetière Anglais, is the final resting place for many English who made Cannes their home. A veritable treasure trove of Victorian era graves. Many celebrities of their time are buried here, Lord Brougham, Peter Carl Fabergé (Fabergé eggs), Lily Pons (Opera), Olga Khoklova (prima ballerina and Picasso's first wife) and the Marquis de Morès, the French frontiersman, who challenged Theodor Roosevelt to a duel.
Head northeast on Avenue de Vallauris (D803) and after 1.5km you reach the Chapelle Bellini, set in a Florentine style park. The Baroque Chapel in Florentine style was originally the property of a Serbian princess. Emmanuel Bellini (1904-1989), the Moroccan born French painter, used it later as his studio. His daughter Lucette, also a painter, shows visitors around the chapel, which contains some of her father's canvasses. Drive another 200m northeast on Avenue de Vallauris and turn right into Avenue Isola Bella. Turn left after 200m into Avenue Fiesole to reach Villa Domergue, the home built by painter Jean Gabriel Domergue in the 1930s. Inspired by houses he had seen on a trip to Florence, he designed every detail himself. His wife, a sculptor, was responsible for the gardens, with terraces and water features. Domergue's poster designs are world renown - he did the poster for the one day 1939 film festival. The villa formed the backdrop for paintings of Brigitte Bardot, Gina Lollobrigida and many other celebrities. Domergue and his wife are buried in the gardens.
lles de Lérins
Just 2km offshore the Pointe de la Croisette are the Iles de Lérins. Closest to the mainland is the Ile Sainte Marguerite (210ha) and behind it the smaller Ile Saint Honorat (60ha). These peaceful, wooded and historically fascinating islets are close enough for a pleasant half-day trip. Ile Sainte Marguerite is the site of the 17th century Fort Royal, built by Cardinal Richelieu as fortress and military prison. This is where the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask was incarcerated. His cell can be visited along with the state prisons of Louis XIV. The Musée de la Mer, housed in the Fort, displays many undersea archaeological finds, such as amphorae, glass and ceramics. The island is crisscrossed by foothpaths leading through pine forests and botanical gardens. Boats leave, throughout the day, from Gare Maritime in the Vieux Port. The trip takes about 15 minutes. You can book online through the Ile Saint Honorat ferry website.
On Ile Saint Honorat is one of the historically most important monasteries in Southern France, the Abbaye de Lérins. Founded by Saint Honorat at the beginning of the 5th century, the monks adopted Benedictine rules in the 7th century. The monastery was pillaged by the Saracens in the 7th and 8th centuries. Abbé Adalbert expanded fortifications in the 11th century and from then on the Abbaye de Lérins became one of the important landholders in the Eastern Provence. Possessions included Cannes, Mougins, Vallauris and many villages in the Pays de Fayence. In 1788 at the height of the French Revolution the monastery was secularized. Cistercian monks from Sénanque near Gordes reoccupied the monastery in 1869. Most of the structures in use today are modern, but scattered throughout the island are ancient chapels and fortifications. The monks cultivate Provençal herbs, lavender and produce a pretty good wine. The island is owned by the monastery, but can be visited throughout the year. The ferry boat is operated by the monastery, for more information click here. You can also book online through the Ile Saint Honorat ferry website.