The California quarter has preserved its areas of beautiful greenery. On a small hill the Mediterranean vegetation is in bloom all year long: aloe, mimosas, pine and cork oak trees. In fact, the quarter owes its name, California, to this flora which evokes the west of America. Beautiful houses and hotels were built here during the Belle Epoque, and although little of them remain today, this is still a high-class area. The villas are splendidly luxurious, even though sometimes it is difficult to get a glimpse of them as they are usually hidden behind vast gardens. A little California dreaming!
You will come to the peaceful and pleasant suburb of Cannet, by going up the long Boulevard Carnot. We recommend a tour in the tiny old Cannet area. With its picturesque architecture, you would think you were in a small inland village. In this quarter you will find many art and crafts galleries, a chapel decorated by Tobiasse and a bunch of good, small restaurants.
The Town Centre
From the end of the nineteenth century, the location of the Rue des Antibes in the middle of Cannes, made it the town’s business centre. Fashion boutiques abound, and you will find something to suit all budgets (the big-name labels however, are located on the Boulevard de la Croisette). In this quarter you will find everything you could possibly need: food, the train station, libraries etc. It is a pleasant place to shop. Visit the Galerie du Gray d’Albion, a beautiful shopping arcade which juts out onto the Croisette.
A visit to Cannes is not complete without a stroll along the Croisette, the splendid promenade which runs along almost the whole length of Cannes’s coast. Before ten in the morning when the town is still quiet the atmosphere is reminiscent of the Belle Epoque. In fact the atmosphere at the Croisette changes with each hour of the day. Sometimes you will come across a crowd of tourists, while at other times you will see people from Cannes walking their dogs, or wealthy elegantly dressed residents, or even eccentrics and poseurs trying to catch the eyes of the passers-by. Many sandy beaches stretch out to sea from the foot of the Croisette. Most of them are private, so you have to pay to go, but by doing so you have the comfort of a sun lounger, parasol and bar. On the other side of the Croisette you will mostly find prestigious fashion boutiques sandwiched between the big names in haute couture and jewellery: Christian Lacroix, Hermès, Chanel, etc. There are also a lot of sunny café terraces. The Malmaison museum, a former casino, looks out onto the sea. Here you will also find the town’s most prestigious palaces, of which the most famous are: Hotel Carlton and the Hotel Martinez, where most of the film stars stay during the international film festival. Fans of the silver screen can see the stars and directors make their mark on the famous steps of the Palais des Festivals, at the bottom of the Croisette.
The Îles de Lérins
Cannes and its islands, the Sainte-Marguerite and the Saint-Honorat. Far from the hustle and bustle of the town, the islands look on Cannes with an assured and peaceful air. A jaunt through the natural beauty of the islands is very popular during the summer months. To get there, take one of the boats which makes the trip near the Palais des Festivals. It was at the island of Saint Margueritte that the Iron Mask, made famous by the novel by Alexandre Dumas, was kept for eleven years (the mask was in fact made of velvet). The monastery on the island of Saint-Honorat is well worth a visit.
The Port and Suquet quarter
The port of Cannes and the adjoining Suquet quarter are the most picturesque places in town. They make you forget for a moment the luxury and modernity of Cannes. It is easy to lose your way among the back streets, the quaint passageways and the pretty little squares. These small narrow streets also make excellent places for cooling down in summer. By climbing the streets, you will come to the top of Suquet, a point which offers a wonderful view over Cannes and its surrounding area. It also makes for a great view in the evening, when the town is lit up. Just behind this point is one of Cannes rare museums, the Musée de la Castre. It is housed in an old twelfth century castle which belonged to the monks of the Lérins islands. Here you will find a beautiful collection of objets relating to the Mediterranean (ethnography, archaeology), as well as many musical instruments from all over the world. Its is also at Suquet that you can visit the Notre-Dame d’Espérance church, which dates from the seventeenth century. It is especially renowned for its naïve thanksgiving plaques, created by people who played the role of artists, in order to pay homage to the ‘holy mother’, who had the goodness to grant their wishes. As for the old port, it only houses yachts and small fishing boats. But Cannes is a master at combining opposites: the old and the new, the luxurious and the modern, the town and nature.
Situated just to the west of Cannes, close to the motorway and the Cannes-Mandelieu airport, the Cannes-La Bocca area has very little to offer the tourist. Having said that, it has a large number of superstores selling sports gear, furniture and the like.
History of Cannes
For all intents and purposes, the history of Cannes does not begin before the nineteenth century. When he arrived here in 1834, Lord Brougham and Vaux found a simple Mediterranean fishing village, completely different from the Cannes we know today. In any case, regional historical sources are scarce and imprecise; even the experts have difficulty telling the story of Cannes.
The first civilization here seems to date from the second century BC, when today’s movie-star playground was a Ligurian outpost inhabited by the Oxybian tribe. Eventually the Romans found their way here, to the settlement then called Aegitna, a poor and simple fishing village that served as a stopping-off point between the Lérins Islands and the interior. Life in Aegitna was pleasantly uneventful until the bloody battle pitting Othos against Vitellius, in the year 69 AD. With this battle, the era of conquest had begun; Marseilles would soon assert its dominance of the region, as exemplified by the erection of the Castrum Marcellinum at the heart of the town. Not until the ninth century would the waves of foreign invaders cease.
In the tenth century, the village fell under the sway of Lérins Abbey (itself founded in the fifth century): to better defend themselves, the monks built the fort of La Castre, and the district now known as Le Suquet began to coalesce. The great towers of Saint-Honorat and of Cannes were constructed during this same period. Then, in 1035, the name Cannes appears for the first time on an official document. Various etymologies of Cannes’s name have been proposed, the most plausible of which is perhaps the theory that the town was named for the abundant reeds (‘cannae’) all around the area.
Fourteenth-century Cannes, thanks in part to the abbey’s benevolent protection of town and townsfolk, survived the plague and a plethora of pirates. Plague struck again in the sixteenth century, more deadly than the first time. Beginning with this period, Cannes’s history blends into the history of Provence, itself in the process of annexation by France, and the influence of Lérins wanes.
The seventeenth-century village, which contained around six hundred houses, saw the construction of the Notre-Dame (Our Lady) parish church and the Spanish invasion, eventually repelled by French troops, of the island of Sainte-Marguerite. During the eighteenth century, various invaders come and go. In 1771, an exceptionally harsh winter ravages the region, and the corresponding high price of bread provokes an insurgency in Cannes. At around the same time, sea commerce begins to occupy a more important place in the little burgh’s economy. France is divided into ‘départements’ (departments, i.e. local administrative units) at the Revolution, and Grasse is named ‘chef-lieu’ (governmental center, equivalent to a county seat) of the Cannes region.
Besides Napoleon’s stop here, on March 1, 1815, upon his return from exile on the isle of Elba’the major event of the nineteenth century in Cannes is the legendary arrival of Lord Brougham. In December of 1834, Lord Brougham, Peer of England, Minister of Lord Gray, decided to winter at Nice. Contrary to plans, though, his trip ended near Cannes, namely, at Saint-Laurent-du-Var, where the river Var had been closed to prevent the spread of cholera. Thus the Lord Chancellor of England, for all his angry protests, had no choice but to turn back. The legend has it that his decision to stay on was clinched by a hearty bouillabaisse and a comfortable bed at the only inn in the area, the Pinchinat. Lord Brougham was taken by this lovely site, its friendly inhabitants, its good weather; he decided not to look elsewhere and, in the end, settled permanently here. Following his example and attracted by a moderate climate and natural beauty, a wave of British expatriates soon began flooding Cannes.
Very quickly, Cannes was no longer a peaceful fishing village. The town received the prestigious visits of personalities such as Prosper Mérimée, Oscar Wilde, Stephen Liegard, the Countess of Oxford, Lord Russell, Baron Haussmann, the Rothschilds, and even the King of Prussia himself! Every winter, an international élite disembarked here in search of peace and good weather; their presence encouraged the development of the Croisette, where they would stroll along the waterfront, their faces hidden behind parasols to preserve their ashy skin. By the 1930s, the parasols were gone, but Cannes’s place as fashionable destination was secure. Even today, one may admire the fur coats of aristocrats on the Croisette; Cannes remains beloved among the rich and famous. Meanwhile, the International Film Festival, now more than fifty years old, has lost none of its ability to attract stars, starlets, and groupies.