The red carpet has probably done Cannes a disservice.
As a first time visitor, even in the off season, you can see this icon of the French Riveria is set up to accommodate thousands of people passing through and parties on a grand scale.
The boulevards and promenades, the not so special eateries that line the waterfront, the dominating Palais des Festivals that showcases the film and TV festivals, the ritzy hotel facades and roped off beach areas accessible only to those privileged hotel guests … if that’s all Cannes was, it’s frankly pretty underwhelming.
But one block behind the action of La Croisette, the main waterfront boulevard, the soul of Cannes starts to reveal itself.
Cobblestones appear and locals walking the streets with baskets filled with produce and seafood of the day hint at something more.
Venture further, higher, and you’ll discover the medieval quarter and all of a sudden, you’re a world away from the flashes and the sequins that characterise Cannes to the world.
The area known to locals as Le Suquet is the Old Town.
It’s easy to find by tracking the ascending topography and you’ll be rewarded the higher you get by the opening expanses of the Bay of Cannes. Naturally in such a visited place, it’s folly to think you suddenly leave the tourist trappings behind you but it’s fair to say, they’re more sparse than at sea level.
If you’d rather hitch a ride to the top of the hill, you can catch Le Petit Train – a motorised “train” that tours the streets of Cannes.
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When you arrive at Le Suquet, your real discovery of Cannes begins as a labyrinth of stone laneways unfolds in front if you. Suddenly, you’re in Europe again and not an outpost of Hollywood.
Restaurants serving Provencal specialities and markets selling local cheeses, fruit and a dazzling range of seafood signify this is the way the locals actually live and the hyped-up glitz of the waterfront is probably as foreign to them as anyone else.
It’s here you’ll find the imposing Chateau de la Castre, the area’s defining castle built in the 12th century AD. The city purchased the castle in 1919 and now it houses the Castre Museum that boasts a wonderful collection of artworks and antiquities sourced locally and globally. Climbing the 109 steps of the castle tower will give you a panoramic view of the region.
Typical of most settlements founded in the Middle Ages, modern day Cannes was established as a community surrounding and servicing the castle and tower.
A mere 400 years after the castle was built and still dominating the hilltop is the Notre Dame de l’Esperance church.
The church took more than a century to build and today celebrates the region’s maritime past and rich fishing history with centuries old artefacts on public display.
You can also climb its Romanesque belltower for the best view of this intriguing, double-edged city that warrants deeper discovery than what plays out before you on its world famous waterfront.