The Cote d’Azur or the Coast of Azure is the French Riviera. This area is on the Southwest coast of France along the Mediterranean Sea stretching from Toulon in the West up to Italy. The French Riviera becomes the Italian Riviera and continues down the West Coast of Italy with Genoa being the centre. The Italian Riviera from the West of Genoa is known as the Coast of the Setting Sun and the area to the East of Genoa is known as the Coast of the Rising Sun. This is a particularly beautiful part of the World. The deep blue Mediterranean Sea and its mild water temperatures, the warm climate with mild winters, the beautiful sunlight helped make this area very popular with British Royalty, the rich, the famous, the intellectuals and of course European Aristocracy.
Queen Victoria was a frequent visitor. The author Robert Louis Stevenson lived here as the climate was good for his health, Winston Churchill, Somerset Maugham, F Scott Fitzgerald and the dancer Isadora Duncan all spent time here. The excellent light brought the painters Picasso, Matisse and Renoir here.
I am sure you have heard of the towns that dot the Riviera – Saint Tropez, Nice, Cannes, Antibes, Cap Ferrat and the most famous of them, the one that takes the biscuit, Monaco. Sorry I could not resist that.
You must also have heard of the geographical and historical region, Provence. Cote d’Azur is in Provence. Provence not only includes the coast but extends inland. In the early 1990’s Peter Mayle wrote a bestselling book A Year In Provence about his life in this area. In those days, circa 1990 we actually bought books from shops, or had lending libraries where we were members and borrowed books. This book and a couple of the books he wrote in continuation served up an irresistible, magical, romantic picture of Provence. I recall reading about him cycling and stopping to drink Pernod, how the drink turned the water used to dilute it white. The young impressionable me was captivated by this. Much later, when we went to Greece almost 12 years later I saw Ouzo turn white when diluted, as does Raki in Turkey. I now know why this happens, anise compounds are soluble in alcohol and not water. Hence when you add water or ice, the compounds become solids making the water opaque. Much alcohol has flowed thru my system over the last 30 years. Today I am wiser and far more cynical.
Anyway, the point I am making is that Cote d’Azur and Provence are extremely beautiful.
In May this year we had made our first visit to Valbonne, an inland town some 12 kms away from Cannes. Our host had taken us to Cannes where we spent a morning on the beach. We were captivated. So, we decided that we would revisit and stay in Cannes. What an absolutely brilliant decision.
To get to Cannes you can fly to Nice which is the airport serving the Cote d’Azur. Nice to Cannes is some 30 kms and takes about 45 minutes at most Just by the way, Emirates, in actual fact the national carrier for India flies a A 380 every day from Dubai to Nice. Cannes is a small town. The nerve centre of Cannes is the Promenade de la Croisette or Boulevard de la Croisette. This is a 2 km stretch of road along the coast. To paint a picture for you. Imagine the stretch of Marine Drive at Chowpatty in Mumbai. The sea would be the crystal-clear Azure Mediterranean, instead of the Arabian Sea, then the beach, and, instead of Cream Centre and the Mahindra SUV showroom you have exclusive boutiques – Hublot, Versace, Ferragamo et al, and instead of the buildings you have fabulous hotels. That is Cannes. Not unlike our Chowpatty! Only better, stupendously better.
The Croisette and its Hotels - the Martinez, J W Marriott and the Intercontinental Carlton – are what give Cannes its ability to host the most glamourous events. The Cannes Film Festival, the Cannes Lions Festival for the Advertising and Creative industry, Yacht shows, Luxury Property shows and so on are all held here. The Croisette is glamour central. Beautiful people, very rich people, stars, many rich Arabs [better looking and better dressed that those in London], expensive cars are all here.
We were staying at the Martinez which is a Hyatt property. This hotel has just reopened after a massive renovation, and the place is simply top class. Art Deco is the look both externally as well as the rooms. White and blue are the predominant colours lending to a clean, airy cool look.
Before you get lathered up about Arabs [and I use that term loosely, much like Madrasi or North Indian] you must understand that parts of North Africa and the Middle East were French territories. Lebanon being a case in point. The Arabic/North African food has permeated France with Couscous and the lamb sausage Merguez being good examples. You also have several Lebanese restaurants in Cannes, all large and upmarket.
At the end of the Croisette you have the old Port - now a Marina, and the old town behind that. This area is a warren of small streets, many pedestrianised, with charming shops, bars, restaurants, and, of course, a central covered market.
Cannes itself is quite pretty. Palm Trees, bright colourful majestic Bougainvillea all lend beauty to Cannes. Off the Croisette you have some really nice houses.
The beach along the Croisette is wide and sandy, with no rocks, manageable waves, clear warm water and very, very clean. Simply very inviting. What the authorities have done is permit some of the big hotels to colonise the beach directly in front of the hotel. The Hotels set up sun beds [available at a daily rent to anyone not only hotel guests] and sofas [free] where you can eat and drink. You have full food and drink service, and a huge tub of toys for children [spades buckets et al]. There are other sections of the beach which are open to public i.e. uncolonized. Here you can bring your own beach chairs, towels and food. So, you, as well as the local have a choice on your day at the beach, a DIY experience or an upscale Hotel experience. Fair, in my view. This being summer holidays in France, we saw lots of families and lots of kids walking to and from the beach carrying surfboards, towels, floats and rafts. Quite delightful.
We spent two afternoons on the beach in the La Plage Du Martinez, their private beach. Without any doubt, I can tell you that this was the best beach experience we have had ever! Yes, it does not have the tropical beauty of Malaysia or Thailand and the like,but as far as ambience and vibe is concerned, there is nothing to beat this. We have had Champagne in plenty of exotic places, atop Eiffel Tower, in planes, in boats, at the Australian Open, but having a bottle of icy Tattinger on a beach in the South of France under the baking sun! Boy, there is nothing that comes close. In the background a DJ played totally appropriate Lounge music and joining him were at various times a percussionist or a violinist or a saxophonist. The experience was sublime, enchanting. And after baking in the sun, the refreshing cool water was an absolute delight.
Walking to the old town and market was great fun too. The large covered market had all kinds of stuff available, food, vegetables, fish and meat. This is open everyday except Monday till 2 pm. A very nice place to visit. We went to specialist cheese shops and bought cheese, the butchers for sausage and an unusual shop selling all manner of tinned fish. HRH the Queen of Kutch bought some very good looking Doughnut Peaches which were in season. Everybody was smiling, helpful and friendly.
One evening we had a cooling off drink in the old town. I will not write more. Have a look at the photo.
All in all, we had a super time in Cannes. Great food, a nice old town and a beach that topped everything. The Hotel was stunning. I cannot recommend this enough. Please do go. If you drive in Europe, you absolutely must make Cannes a place to visit and drive on from there.