With summer in full swing, Cannes becomes its own festival, long after the last end credits have rolled at the city’s annual film fête. The Croisette is abuzz, restaurants packed and designer stores brim with the latest in resort luxe. It’s hard to find better settings for enjoying la belle vie than a Cannes beach club, where celebrities have long come to see and be seen/snapped, the seaside menus menus offer rosés chilled and fish grilled to perfection, and views from the sun lounger take in the yacht-strewn Bay of Cannes. And just before summer slips into fall, the always highly anticipated Yachting Festival (September 12-17, 2023) comes to town.
Cannes is hardly an obscure destination on the French Riviera, but each season there are new ways to enjoy it. Here are a number to consider.
(1) Experience a landmark hotel refurbished with 21st-century splendor.
As you glide through the lobby of the newly refurbished Carlton Cannes, the landmark hotel on the Croisette, you sense you’ve entered a different realm, a bright and shining space where only good things happen, where the annoyances that come with peak-season travel fast disappear, where life proceeds with the frictionless elan one might expect of a billionaire’s holiday routine. A welcoming staff, who all seem to have graduated with honors from etiquette school, seem ready to spring into action to insure the perfection of your stay.
After a two–year major overhaul, the Carlton (a Regent Hotel, part of IHG Hotels & Resorts), whose star-studded history has long enhanced Cannes’ swanky mystique, re-opened its doors last spring to much acclaim, ready to spring into action in time for the 2023 Film Festival and summer season.
The hotel has well earned the term often used to describe it—legendary. Dating from the early 1900s, the Carlton got its start with financing from a Russian Grand Duke, and over the last century the glamour factor never waned, with guestbooks filled with a wide range of VIPs. Scenes from To Catch a Thief, the movie classic starring Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, were filmed here. (Kelly was staying at the Carlton when she journeyed to Monaco for her fateful meeting with Prince Rainier, whom she married in 1956.) During the G20 in 2011, Barack Obama was a guest.
The Carlton is also responsible for a number of hospitality firsts. Hotels in Cannes were once open only during the winter months (British and Russian expats arriving then to escape the cold weather back home); the property was the first to welcome summer visitors starting in 1928, and the first to open a beach club along the Croisette. The hotel played a part in tennis history, too, creating the first red clay tennis court on its grounds, a surface which came to be used at Roland Garros Stadium, where the French Open is played.
Any renovation of a famed property has to strike a balance between what the Carlton’s General Manager Giuseppe Vincelli described as “heritage and modernity,” and the hotel has pulled that off in a big way. “This beauty of contrasts has been our leitmotiv,” Vincelli said in a statement. More than 450 companies and a team of 750 people were involved with the project.
You see that fine balance as you take in the historic facade—a pristine white-domed Belle Epoque masterpiece gleaming in the Riviera sun. The hotel was enlarged with two wings that add 20,000 meters to the property’s footprint and contain luxury residences. They flank a freshly designed garden and a swim area with a large infinity pool and chic cabanas. The penthouse residence measures over 1000 square meters and comes with a garden rooftop and jacuzzi. There’s also a new spa and fitness center.
Tristan Auer, an acclaimed Paris-based architect, oversaw the redesign of the 332 rooms and suites (72 face the sea, where you can watch an assortment of yachts leisurely entering and exiting the Bay of Cannes). The hotel has updated what it calls its “signature suites,” on the seventh floor, among them luxury spaces devoted to Grace Kelly and Cary Grant. On the sixth floor, there’s the Alfred Hitchcock suite, where scenes from To Catch a Thief were filmed, Rooms and suites were designed to take advantage of natural light—“luminous cocoons” is how the hotel describes them—with a white and cream decor and expansive window space.
Even if you’re not staying at the Carlton, there are a number of ways experience it. The Riviera Restaurant, with indoor and outdoor areas, is open from morning (for breakfast) until late in the evening. Head to the Carlton Beach Club for dining by the sea. Rüya, which debuted in May for the Cannes Film Festival, presents Mediterranean cuisine with an Anatolian twist.
There’s a swanky Bar °58 with house cocktails like the Crystal Clear Negroni and a drink called Champagne and Rosé Only, made with the two wines along with jasmine syrup and Peychaud’s Bitters. The spacious, columned Camélia Tea Lounge off the lobby, floodlit by the Mediterranean sun and warmed by modern chandeliers at night, is open from late morning until 10:30 PM for tea, snacks, drinks and dinner.
(2) Head to a buzzy new beach club.
The sandy strip lining the Croisette has many heavenly beach clubs, and this year there’s a new entry, L’Ondine Vilebrequin La Plage, masterminded by the swimwear and clothing brand that famously got its start in St. Tropez. “First we made the costumes. Now we’re making the set,” said Roland Herlory, CEO, Vilebrequin, when La Plage debuted in April. Tapping into Vilebrequin’s colorful heritage, interior designer Vincent Barr refurbished the space, formerly L’Ondine Beach, using a vibrant color scheme. “Everything is designed to make your vacation feel like a technicolor film where you are the lead actors,” Barr said in a statement. The club, located at 64 Boulevard de la Croisette, is open from 10 AM to 2 AM. There’s a chic bar and restaurant, specializing in grilled seafood. A program of events, dinners and guest DJs is scheduled throughout the summer.
(3,4) Try the new restaurants.
In keeping with the international spirit of Cannes, the restaurant Anna combines a coveted French address (63 Boulevard de la Croisette) with a noted Greek chef, Yiannis Kioroglou, and a co-owner Anna Andres, who is a businesswoman, former model and influencer from Ukraine. (Andres and Kioroglou also head up a sibling restaurant in Paris with the same name.) Styled with a subtle Greek island decor and a nautical palette of rich blues and white, Anna has a sea-centric menu with plenty of grilled fish, healthy classic salads like Choriatiki Salata, and refreshing ouzo cocktails to start the evening off with a bang. Yamas!
Mr. Nakamoto, the restaurant and bar in the newly opened Mondrian Hotel (45 Boulevard de la Croisette), treats guests to a little culinary time travel with a menu that references Manhattan Mad-Men-era favorites, like prime cuts of steak and lavish seafood (and, of course, martinis) and updates them with contemporary Japanese flavors. In addition to the “viands prestiges,” seafood mains and raw bar, there are uber-classic salads, like the Cobb and Caesar. Chefs Hervé Busson and Jean-Baptiste Guillaume oversee the restaurant, with Pheerasak Plangklang in charge of the sushi offerings. The restaurant’s palm-tree studded terrace looks out to the Croisette and sea.
(5,6) Explore Cannes’ get-away-from-it-all islands and vineyards.
The Lérins Islands in the Bay of Cannes are a short boat ride from the town’s old harbor, but the 15-minute journey to the small, beautiful archipelago will transport you a long way back, to a distant time in Cannes’ history and to places that have changed little over hundreds of years.
If you travel to Île Saint-Honorat, site of a monastery since the 5th century, you’ll experience a tranquil, spiritual haven—literally—the island is home to Cistercian monks, who also happen to be talented vintners. They oversee a small vineyard (8 hectares), where vines are maintained and harvested by hand. The monks’ award-winning red and white wines are produced under the label Abbaye de Lérins.
You can sample the Abbaye’s output during wine tastings every first Friday (book in advance). The wines, not surprisingly, bear saintly names, for example, Saint Césaire (made with chardonnay grapes) and Saint-Honorat and Saint-Sauveur produced with syrah grapes. You can buy the wines, along with liqueurs, honey, olive oil, souvenirs and other products at the Abbaye’s gift shop.
In addition to seeing the fortified monastery and medieval chapels, many visitors come to walk a tranquil footpath around the pine-tree laced island, a trip that takes, depending on your pace, one to one-and-a-half hours. A relaxing place to have lunch (only) is the restaurant La Tonnelle, overlooking the water, where the Abbaye’s wines accompany fresh and well-prepared Mediterranean dishes.
You can also visit Île Sainte-Marguerite, the largest of the Lérins Islands. In this splendid natural setting you’ll find pine and eucalyptus trees, a variety of flowering plants and wildlife, a botanical path, an ornithological reserve and swimming coves. The famous Royal Fort, a former prison built in the 17th century, houses the Museum of the Sea, with marine artifacts dating from Roman times that have been discovered in the area.
Make time to get to know vintage Cannes.
Exploring Le Suquet is hardly a new activity when visiting Cannes (so not given a number for this list), but it’s always a worthwhile excursion if you want to get a feeling for how Cannes was in its early days as a fishing village. This evocative historic center (be prepared for an uphill climb) with medieval origins provides great views of the coast, especially from the Eglise Notre-Dame and Chapel of Sainte-Anne. Before you start your trek, stop by the nearby Marché Forville, the nearby food market, and ogle (or buy) some of the picture-perfect fruits, vegetables cheeses and flowers.