Cannes. Simply by saying the name of this city, images flood into your head. Images of the Cannes Film Festival undoubtedly first spring to mind, as well as of the Croisette. You might even think of the extravagance of Cannes, the way that it is known throughout the world. Yet there is much more to Cannes than that. There are countless clichés about the city. I even had some myself before exploring off the beaten track. Sometimes the stereotypes are justified, and sometimes they are not. Because if there is just one thing that I learned from my stay in this beautiful city, it is that Cannes does not have just one identity, but many. This diversity is what makes the city so rich.
We often visited Cannes during our summer holidays in the French Riviera, and Benoît had even spent a few days there 4 years ago. But neither of us had ever seen Cannes in the way we did this time. We discovered the natural side of Cannes, peaceful and far from the Croisette and all the hustle and bustle!
If, like me, you did not imagine for a second that Cannes could also be a city filled with nature, this article is for you!
Discovering Natural and Authentic Cannes
No.1 Exploring the Hidden Quarters by Bicycle
I bet that if you have never been to Cannes, you have only heard of the steps and the Croisette. But I have some news for you! Even though I thought that I knew the city a little since this was not the first time that I had visited, I finally discovered the true extent of the city and especially its charming but lesser known districts.
Take the Quartier de la Californie, for example. Located at the end of the Croisette, on the Californie Pézou hill, this wealthy neighbourhood is Cannes’ quiet district. Luxury villas are found on the sides of the hill, and it is the perfect place to look over the bay, far from the crowds by the sea.
To discover this quarter, we hopped onto electric bikes. But as we hired these unconventional-looking electric bicycles from Yourent, you can choose any kind of two-wheeler.
This company rents all kinds of bikes and scooters, as well as ‘vintage’ bicycles. So we explored this area riding an unusual bicycle, accompanied by the branch manager, Jean-Charles. Lucky for you, Yourent also offers guided tours that allow you to discover a calmer and less well-known side of Cannes, accompanied by someone who knows the area well.
It was lovely and the Quartier de la Californie is stunning! From here, there is the most breath-taking view over Cannes Bay.
Cycling really is the best way to get around in Cannes, because it is eco-friendly and especially practical for exploring. We really recommend hiring a bike for a half- or full-day, and why not also enjoy a guided tour of Cannes at the same time? All information and prices can be found at Yourent Cannes’ website.
No.2 Exploring the Lérins Islands
As strange as it may seem to those who do not know Cannes very well, the city is also an archipelago of 5 islands.
We visited two of the 5 Lérins Islands, Île Sainte Marguerite is natural and wild, whereas Île Saint Honorat is a monastic island that houses the only community of still-active wine-producing Benedictine monks in France. The monks of Saint Honorat make a variety of products, including wine, of course, as well as olive oil. If this piques your interest, check out the shop selling products from the monastery next to the Abbey.
For me, these two islands are the real gems of Cannes. They both have their own identities and showcase two distinct types of beauty.
Both are beautiful and look typical of Cannes. Whilst these islands are surprising, their landscapes are exactly what you would imagine of a Mediterranean paradise, with pine trees, a particular scent in the air that is unique to this part of France, clear, turquoise water and marvellous coves.
The Lérins Islands are a part of Cannes and you can see them from the end of the Croisette. Île Sainte Marguerite and Île Saint Honorat are amongst them. Île Saint Honorat is an island that has been inhabited exclusively by monks for 1,400 years. The monks who live on the island and in the abbey have decided to never leave. Although we rarely crossed paths with them, we could feel the energy and peacefulness of this way of life in the atmosphere of the island. It is crowded during summer, but the sense of peace still reigned supreme.
There are many ways to explore this island, but here are my favourites:
- BY CANOE
I think you will have realised by now, but cycling, hiking and canoeing are our passions. We rarely travel in France without doing one of these activities. It is as simple as that. We think that canoeing is a fantastic way to explore the Lérins Islands. You can do it at your own pace, in peace and quiet and, ideally, out of season!
Like other particularly beautiful destinations in France, the Lérins Islands are busy all year round, but especially in July and August. I personally love the French Riviera out of season, and each year I like to rediscover it during a different period of the year. The softly changing colours, pleasant temperatures and the chance to explore these places independently are why I encourage you to come here and paddle out of season.
It is beautiful and relaxing (not necessarily for your arms if there are waves) and you feel very lucky! You can land your canoe on these two islands, so bring a picnic and set off to explore them for a day.
We set off and rented our canoe from the Mourre Rouge water sports centre. It costs €18 an hour to hire a canoe. More information and booking is available on the Cannes Jeunesse Facebook page.
Please note, some time ago, bins were removed from Île Saint Honorat to encourage visitors to take their rubbish back to the mainland with them, to reduce the number of trips made by polluting waste-collection boats. Please support these initiatives by not leaving anything behind.
- BY SHUTTLE BOAT
It is the easiest and most popular way to reach the Lérins Islands, as these shuttle boats operate every day of the year. But go in the low season! Why? You will enjoy it more. You will see a more authentic side to these two islands.
Although this is the most popular way to reach the Lérins Islands, I guarantee that once you leave the jetty, it will be easy to find little, peaceful spots and explore the islands in your own way!
It is practical and good value, and departures and returns run every half an hour. It costs €15 per journey (return trip).
Find more information on their website.
No.3 Exploring Cannes with a Greeter
It was one of my favourite ways to (re)discover Cannes! Have you heard of Greeters? In short, a greeter is a volunteer who will take you on a walk to show you the city and its top spots.
I had been wanting to try out this concept for a long time. I think it is one of the best ways to explore more authentic areas of the city that are not full of tourists and are genuinely enjoyed by locals.
We discovered another side to the city with Kim, the sportswoman from the Cannes team of greeters. Kim took us to the Parc de la Croix des Gardes, located at the other end of the Quartier de la Californie, but still just opposite. This park, which overlooks the bay and Le Suquet, is huge, despite being in the heart of the city, less than a kilometre as the crow flies from the symbolic Croisette!
This park has 80 hectares of Mediterranean plant life. Its abundance of plants and wildlife and 360 degree panoramic views are a real draw of this area, with its unexpected and unspoilt nature. There are over 20km of dedicated paths with information panels, all leading to different viewpoints over the city and the surrounding area. The one at the Croix des Gardes is the most well-known. The story is that here, on the side of this hill, the first mimosas of the French Riviera were planted.
We spent two great hours with Kim in this green and unexpected setting in Cannes, chatting about the city and especially travelling. I loved it! I cannot recommend trying out these ‘guided’ meets enough. It is an enriching experience to chat to someone who is so passionate and interesting.
If you like the sound of this experience, I suggest that you take a look at the Cannes Greeters’ website and choose the person you would have the most in common with.
Do you sometimes feel like the world has turned upside down? That it no longer works the way that it should?
By coming to Cannes, I wanted to show you that the city is not just synonymous with luxury and extravagance. Of course, there is some of this, like everywhere in the French Riviera. But there is more to it than that. You just have to know where to look. It is not simply the act of looking but rather the act of looking at what is true. True in the sense of being authentic. I will admit that I am from one of those ordinary families who would sometimes go and look at the huge yachts when we were on holiday, envying the people inside. Today, my views have changed. I do not want them at all, and I perhaps never really wanted them. A real luxury for me is meeting the right person, or being in a place alone, and being fortunate not because of the things that I have but because of the present moment. The real luxury on this day was exploring nature and this little hidden field of flowers and more. It is up to us to change the world, if I dare say it. It is up to us to rethink our priorities.
No.4 Getting Lost in the Le Suquet Quarter at Dawn
Do you know Le Suquet? Until a few years ago I was not aware of this area, despite my numerous trips to Cannes. It is the authentic and historical district of the city. The market is held there every day, and you can find the atmosphere that is so typical of streets in the South of France. A Provençal soul, nestled in the heart of colourful houses and ruins that date from the Middle Ages, pervades Le Suquet.
The best way to explore it is by getting up early in the morning and watching the sun rise on the Place de la Castre, wandering through the streets and ending up in the Forville Market to pick up a punnet of sun-soaked tomatoes. YUM!
- FORVILLE MARKET
The unmissable Forville indoor market is the lifeblood of Le Suquet. This popular market is held in the market hall every day, welcoming both locals and tourists who come to try the fresh products and specialities.
DO NOT MISS:
From Axel Signist’s market stall, Soc’Cannes will give you the chance to try Socca, a typical regional product made from chickpea flour.
- LE SUQUET DES ARTISTES
There is an atmosphere here that could not be more out-of-the-ordinary! Le Suquet des Artistes is a place of creative expression designed for Cannes’ artists. In an old morgue measuring 850m² in the heart of Le Suquet, many renowned artists express themselves.
We met three of them: Gregory Berben, Richard Ferri-Pisani and Olivia Parold. These three artists took the time to explain their work, pieces and approaches to us. It was incredibly interesting. I was not expecting to find somewhere that was so full of creativity and good vibes in that kind of place. But it is certainly a great spot for going off the beaten track in Cannes.
No.5 Flying Over Cannes in a Helicopter
What could be better than starting or ending a trip to Cannes with a flight over the city in a helicopter?!
Cities and holiday destinations are increasingly offering this type of experience, which I think is great, but it is all too often out of budget. Here, contrary to what you might expect, the price of a flight is not excessive, as you pay for the helicopter and not per person. Normally, you pay €10 a minute multiplied by the number of people. Here, with Azur Hélico, it costs €135 for a 6-minute flight. When that is divided between 3 people, it is €45 per person. Yes, it is short and still expensive, but it is more ‘accessible’ than normal.
We therefore took a 6-minute flight and flew over the Lérins Islands. We were blown away, even if it was only quick! Taking to the skies gives the landscape and region another dimension. If you have always dreamed of riding in a helicopter, this is perhaps the best place in France to give it a go. Enthusiasts take note
More information is available on the Azur Hélicoptère website.
My Favourite Spots in Cannes
- Enjoy a Provençal lunch at Le Martinez
Le Martinez is symbolic of Cannes. This 5-star luxury hotel was built in 1929 in an Art Deco style and has had several artists and actors stay in its rooms! But it is constantly looking for ways to improve. Over these last few months, a Provençal breakfast has been introduced for the hotel’s guests. But there is still more on offer.
An out-of-the-ordinary buffet lunch is also served, with elegant and Provençal decoration and all types of seasonal and local fresh produce including cheese, bread, honey and fruit. I can honestly say that we enjoyed the décor just as much as what was actually on the plate. Breakfast is expensive, although it is what you would normally pay for brunch in Paris, but with the added bonus of an abundance and wide variety of food!
Address | 73 Boulevard de la Croisette, Cannes 06400
- Dinner at La Môme
This restaurant, or rather group of restaurants, is the place to be. The atmosphere is stylish but relaxed, the Mediterranean and Provençal inspired dishes are delicious and the setting is lovely! It is packed inside, so I strongly recommend that you book ahead before taking friends or a loved one.
Address | La Môme, 6 Rue Florian, 06400 Cannes
- Watch the Sunset at the Radisson Blu
The terrace of the Radisson Blu is renowned for being a place to watch the sun set! You cannot deny that the setting is unbeatable and that the view is magnificent, so if you want to sip delicious cocktails while watching the sun set over the Esterel Massif, you will love this place.
Address | 2 Boulevard du Midi Jean Hibert, 06400 Cannes
- Take a Break at La Tonnelle on Île Saint Honorat
As I said before, the Lérins Islands are magnificent and unspoilt. These two islands are not known for their shops and restaurants, but this does not stop Île Saint Honorat from having somewhere truly excellent. La Tonnelle is a waterfront restaurant, under the shade of the pines, serving all types of salads and simple but delicious dishes. This is also the perfect place to stop for a sweet treat and/or a drink during your day on the island.
Address | Île Saint-Honorat, 06400 Cannes
- A Real Taste of Italy at the Tredici
Found in the Le Suquet quarter, the Tredici serves exquisite Italian dishes in an intimate and authentic atmosphere. I have rarely tried such nice produce! We were really spoiled and the atmosphere was exactly what I like!
Address | 13 Rue Louis Perrissol, 06400 Cannes
- Lunch at Casa di Nonna
Another beautiful Italian restaurant, this time found in Cannes’ shopping centre. Once again, the decoration captivated me. I loved the place, but I loved the salads that it served even more. They offer delicious avocado toast served with quinoa and a mixed salad that is to die for! It was truly delicious. The desserts are also very good, with homemade tarts and cakes served from the restaurant’s buffet table. It is the perfect spot to enjoy a good lunch!
Address | 41 Rue Hoche, 06400 Cannes
- Enjoy a Night Out at Le Bisous Bisous
Located above the Palais de Festivals, this recently-opened nightclub is another spot worth mentioning. Le Bisous Bisous is an original nightclub where the normal rules do not apply and luxury has no place. Electronic music is played here, but the eclectic style and atmosphere is uncomplicated. I wanted to talk about it because it is somewhere that challenges the stereotype of Cannes.
Address | Palais des Festivals et des Congrès de Cannes, 1 Boulevard de la Croisette, 06400 Cannes
- Staying in Cannes
There is no shortage of hotels in Cannes, especially on the Croisette. Although waking up to the sea views would be incredible, sleeping amidst all that hustle and bustle was not part of our plan. Hôtel Verlaine has the benefit of being very close to the centre, hardly 100 metres from Rue d’Antibes, whilst still being in a quiet area. Surrounded by a peaceful little garden, this recently renovated hotel is also extremely good value, as a night in a classic bedroom (which we stayed in) starts from €86. The decoration is attractive and well-thought out, the bedding is very comfortable and the breakfast is delicious, making it the perfect place to stay for a few days in Cannes.
Address | 58 Boulevard d’Alsace, 06400 Cannes
- And there you have it – all my ideas for how to go off the beaten track in Cannes. I hope that they will help you to explore the city from another angle. As I like to say, Cannes’ wealth comes from its diversity. That is its strength. The beautiful city of Cannes has many identities and it is all the stronger for this, as there is something for everyone here.
Do you know Cannes? Did you think that the city was (also) like this?