Cannes, a town in France’s Cote d’Azur, is synonymous with an annual event that captures eyeballs all over the world. As the Cannes travel website proclaims, the town’s moment of glory takes place in May, with the International Film Festival, when images of the stars descending the red-carpeted steps of the Palais des Festivals are flashed across TV screens worldwide. May also signals the start of summer and simultaneously the holiday season, which continues till September. Apart from being a hub for vacationers, Cannes is also a popular destination for business tourism. Many conferences and meetings take place at this town.
Cannes was the second destination in our trip of Southern France. That morning, we had left Nice and took the train to Cannes. Cannes was just 30km away, but the roads of Cote d’Azur are notorious for their traffic jams in the holiday season. It takes almost two hours to cover that short distance by road. Train is much more convenient (and inexpensive with the Eurail pass in hand).
The first thing that you notice after you exit the station is the huge hoarding (which has a clock also) outside the railway station that proclaims that you are in the city of Cannes. Walking tours were common in small cities across Europe, but I was surprised to find out that there was even a ‘Cannes Train Tour’ which took you around town in a small train along with a guide. We decided to avoid any tours and headed straight for the beach.
Cannes has lots of beaches, but most of them are private. These private beaches belong to luxury hotels which cost a bomb and are only accessible to the guests there. As a result, the few public beach strips are extremely crowded during the season. It was no different when we arrived. The beach was full to the brim with vacationers and sunbathers eager not to miss the sun in the last days of summer. The day before, we had been especially disappointed when we had seen the Nice beach with only pebbles and not a speck of sand anywhere. So we were relieved to find that the beach here was as sandy as any other. With difficulty, we could find a tiny spot of sand among the horde where we could camp for awhile, and then jumped straight into the water.
The sea was incredibly peaceful and perfect for swimming. Indian seas are generally rough and swimming into the sea is a dangerous exercise. I had never swum in a sea before without having the assurance of my feet touching the ground below. But here, the waters here were so calm that I decided to brave it. There was a sort of a floating wooden platform in the sea water about 100 meters from the coast. I decided to go for it and I began swimming towards it. There was even a small ladder affixed to the platform; I managed to reach the platform and get on it. I was not sure whether the platform was held by something below but I felt it was floating freely like a buoy in the water. There were a few people on the platform but I managed to strike conversation with an Indian who looked like he was of my age. It turned out that he was an exchange student from IIM-A. It had been 4 weeks since he had come to Europe and he had already toured most of the continent. He gave me interesting and colourful narratives about the beautiful Swiss Alps, the Bavarian beer gardens and castles on the other side of the iron curtain. In retrospect, that was the spark which rally ignited my passion for travel. That was when I decided that I would not miss this marvelous opportunity to travel around the wonderful continent. I relaxed on the platform a bit and then swam back with a renewed confidence in my swimming abilities and single-minded determination to see as many places as possible, even if alone, before leaving Europe!
After the beach, we headed to THE place to see in Cannes, the Palais des Festivals. It is an impressive complex of buildings with a huge hoarding at the front adding to the grandness of the venue. Celebrities from all over the world grace this venue every May and walk the red carpet that leads up the stairs to the main auditorium. The red carpet is left on the staircase throughout the year and it quite a hard task to resist posing for photographs there. So, even though I am not Aishwarya Rai, I can proudly claim to have been photographed at the venue of the Cannes International Film Festival! The other added attraction of the venue is the rows and rows of cement slabs which have handprints of celebrities on each one of them. There are too many famous celebrity handprints to count including those of Akira Kurosawa, Sharon Stone, Bruce Willis and even Pink Panther!
The Palais des Festivals oversees the old port area of Cannes. The port was full of yachts; some I figured were private boats of the rich, and some probably belonged to yacht rental companies which were present all along the French Riviera. These yachts are so common along the Southern coast of France that even now, two years after visiting the place, the image of all the big and swanky yachts lined up is the first thing that flashes across my mind when I think of the French Riviera.
After seeing the port, we considered staying here for the night. However, Cannes is an extremely expensive place to live. Though there were a few youth hostels, most of the accommodation was quite out of range of our budget. This was the main reason we decided to leave Cannes that evening and crash in Marseille instead. However, notwithstanding the obvious attraction that the Film Festival is, Cannes is a place which should definitely be on every tourist map.