The French Riviera welcomes a slew of celebrities every year. During the Cannes Film Festival, the big stars and starlets stroll on the Croisette of Cannes; the other months they like to moor in the marinas of Saint-Tropez and Monaco. Many have a house there; others come there on holiday. We descended the ‘Route du Soleil’ in a Range Rover HSE – the ideal luxury SUV for the occasion – and let ourselves be seduced by this world full of glamour where even an ice cream on the beach makes you feel like a star.
Text Anja Van Der Borght – Pictures Anja Van Der Borght and Yass Hannati.
Normally in May (this year in July), the red carpet, the flashing cameras, the limousine parade and numerous VIPs bring a festive atmosphere to the famous Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes. The annual film festival makes this seaside resort the absolute place to be for star spotters and “cinephiles” or film lovers, but it is also a great place to spend the other months of the year. A walk from the famous – and landmark – Palais des Festivals et des Congrès – where the film festival also takes place every year – towards Palm Beach, the end of the three kilometer long Croisette, leads you past numerous designer boutiques. If you look beyond the shop windows of Dior and Chanel between the palm or mimosa trees, you will discover wonderful hotel palaces, often dating from the belle époque. One of those hotel palaces – also the largest in Cannes – is the Martinez hotel, which was built in the 1920s and today still bears witness to great, understated class. Since its inception, the hotel has attracted world-renowned stars and VIPs who come to enjoy the grandeur of the building on the one hand, and the various “secret” entrances to avoid paparazzi on the other. Top of the bill in the Martinez is La Palme d’Or, the gastronomic à la carte restaurant with no less than two Michelin stars, where star chef Christian Sinicropi mainly expresses his creativity in Mediterranean cuisine.
Sailing and water sports
From the Martinez you can continue walking to the Boulevard Gazagnaire. It starts at Le Palm Beach, one of Cannes’ first real casinos and, together with the port of Moure Rouge, it offers a beautiful view over ‘les Iles de Lerins’. ‘Moure Rouge’ in old Provençal language means as much as ‘red face’, a name taken from the red-colored rocks on the seabed on the coast. Here you will find the headquarters of the many sailing and water sports clubs of the seaside town. The Pierre Canto harbor can accommodate up to some 600 yachts. The ideal location for a romantic walk, all the more so as you can enjoy a beautiful rose garden in the Albert I Gardens just in front of the harbour. Also idyllic is a trip to La Guérite, an open-air restaurant and VIP spot on Sainte-Marguerite (one of the largest Lerins islands) just off the coast of Cannes. The restaurant can only be reached by boat and getting there alone is an adventure. Booking in advance by email is of course a must!
Flea and antiques market
If you walk back past the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès – don’t forget to visit the French version of the Walk of Fame here – you will find La Gare Maritime or the ferry port a little further on your left. Here, many companies offer various options for sailing to the islands. In the old port of Cannes, just next to it, you can enjoy a mix of small fishing boats, beautiful sailing ships and prestigious yachts. Directly opposite you find Les Allées de la Liberté where you can browse the flea and antiques market every Saturday. All other days of the week you can see the locals here practicing the national sport of pétanque. Diagonally behind this market place lies the old center of Cannes, Le Suquet. With its museum, fortress and church, many restaurants, shops and bars, it’s definitely worth a visit. We were lucky enough to bump into actor Luke Perry here on the terrace of a bar…
From Cannes we make a few day trips, the ones to Monaco, Cagnes-sur-Mer and Saint-Paul-de-Vence are highly recommended for those who want to follow in the footsteps of the VIPs and artists. A tour by car towards the marina and thus also along the street circuit of the Monaco Grand Prix is an experience in itself. You pass the famous tunnel under the hotel and the congress center. In this long right turn, the Formula 1 cars reach a top speed of just under 300 km/h, but the driving experience is also unique at a normal pace. When you drive back up, you arrive at the Hôtel de Paris, one of the most expensive and exclusive hotels in the world. Needless to say that you can spend hours here on the terrace gazing at the ‘va et vient’ of the latest supercars and VIPs. The valet parking in front of the hotel is without a doubt one of the highest public concentrations of luxury cars in Europe. While you sip your coffee and make that holiday photo Instagram-proof, your hubby will not be bored for a moment.
About modern art…
In Cagnes-sur-Mer, Musée Renoir, dedicated to the work of the Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, is a museum off the beaten track. We were very impressed by the gardens around the former family villa annex studio with centuries-old olive trees. At the time, Pierre-Auguste and his wife prevented the olive trees from being cut down and sawn into slices to continue life as placemats. Another thing we can be thankful to him for besides his artwork. The sight of the wooden wheelchair to which the painter had been confined in his last years due to rheumatism fills you with even more admiration.
The southern French village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence acquired world fame because of contemporary art, literature and cinema that flourished there. In fact, the lovely hillside resort has become the favorite spot of many artists. Marc Chagall is buried there. Yves Montand and Simone Signoret got married there, Willem Duys lived there and Rolling Stone bassist Bill Wyman would still live there. The picturesque village still literally exudes art and a walk through the old center is an absolute must, despite the steep climb and many stairs. The cozy atmosphere and creativity that you can discover in the numerous art galleries are second to none. Just outside the village center you can visit the Fondation Maeght for one of the most important collections of modern art in the world. You will find works by Joan Miró, Alberto Giacometti, Georges Braque, Wassily Kandinksy, Henri Matisse, …
The Fondation, founded by Aimé Maeght and his wife Marguerite, was the very first independent art foundation in France and houses a very varied permanent collection. A walk through the sculpture labyrinth in the garden and the breathtaking view of the Mediterranean Sea on the roof floor will allow you to relax completely. Also in the well-known restaurant ‘La Colombo d’Or’, situated a bit further in the village, are found works by modern masters. After all, Matisse, César and Braque paid for their drinks there with a work of art. Lovers of Belgian art can visit ‘La Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs’ decorated by our compatriot Folon. He already dreamed of a decorative project around the 17th-century chapel in 2003, but the work would not be completed until after his death in 2005. In addition to paintings, sculptures and mosaics, you can also see beautiful stained glass windows here.
Villa of the Sun
Just outside Cannes, towards Nice and near the Musée Picasso, is the magisterial Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, another place full of glamour stories and the favorite place to stay for many VIPs because paparazzi really don’t have access to it.
Strangely enough, this prestigious hotel in Antibes was originally built around 1863 as a private villa with the name – how could it be otherwise – ‘Villa Soleil’. In the middle of a vast pine forest with an idyllic view from the rock formations on the eternal blue of the Côte d’Azur, the hotel only got real sparkle when the cubist painter Gerald Murphy and his wife and socialite Sara rented out the entire summer in the early 1920s. In their wake followed a bevy of artists and writers such as Jean Cocteau, Cole Porter, Rita Hayworth and Ernest Hemingway as well as F. Scott Fitzgerald who portrayed Murphy as a character in his book ‘Tender is the Night’. In the 1960s, the hotel became the absolute stopping place for the eclectic elite and today the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc is one of the most luxurious spots on the French Riviera and the favorite home for stars such as Sharon Stone, Fanny Ardant, Patricia Arquette and Robert de Niro.
Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc is one of the few in the world that has its own perfume ‘Eden-Roc’ since this year brought by ‘Maison Christian Dior’, a fragrance that evokes the atmosphere of the French Riviera and spreads salty notes as if you have just taken a dip in the Mediterranean.
In the movie(s) with Bardot
No trip to the Côte d’Azur without a halt in Saint-Tropez, the epicenter of the French Riviera. The atmosphere is always good in this small seaside town. It doens’t matter whether you come in the low season or during the ‘Voiles de Saint-Tropez’, the world-renowned sailing event that groups the most beautiful sailing boats and most challenging regattas. Just make a walk past the megalomaniac yachts in the harbor and local artists on the quay to the Place des Lices where you will find pétanque inhabitants until the late hours, and you become convinced that the ambiance in Saint-Tropez is unparalleled. If you have a car at your disposal, the tranquility of La Plage des Salins is a must. Here you seem to be at the end of the world. In the afternoon you can have lunch in the restaurant of the same name with your feet in the sand and a view of the infinite blue of the authentic bay or of the VIPs a little further on. Madonna and Giorgio Armani already were here before you.
If you are on foot in Saint-Tropez, we would like to suggest for sunbathers to stay at the pleasant sandy beach of Bouillabaisse Beach. But don’t forget to taste a tarte tropézienne (baked dough drizzled with orange and rose water and with buttercream and pastry cream in between) or nougat pastry one afternoon at Café-Patisserie Sénéquier. The patisserie in the village has been around since 1887 and the restaurant overlooking the harbor is a place to see and be seen. Here in the red decor you imagine yourself in a scene from the movie ‘Et Dieu… créa la femme’ with Brigitte Bardot.
Range Rover HSE 3.0D
When you say Côte d’Azur, you usually think about the unique charms of convertible driving. Nevertheless, we decided to head south with a Range Rover HSE 3.0 diesel (300 hp). What an experience! The SUV offers unparalleled comfort for both the driver and passengers. It felt like we were sitting in a leather salon and we didn’t have any back pain at all after such a long drive. We experienced this differently in some sporty convertibles in the past. Driving assistance systems such as Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control and High-speed Emergency Braking gave us an extra safe feeling while driving and we did not miss open air driving for a minute. Under the blazing sun it was on the contrary very pleasant to let the refreshing air conditioning do its work with the windows closed. Steering towards a piece of beach far from the beaten track? It didn’t upset this SUV.
In the evening, a cocktail or snack in the garden of Dior Des Lices – from napkins to cutlery all in Dior style, of course – is a fantastic way to end a wonderful trip.
Antibes: for one of the most beautiful sandy beaches near Cannes
Musée Renoir in Cagnes-sur-Mer: www.cagnes-sur-mer.fr/culture/musee-renoir/
One of the most important collections of modern art in the world: www.fondation-maeght.com
Café-Patisserie Sénéquier in Saint-Tropez: www.senequier.com
Places to be for VIP spotting
• Walk of Fame, Palais des Festivals in Cannes: www.palaisdesfestivals.com
• Hotel Martinez in Cannes: www.hotel-martinez.com
• La Palme D’or, ** Michelin restaurant in Cannes: www.lapalmedor-restaurant.fr
• La Guérite on Ile Sainte-Marguerite: cannes.restaurantlaguerite.com
• Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes: www.oetkercollection.com/hotels/hotel-du-cap-eden-roc/
• Hôtel de Paris in Monte-Carlo (Monaco): www.montecarlosbm.com
• La Plage des Salins in Saint-Tropez, www.lessalins.com