Nice & Cannes: The two facets of the French Riviera

Nice and Cannes may be minutes from each other but it seems the separation by the Var River has lead to two very different cities: Cultural Nice and Glamorous Cannes.Colourful fishermen's boats - the 'pointus' in the port of Nice. They use to fish at night with a 'lamparo' ©A.ISSOCK

When you arrive at Nice airport, you are greeted with palm trees and the taste of salt in the humid air. It’s a welcome change from the temperamental weather we can sometimes get – and have been getting – this spring. But when you wake up to a view over the Mediterranean, it’s hard to imagine why you’ve been away for so long.

I recently returned from a press trip to Nice & Cannes. Most of you have already heard of these two towns – they’re very popular destinations for the Brits and for reasons that go deeper than what many might expect. It’s the perfect opportunity to discover the two facets of the Riviera: Cultural Nice and Glamorous Cannes.

The French Riviera’s Strong British Links

The famous Promenade Des Anglais in Nice and the Croisette in Cannes both hark back to the days when the British holidayed in high numbers back in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Cannes landed itself on the international map thanks to English Baron Henry Brougham and his contribution to the town, which before him remained a small coastal village. Since his attention was drawn to the town, British aristocratic interest boomed and it quickly modernized into the landmark destination we know today.

Nice: Colours, Flavours and Culture

Nice is widely known for drawing in painters and other artists from around the world because of its colours and luminosity.

But, as you can imagine, that kind of quality is difficult to translate with due justice via words or photos. It’s not until you set foot on Place Masséna, walking down the checkered black and white pathway along the bright terracotta-coloured buildings, under the azure sky, towards the Promenade with its fresh green palm trees and then across to the unbelievably turquoise sea, your eyes watering from the glittering sun’s rays, that you really understand. The intensity is striking – and it’s everywhere. It’s when you walk through the small windy streets of the old town, when you amble by the harbour and its beautiful yachts or when you go up to the Chagall Museum.

Oranges hanging in the Cours Saleya market in Nice © Atout France/Palomba Robert
Oranges hanging in the Cours Saleya market in Nice © Atout France/Palomba Robert

But Nice isn’t just about colours – it’s also about smells and flavours.

Exploring the Cours Saleya to visit its endless stands of local Socca and Pissaladiere, occasionally stopping to get some homemade jam, exotic spices, beautiful flowers, local fish, organic honeys, juicy fruits, soothing lavender and local arts & crafts – all of this whilst gaping at the pastel-coloured buildings. Walking by the stands, you smell the olive oil, sea salt and smoke waft around you.

Later, you can rest at the Windsor Hotel, a few minutes from the beach, where each of the 57 rooms has been decorated by a different artist including Ben, Philippe Perin and Claude Viallat. Even the garden is a veritable oasis with exotic birds and a pool surrounded by tropical plants.What makes Nice that much more special is that it even has its own language, music and protected traditions. You’ll find street signs in both French and Niçois, local music playing and, if you’re lucky, stumble onto a show by the famous Ciamada Nissarda – Nice’s traditional association in charge of protecting and extolling the town’s rich cultural heritage. Did you know that it was Scottish author Tobias Smollett, after visiting Nice, who coined the term ‘Cote d’Azur’?

Cannes: The Festival and the famous Croisette

Hotel's Exterior ©Hotel Martinez
Hotel’s Exterior ©Hotel Martinez

Everyone’s heard of the Cannes Film Festival – it’s one of the country’s landmark annual events.

Today, you’ll find the ‘Croisette’ lined with luxury hotels including the Grand Hyatt Cannes Hôtel Martinez, the Intercontinental Carlton Cannes and the Lucien Barriere Majestic Hotel. Celebrity hang-outs during the Cannes festival, they are solicited all year round for their world-class amenities and jaw-dropping views. They each have their own distinct personalities: The Martinez has a 50’s Hollywood feel whereas the Carlton has more of a traditional decor to the décor and the Majestic has a slightly more modern look.

After sipping on your cocktail on one of the hotel’s private beaches, heading to the Croisette’s glamorous shops like Dior, Chanel and Bottega Veneta are just a few steps away.

The Carlton hotel on La Croisette, facing the sea © Atout France/Michel Angot
The Carlton hotel on La Croisette, facing the sea © Atout France/Michel Angot

You can also head over to the Forville Market for some local buys for a more authentic approach to the town, or get lost in the winding streets of the old town all the way up the hill to the Castre Museum where you’ll find the most beautiful views.

If your sea legs allow you to hop onto a catamaran for some offshore speculating,the Lerins Islands at just 15 minutes from the coast by ferry. We visited Ile Sainte Marguerite, although there is also the Ile Saint Honorat (which belongs entirely to the Monks that reside and produce wine there) along with the smaller Ilot Saint Ferreol and Ilot de la Tradeliere.

Whilst visiting the island and the Prison of the infamous Man in the Iron Mask, we learned that, apparently, some believe the man could even be Moliere. Perhaps the brains behind that theory wasn’t such a great fan of Tartuffe

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