As far as beach destinations go, Cannes steals the show. The Riviera resort’s reputation for high-octane glamour stems from the annual Film Festival, when A-list stars and the pursuing paparazzi make the red carpet the second most photographed place in France after the Eiffel Tower. For 12 days in May, the festival brings a wave of parties, pop-up shops, and ephemeral restaurants to La Croisette, the world’s most famous seaside promenade. Last year, film director Luc Besson opened a resto “B.O” (for bande originale, or “original soundtrack”) that was so successful it now has its own brick-and-mortar location just outside Paris. The 67th edition of the festival will kick off with the premier of Grace of Monaco, starring Nicole Kidman as the Oscar-winning actress Grace Kelly, an apt choice for the Côte d’Azur’s buzziest event.
Prior to the opening soirée, the triumvirate of Grande Dame hotels—the Majestic Barrière, the Grand Hyatt Martinez, and the InterContinental Carlton—are sold out months in advance. But Cannes’ fun isn’t limited to the Festival. This is postcard-perfect French Riviera, with palm trees basking in the sunshine for 300 days of the year, so there’s no bad time to visit. Stroll the cobblestone streets of Le Suquet, the oldest district, to the hilltop citadel. Shop for new threads on Rue d’Antibes; pick up fresh Provençal strawberries at the Forville market. Best of all: mingle with wine-making monks on Ile Saint-Honorat, an island paradise just 15 minutes by boat from Cannes. When it’s time to rest your weary head, Cannes’ storied hotels—each competing to outshine the other with pampering touches—offer luxe digs and million dollar views.
Pictured: The InterContinental Carlton has the Grace Kelly Suite, an elegant escape from the hum of the Croisette.
Just a stone’s throw from the Palais des Festivals, the Hotel Majestic Barrière is a palatial Art Deco landmark. The white façade is dramatically illuminated at night with a lighting system by Architecture Lumière Citelum, whose illustrious clients include the Eiffel Tower and the Burj Dubai. Stepping into the lobby, you can imagine Paul Newman charming the staff (he famously arrived for the festival sans reservation, and Lucien Barrière gave him his own private apartment). To this day, the Majestic’s identity is closely linked with the celebrities who frequent it; the photo collection includes 2,500 shots of stars, and the private movie theater, Cinémathèque Diane, can seat up to 40 people in plush velvet wing chairs. Prized possession of the Lucien Barrière Group, the five-star hotel inaugurated a new wing in May 2010 which added a spa (My Blend by Clarins), an outpost of the Nice restaurant institution called La Petite Maison de Nicole, an arcade of luxury boutiques, and two Penthouse pied-à-terres that rank among the most exceptional suites in the world. (A night in the Majestic Penthouse will set you back 39,000 euros (US$54,300), while the Christian Dior Penthouse costs 32,000 euros (US$44,550).)
What do you get for this price tag? The luxury of space, for one thing. The Majestic Penthouse encompasses almost 5,000 square feet, and it boasts a private rooftop terrace with a sun deck and swimming pool. Other perks include the home cinema equipped with a video projector, and the “experience shower” which creates different ambiences with fragrance, sound and light. One floor below, the Christian Dior suite pays homage to the partnership between Lucien Barrière and the fashion house. During the film festival, the designer himself used to move into the hotel to outfit the stars before they hit the red carpet. It’s haute couture down to the details—from the red sofa cushions (Dior’s favorite color) and embroidered bed linen to the replica of the designer’s desk in the bedroom. A sublime suite experience is ensured with private butler service from Gilles Carletto (Majestic Penthouse) and Michel Martin (Christian Dior suite).
Pictured: The Grand Hyatt Martinez Prestige Sea View Suite has a beautiful living room with a private balcony overlooking the bay of Cannes.
The Majestic has a bevy of in-house attractions. You can take a dip in the lovely pool (decorated with a Murano mosaic); try Zumba or Pilates at the gym; and stake your claim to a sun bed on La Plage, the private beach recently re-imagined by star designer Jean-Philippe Nuel. In the evening, sip bubbly at the Rotonde Louise Pommery while a DJ spins the soundtrack, then enjoy a meal at Fouquet’s, the Riviera outpost of the iconic Parisian brasserie. For excursions farther afield, no request is too large for Head Concierge Roger Bastoni, who is a legend in the industry. A native of Cannes, he started working for the city’s hotels at the age of 13, and served as President of the French Cléfs d’Or from 2003 to 2007. For VIP reservations, contact Melissa in the Reservations Department ([email protected]; 011-33-04-9299-7973).
Legions of celebrities have also held court at the Grand Hyatt Martinez. Although it’s been managed by Hyatt Hotels Corp for just a year, it actually began life as a villa in the 1860s, when Cannes morphed from a sleepy fishing village into a tourist destination. An ambitious Italian hotelier, Emmanuel Martinez, transformed the property into one of the largest hotels on the Riviera in 1929. Today his eponymous hotel is home to the only Michelin two-star restaurant in the city. Decorated by designer Sybille de Margerie with nods to the film festival (like inlaid glass palms on the wall), La Palme d’Or is the place to see and be seen. At the helm since 2007, Chef Christian Sinicropi is inspired by art, and creates the ceramic tableware himself. Notably, he published a book of original recipes dedicated to movie masterpieces. (“E.T.”, for example, is an alchemy of flavors, combining lamb, smoked eel, sweet pepper, and aubergine caponata.)
Cannes is also an important business destination, with a year-long calendar of conferences held at the Palais des Festivals, and the Martinez offers the largest extensive event space outside of the Palais itself. Other facilities include the seventh floor spa by exclusive Swiss brand L. Raphael, and ZPlage, the private beach with 400 sun loungers and an array of water sports from the floating pontoon.
Of the 409 guest rooms, the Penthouse on the seventh floor has décor that is of museum-quality (objets d’art and original lithographs by Picasso and Matisse). There’s a mosaic-lined hammam, hydrotherapy bath, and sauna, while the teak terrace features two Jacuzzis and a roof garden planted with century-old olive trees. Bien sûr, a butler is on call 24/7. On the first floor, the Suite des Oliviers is a chic Art Deco retreat with a large terrace where you can soak in a Jacuzzi overlooking the Croisette. Other coveted digs include the Prestige Sea View Suites on the corners of each floor. To make reservations, reach out to Céline Renou ([email protected]; 011-33-4-9298-7410). For special requests (like a private helicopter ride to St. Tropez), contact in-the-know Head Concierge Fabrizio Bozzolan ([email protected]; 011-33-4-9390-1234), who manages a team of eight Clefs d’Or concierges. (They’ve been known to track down flower bouquets and medicine in the middle of the night, when all the region’s stores are closed, and even locate a priest for a last-minute wedding.)
Another icon on La Croisette, the InterContinental Carlton conjures the Belle Époque in all its grandeur. A major top-to-bottom overhaul has been rumored since a new investor bought the hotel in December 2011. Improvements will include a new conference center, rooftop pool, and spa (de rigueur at hotels these days.) In the meantime, insiders tell us that the Carlton embarked on a $6 million touch-up this past winter.
The Carlton is rich in history; the League of Nations first met in the hotel’s heritage-listed ballroom (1922), and the hotel was a favorite crash pad for Elizabeth Taylor (she brought five different husbands). Of the seventh floor prestige suites, named for screen legends, the Sean Connery Suite is the biggest, accessed by a private elevator. The Grace Kelly Suite—inaugurated in 2010 by the actress’s son Prince Albert II of Monaco—is an elegant escape from the hum of the Croisette. From the terrace, you can gaze across the Mediterranean to the Lérins Islands. The sitting room alcove resembles a private yacht because of its porthole-like window. Sean Penn left a thank-you note scrawled on a cocktail napkin (“To Hotel Carlton: Thanks for my room with a view!”) which has since been reproduced in the Livre d’Or that serves as the bar’s cocktail menu. Other noteworthy digs are the two-bedroom Clint Eastwood Suite (No. 523), housed in the building’s cupola, and Suite 623, where Hitchcock filmed To Catch a Thief. VIP booking requests can be sent to Malya Zaim ([email protected]) or Jad Aboukhater ([email protected]).
Paris-born Colombe McCarthy, director of the European Division at Destinations & Adventures International in Beverly Hills, shares her favorite Cannes addresses:
“I always like to send people a little bit outside of the La Croisette area, for instance to Le Suquet, the old part of town, for a visit to the little-known Musée de la Castre, which has a collection of 19th century paintings of Riviera landscapes. I also suggest taking the short boat ride to Ile St Honorat for lunch at La Tonnelle, which has a lovely location on the water’s edge. The restaurant is managed by the Cistercian Monks who live on the island and produce wine, which is, of course, served here. Take a stroll around the small island, which is such a sharp contrast to the ‘glitz’ of Cannes. Aside from the big hotels on La Croisette, I like Le Cavendish, where Christine and her team make people feel right at home. For restaurants, La Mère Besson, tucked away in a small street near the Croisette, is an institution that serves traditional Provençal dishes.”