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Red carpet city of the stars

Costa Rica

Cannes is a sparkling diamond on the French Riviera, first championed by British high society 150 years ago. Today it boasts sumptuous shopping, the world’s most important film festival, a balmy winter and spring climate, grand Belle Epoque hotels, and a rich night life. But you don’t need a gold-plated credit card to survive in this glitzy Mediterranean resort. Gareth Huw Davies finds that some of the best things to do are free, with a choice of bargain places to stay and eat. Picture - the writer.

Great parade

Anyone is free to join the mile-long parade along La Croisette, a top spot to
be seen on the Cote d’Azure. Dress smartly, wear killer dark glasses and
saunter with millionaires, starlets on the prowl, vintage society ladies with
their haut-couture dogs, and people of all ages gently jogging. Nobody cares if your money is new, old, or if you don’t even have any. Cannes has long been the great escape from the North European winter. Now membership of the Cannes Club gives you 10 nights, for two, in a 4 star hotel, and many other
things to do.) Continue past the port, bobbing with high-rolling yachts, and up to
the neat little old town, on a wide stone staircase under the Saracens Tower.
There’s a marvellous museum, (Musée de la Castre) full of well displayed
relics from Europe, South America and the Pacific. One room contains some of the Louvre’s overflow collection.

Red Carpet town.

Cannes is small, so there is a more concentrated aura of stardom than
anywhere on earth, even outside the International Film Festival (mid May).
Stay out of town, and travel in by train, if you come for the festival itself, to
spot stars on the beach, on La Croisette, and on the red carpet at the Palais
des Festivals. There are many public screenings of a dizzying range of films.
Beat the critics and decide who deserves your own personal Palme d’Or.
Disappointingly, no museum is dedicated to the 60 year old festival, but there
are photos in many bars, and fabulous murals on the sides of buildings – look
for Buster Keaton, Marilyn Monroe and Jacques Tati. The restaurant La
Potiniere served fine food as I sat among official festival
posters, dating from 1947.

High Life

A 6 minute helicopter flight may not sound a lot, but for pure,
concentrated thrill, there’s not much the average tourist can buy to beat it.
It’s like flying inside the eye of a giant gnat. The all-round view is awesome.
We rose from the little airstrip, into an instant geography lesson. Inland the
foothills bunched up into the nearby Alps, in a riot of contours. To the
northeast, the gilded coast ran rich and fashionable up through Nice and
Antibes. Just a mile or so off the coast we swung over the two Lérins islands, full of Roman remains, a Cistercian monastery and pine
forests, easily reached by regular boats from Cannes. The mysterious Man in
the Iron Mask was a prisoner here. Then one last swoosh over the spot where
Napoleon landed, before his triumphant return to Paris.

Raise the bar

‘That’s me with Sir Bobby Charlton,’ said the tall and genial bar owner Henri
Meyer, producing a fading photo. He added, as if we didn’t know, ‘He won the
World Cup.’ This former goalkeeper for Strasbourg and Bayern Munich offers
an alternative to film stars in the Taverne de Lucullus, hard by the main
market. Photos and pennants marking famous matches festoon the walls of
this temple to football. Look for the fading ensign celebrating the great and
tragic George Best. Henri keeps a convivial bar - a champagne bottle was
open well before noon, behind a rampart of tasty tapas arranged on the
counter. He and his wife Colette do a single dish of the day. So many come on Friday for Aïoli, a Provençal dish of salt cod and potatoes, they do two sittings. Place du Marché Forville.
I also liked the CarreD’Or bar, 16 Rue des Freres Pradignac.

Cook’s tour

It’s the challenge of our times, proclaimed endlessly by TV chefs. You, too,
can cook. But how do we know if we’re any good?
Les Apprentis Gourmets offers a brilliantly simple option for releasing your inner Paul Bocuse. For around €50 you prepare a three course meal using professional equipment and a restaurant-standard range, under the skilful and expletive-free, guidance of chef Jacques Di Guisto. Then you transfer to a big table upstairs, and share you triumph with the other people on the course. This is
France, so the occasion comes with added conviviality. Book ahead. In Cannes
shopping follows seamlessly after a good lunch. Nearby La Croisette (Jimmy
Choo, Paule Ka, Dior) gives stellar window shopping; take parallel Rue d’Antibes for
more realistic retail.

Grand hotel

The Martinez is one of the city’s grand sea front hotels, an extravagant Art
Deco pile of a hotel built in the 1930s, with a big marble lobby and wide and
graceful stairs in the warm colours of the South of France. They met me with
a Merc at Nice airport, but I could just as well have been Clint Eastwood, a regular
here for the film festival, because the service is much the same. (Although
they probably whisk Clint up to one of the 7th floor house penthouses, said
to be the best accommodation in town.) To prove that Cannes was affordable, my guide showed me Hotel Alnea. It’s around
€70-80 a night for a bright if small bedroom recently refurbished, with flat screen
TV, free wi fi and a stylish iron chair with a red cushion. Even 2 star hotels
have to be good in Cannes. Try the Hotel Des Allees, too.

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