After living in Cannes for four months, I feel comfortable enough to say that I am an honorary Cannois and as an honorary Cannois, I am compelled to say that Cannes is the ideal spot to visit, vacation, study abroad, or (hopefully, one day) retire. This city taught me so much about french culture, European culture, the film industry, and (queue the study-abroad-cheesy line) myself. So I am here to tell you why you should go to Cannes, if you ever have the chance to visit France.
- Everyday is the perfect beach day: Obviously if you are looking for a great vacation destination, Cannes is a perfect place. It has miles of beach for people to lay out under the beautiful blue sky and warm sun, or swim in the crystal clear salty waters of the Mediterranean sea. I am ruined because of the Cannes beaches, which are ridiculously clean and the water is clear enough that when I look down at my feet I can see the little fish swimming up to me. There are little food stands about every quarter mile down the entire beach and coastline that sell ice cream, fries, sandwiches, and drinks. If it is peak tourist season, you can rent paddleboards or other aquatic sport equipment. Some of my favorite memories in Cannes are of myself and a group of friends at the beach, laying in the sand or floating in the water. The sea is really salty too, which many people hate, but it does make it easier to float. And the waves are very mild, so just grab yourself a drink from the beach side snack stands, rent a floating device, and relax in the Mediterranean sea for a little while.
- Cultural Immersion: When people think of France, they primarily think of Paris and, of course, when most people visit France, they visit Paris. Paris is a very important french city which you should definitely visit, but if you are looking to really immerse yourself in the french culture, Cannes is the way to go. Paris is super touristy which means you won’t really get the full cultural experience that is half the fun of traveling to a foreign destination. Especially if you want to learn the language, you should go to Cannes. You could even take language classes at the International Collège de Cannes, which is a language immersion school. With three hours of french class, five days a week, you will pick up the language and culture in no time. Plus, unless you are there during the film festival, there are not a lot of tourists in Cannes which gives you ample opportunity to try to practice your language skills with the french locals. But even if you are not interested in learning french, don’t worry. Almost everyone in Cannes speaks english. It can be a bit of a small town at times, but this can be a good thing because it means that it is easier to learn the way of the locals, whether that is doing the best local leisure activities, going to the best local restaurants, or observing the locals and trying to understand and adapt to their culture. One of the biggest cultural differences that I found, and actually enjoyed adapting to, was that the french live to eat. And play. And relax. Really, they know how to say enough is enough after a day of hard work and take their time to live a higher quality of life. This usually takes form in insanely slow walking, early closing store and restaurant hours, and maybe even a restaurant closed on a random day at a totally random time. Since Cannes is also a beach town, it is clear that the locals know how to take it easy. And immersing yourself in that type of culture is really quite refreshing.
- Food: Everyone knows the french are known for their cuisine, and rightfully so. French pastries such as croissants, pain au chocolats, and crèpes are incredible and must-haves in France, as are non-pastry french dishes like escargots and ratatouille. But what a lot of people may not realize is that there is also a lot of region-specific french food as well, and Southern Provincial french food is to die for! One of the most popular dishes is moules-frites, which is mussels cooked in a white wine sauce, served with fries. It is really delicious but be careful where you get it from because myself and a lot of people in my study abroad program got food poisoning from it at one restaurant. Another dish is a Niçoise salad, which is traditionally made with anchovies. I’m not a big fan of those pungent little fish, but if you are, definitely give this local salad a go! But, if you’re like me and not a big fan of stinky fish in your lettuce, then definitely try a Salade du Chevre (goat cheese salad). It is make with lettuce, tomatoes, and lightly toasted goat cheese over tiny pieces of toast served with a balsamic vinaigrette (which is not really southern/provincial specific but still an absolute must-have in France). Try any of the local sea food (or fruits de mer) that Cannes has to offer as it is super fresh and amazingly delicious. You should also venture to a local market one morning to try local, Provincial produce such as cheese, olives, and maybe a few pastries as well! If you are looking for somewhere to eat out, I also have a few suggestions! For a nice lunch, try Le P’tit Zinc (which has an amazing Salade du Chevre). Or if you want a nice dinner, try Chez Vincent et Nicolas for some great Provincial french food or Astoux et Brun for some incredible seafood. If you want a nice coffee shop to do some work, or have a nice brunch, I suggest Casa di Nona or Café Picco (which is not anything fancy but it is right across from the Collège and has pretty good pastries and coffee).
- Location, location, location: Cannes is situated along the French Riviera in the region of Provence. The riviera runs along the coast of the Mediterranean sea, which means crystal clear blue waters and beautiful weather almost all year long. The region of Provence is home to beautiful little medieval towns that will make you feel like you are in an old fairy tale. And Cannes is perfectly nestled right in between Italy (just a two hour train ride away) and Spain (only a cheap hour long flight away). Basically, even if you get bored of Cannes, it is perfectly located right by some amazing places that you should definitely take the time out to visit if you are ever in Cannes. Some great nearby French cities to visit are Monte Carlo, Nice, Èze, and Menton, all coastal cities to the east of Cannes. Other provincial towns to visit are Nîmes, Arles, Avignon, and Les Baux de Provence. Each town has amazing medieval architecture and will definitely make you feel like you are in a movie. As I noted, Italy is just a two hour train ride away. Ventimiglia is the first city on the France-Italy border and it is a cute little coastal town, but make sure to have your french language skills ready because most of the locals do not speak english (but they do speak italian and french). You will find a beautiful, but rocky, beach here and some amazing Italian food. If you want to go to a more touristy destination, it is super cheap to buy train or plane tickets to Rome or Florence. For more information on some of the local traveling that I did, see my post “Pont, Palais, et Pizzas: Local Exploration.”
- Hollywood: Even if most people have not heard of Cannes, they have probably heard of the Cannes Film Festival. This festival drops a Hollywood bomb over Cannes during the two last weeks of May. Inside the Palais des Festivals, there is the film market full of hundreds of film companies, from production to distribution, marketing themselves to fellow filmmakers and industry professionals. Half of the Croisette (a major street in Cannes) is blocked off for the Red Carpet, which dozens of celebrities climb up to three or four times a day when a film is premiering inside the Palais theater. The whole city buzzes with festival-goers, festival workers, security, military, police, and tourists and locals with signs begging for movie tickets for the chance to climb that coveted red carpet. During the two weeks, there are other film competitions going on all over the city, where people with Cinephile badges can try to get in to see almost any movie they please (of course, many times there are limits on who can or cannot get into the movies). But it is an amazing opportunity to see movies months before they hit theaters, or see movies they may not be able to see at their local theaters because they are independent films. There are also concerts and movie screenings (of old movies) on the beach. The entire city it lit up with excitement – and occasionally film industry stress – from the crazy atmosphere of Hollywood infiltrating that small french town. My experience at the festival was a bit hectic but also amazing. I gained experience working in the film industry and dealing with businessmen and women as well as the perks of getting to climb the red carpet twice and see the festival premiere of Sofia Coppola’s new film. So if you want to visit a touristy Cannes, then go during the festival. It is a completely different town at this time of year than the rest of the year but it is still an amazing experience. (See my previous blog post: “Hollywood in France” to learn more about what I did during the film festival.)
These are only a few of the reasons that Cannes is the best place to visit/study/vacation. I have a billion more but that would turn this blog post into a thesis project. I may also be a little biased because Cannes was made a home to me for four months and it will always be another home to me but it does not take away from the fact that it is my favorite city and one that everyone should definitely travel to at some point.