On May 16, a curtain will rise on the French Riviera, heralding the start of the 65th annual Cannes Film Festival. A lightning storm of flashes will flicker above the azure waters and dance across the whitewashed luxury hotels of La Croisette as Hollywood starlets and next generation it girls promenade into cinema history.
Home to the world's most prestigious film festival, Cannes explodes with excitement. The iconic Côte d'Azur cove lives for these 12 days and indeed depends on them to douse the city with enough sparkle to last a year.
The revered festival offers a menu of forthcoming cinematic delights, but it also reminds us of the glamor that awaits in the greater French Riviera.
In the early 19th century, wealthy French, American, English, and Russian tourists flocked to Cote d'Azure, transforming the once-humble fishing ports into exclusive resorts for the rich and famous. When Cannes Film Festival began in 1946, it cemented the region's reputation.
But beyond the festival lights, here's a look at Cannes and the greater French Riviera:
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Busy year round, Cannes bursts at the seams during its famous film festival when esteemed and would-be movie stars, directors, producers, and writers invade the seaside resort. The city basks in the festival's aura year round. Yet, Cannes caters to a myriad of conventions, congresses and festivals throughout the year in its Palais Des Festivals De Cannes that solidify its reputation as a glamorous resort for the très wealthy. Palatial hotels, chic bars, and a yacht-lined harbor ensure that there is plenty of space to toast the good life.
Cannes Film Festival Escape: Grasse
Just 20 minutes north of Cannes, the old hilltop town of Grasse offers a more serene side of the French Riviera. Perched on a hill amid fields of jasmine, lavender, mimosa, and violet, Grasse is considered the world's capital of perfume. The local tourist office offers maps to help visitors navigate the tightly-coiled cobbled streets toward the 11th century cathedral, dedicated to Notre Dame du Puy. A brand new train line opened in 2005 connecting the historic town to the coast, making a journey to Grasse easier than it's ever been. If you need a flowery break from the glitz and glam below, Grasse makes a great day trip from Cannes.
Cannes Film Festival Escape: St Tropez
Esteemed by the tan, rich, idle, and famous, St Tropez lives up to its nickname Trop (French for too much). St. Tropez has a colorful history dating back to the Greeks and Romans who settled in the area. Statues and other artifacts hint at the city's illustrious past, though much of it was destroyed in the 14th century and again in 1944 during World War II. Brigitte Bardot really put St. Tropez on the map with her 1956 film And God Created Woman. She fell in love during the shooting and settled here. Others followed and the town of ochre-colored buildings, narrow streets, and quaint alleyways climbing up to the hills became one of France's -- and indeed the world's -- most alluring escapes.
Cannes Film Festival Escape: Nice
The Côte d'Azur's cosmopolitan capital may be known for its polished pebble beaches, but the city's appeal stretches beyond tanners and flâneurs. For art lovers, there are sundry museums from the Musee Matisse to the Musee des Beaux-Arts. Archeology buffs can ponder over the ruins of Cemenelum, capital of the Ancient Roman province Alpes Maritimae. The alluring Vieille Ville (Old Town) is a gastronome's glory and a barfly's bliss. Yet, the heart of the city lies along the palm-lined seafront promenade des Anglias. Below the Terracotta-clad buildings and Belle Epoque mansions resides an unceasing procession of beachgoers, fashionistas, and rollerbladers. This is Nice, the pulsing heart of the Rivera.
Cannes Film Festival Escape: Monaco
Have you ever stared at a Piet Mondrian painting and felt trapped, lost, and confused. That's what Monaco is like. It's a maze of marble tunnels, perilous cliffs, and public lifts. Monaco is the second smallest independent state in the world after the Vatican and the roughly 36,000 Monegasque people retain their own unique dialect, history, culture, and lifestyle. The latter transforms the everyday traveler into a world of James Bond-like precision. Palaces tower over perkily plucked gardens and flowing fountains -- all guarded by police (plain-clothed and otherwise) and the omnipresent CCTV cameras. All of the hype and hyperawareness comes to a head at the glamorous Monte Carlo Casino.