Gleaming Ferraris and Rolls Royces often are parked in the long driveway of the Majestic Barrière, an upscale hotel where I found myself during a recent trip to Cannes on the French Riviera. Inside the stately, Art Deco property—it was built in the 1920s—there are Rolex clocks on the walls, along with black and white photographs of various movie stars. Think Gerard Depardieu, Sharon Stone, Humphrey Bogart.
The pictures on the walls are no coincidence. All of the actors in the photos have attended the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival, which is usually held each May at the Palais des Festivals et des Congres, just a stone’s throw away from the Majestic, off of Cannes’ famed Promenade de la Croisette. And many of the stars have stayed at the hotel, a five-star property with 265 rooms and 84 suites, including two uber-luxurious penthouses. In one of the penthouses, the Christian Dior Suite, the movie stars are fitted for their gowns or have their makeup and hair done before walking across the street to stroll the festival’s red carpet. The grey-and-white suite is decorated in the same sleek, minimalist style as Dior’s original store in Paris. While the price for this apartment starts at 15,000 euros (or about $18,570) per night, during the film festival it more than doubles. The second ultra-luxury suite, called the Majestic Suite, is done up in more modern fashion, all white and black and gold, with a rooftop infinity pool and stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s often occupied by Middle Eastern businessmen and, during the festival, goes for 39,000 euros (about $48,275) per night.
The beautiful, historic city of Cannes becomes a global attraction during the festival, of course, its population of 73,000 swelling then by an estimated 200,000 souls, including 5,000 journalists. And, five-star hotels like the Majestic naturally become preoccupied with the event, going all out for the attendees. Once, we were told, a dress that a French actress was to wear on the red carpet was delivered to Paris at the last minute by mistake, instead of to the actress in Cannes. Someone was dispatched immediately to the City of Light to fetch the dress and to take it via airplane to Nice, where it then was sent by helicopter to Cannes. It arrived just 30 minutes before the actress was to walk the carpet.
Super Yachts and Chic Boutiques
Even without such hubbub during the annual festival, Cannes (pronounced like “can”) is an enchanting attraction for visitors, especially along La Croisette, the city’s curving, palm-lined, beachfront boulevard. Its wide sidewalks are perfect for a leisurely promenade; or, you can simply stop and sit on one of the many benches or blue chairs set out along the way.
On the sea side you may see sun worshippers, super yachts owned by billionaire businessmen, and helicopters chop-chopping away from atop the mammoth boats. Some are doubtlessly headed up the coast (less than 35 miles away) to Monte Carlo. On the other side of the boulevard, stretching for blocks, sit some of the world’s most exquisite luxury boutiques: Gucci, Zegna, Hermès, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, Giorgio Armani.
The city offers simpler pleasures, as well. You can walk easily from the Majestic to the covered Forville Market, for example, where there are spices, fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables, chicken, and fish for sale. One Sunday morning I ducked into the packed Notre Dame de Bon Voyage, a magnificent, centuries-old Catholic church where Napoleon once spent a night after escaping from Elba. A few blocks away, I lived out a Hemingway fantasy reading three or four English newspapers over café au lait at an outdoor café called Gust’ami (where, amusingly, the proprietor cut me off as I tried to order in French by barking, “Speak English!”).
The service was much more genteel back at the Majestic, where you have your choice of three excellent eateries. Fouquet’s Cannes, a brasserie, offers the likes of traditional French veal. La Petite Maison de Nicole features lighter, Nicoise-style Mediterranean fare.
There’s also La Plage-Majestic Barrière Restaurant, where you dine outdoors beside the hotel’s recently renovated, “eco-friendly” private beach. As you’re warmed by the sun and the Majestic waiter refills your glass, it’s hard not to feel like a movie star yourself.