Cannes: A Jewel on the French Riviera

Cannes is a beautiful town on the Côte d’Azur of the French Riviera not far from the Alpes-Maritimes. It is part of the Région de Provençe-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur and has a population of about 70,000, but it is considered part of the Nice metropolitan area which has a population of 933,000. The town is easily accessible by train on the line that runs between Marseille and Italy, or one can fly into Nice’s international airport and catch a shuttle to Cannes. Once arrived, the Bus Azur is a great way to get around, or one can rent a bicycle or scooter and zip through the narrow city streets. Otherwise, take your time and walk through the town and enjoy the sunny days. Be sure to enjoy a stroll along the 19th century promenade La Croisette that runs for a few kilometers along the beach. Be sure to also enjoy the great shopping, restaurants, and art galleries that Cannes is filled with, and don’t miss spending a day at least on the breathtaking sandy beaches and swimming in the clear water.

Cannes was first founded in the Middle Ages as a feudal dependent of the Lérins Monastery that is nearby on the island of St. Honorat. It remained a small fishing and agricultural village until it was discovered by the English politician Lord Henry Peter Brougham in 1834 on his way to Italy. Enchanted by the village, he bought land and used his wealth and influence to develop the area. Soon after, both foreign and French aristocrats began building vacation homes there, and Cannes emerged as an international resort town. By 1863 the Cannes Train Station opened, and by 1899 the tramway de Cannes was in operation.

Today, Cannes remains one of the most popular resorts on the French Riviera, and it is known for its beautiful beaches and Film Festival. The city is also known for its Municipal Music and Drama Conservatoire that teaches music and drama to students of all ages. Over time the town has attracted many renowned artists and in 1902 the Association des Beaux-Arts, the Fine Arts Association, was founded in order to offer support to developing artists. The Association has an annual student art shows and offers classes in drawing, painting, sculpture, and other artistic mediums. While visiting, be sure to visit the nearby Islands of Lérins, and the many museums and historic points of interest.

Main Attractions

Museé de la Castre

Perched on the hill overlooking the town of Cannes, this medieval castle once belonged to the monks of Lérins. From here one has a spectacular view of La Croisette, the bay, and the islands of Lérins. The museum houses the private collection of the Baron Lycklama bequeathed to the city in 1877. This multicultural collection includes antiquities, including Pre-Columbian and Mediterranean, and pieces from the Pacific, Himalayas, and the Americas, presumably collected in his travels. In the 12th century Saint-Anne Chapel is housed a collection of international instruments from Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Americas. The museum also has a collection of Provençial and local paintings from the 19th century, many of which are of landscapes of Cannes and the Riviera. The 12th century bell tower outside offers an amazing view of the area, if you are up to climbing the 109 steps to the top.

La Malmaison

Sitting right on La Croisette, this museum was once part of the Grand Hôtel. Built in 1863 by architects Vianey and Blondel, the structure originally housed the hotel’s tea and games rooms. The city of Cannes bought the structure in 1970, and in 1983 it was opened for exhibitions. Renovated in 1993, it is now one of the most important exhibition houses in Cannes, hosting two major shows a year, often of 20th century artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Ozenfant who spent much of their careers working in the area. They also have shows of contemporary artists such as Miró, Masson, César or the Chinese artist, Chu The-Chun.

Espace Miramar

This museum is located in the ground floor of the former hotel the Palais Miramar in the center of Cannes. It is dedicated to images encompassing both film and photography and the premises include a 400 seat theatre and cinema, a large hall and a 130 square meter exhibition room for temporary exhibits.

Chapelle Bellini

This museum is dedicated to the works of artist Emmanuel Bellini (1904-1989) who once has his studio here. The building was once part of the Villa Fiorentina built in 1894 for Lord Julian Goldsmith in the Italian Baroque style with a tall clock tower. Bellini’s studio is open for viewing in the chapel of the villa as are some of his art works.

Notre Dame d’Espérance

This Provençial Gothic church was built in 1648 and sits on top of the Suquet Hill overlooking Cannes, offering a great view of both the town and the bay. The interior is covered with 14th and 15th century wood paneling, and within in are paintings from the 19th century. Of not is the fresco of the Baptism of Christ by George Roux. Outside are two gilded wooden statues. This first is of Saint-Anne (15th century) and the second is of Notre Dame d’Espérance, Our Lady of Hope.

The Islands of Lérins

These islands sit just off the coast of Cannes and have always been an integral part of its culture and history. The Ile Sainte-Marguerite is the closer of the two islands and it is filled with rare Mediterranean plants and birds. The National Forest Authority has marked the botanical paths throughout the island making it an ideal place for a peaceful walk. Also on the island, perched above the sea among the pine and eucalyptus trees, is Fort Royal at the Pointe de la Convention where the famous Man in the Iron Mask was held captive for over ten years in this state prison. The exhibit includes a Huguenot memorial and a mural painting by Jean Le Gac.

Also at the site is the Museé de la Mer, the Sea Museum. Here one finds an exhibit of archeological relics salvaged from Roman and Saracen ship wrecks including fragments of Roman murals, ceramics and glassware. The museum also has a display that looks at maritime history in the area, underwater fauna and flora, and photography of then area.

The island of Saint-Honorat the Pious is another 600 meters beyond St. Marguerite. It has been home to the Monastére de Lérins and its Cistercian monks since its founding in 410. The current structure of the monastery was built during the Middle Ages and reflects the feudal architecture in Provençe as this fortified structure was designed to fight off the too frequent attacks that took place even out on this island. During the Middle Ages, Cannes fell under the dependency of this monastery. The island is dotted with seven chapels which are open to visitors. At this time about 30 monks till live here and make their living by running retreats and selling their wine and other products to the island’s visitors, especially popular is the Lérina Liqueur. The Monastery’s Museum focuses on the history of the monastery and includes a collection of archeological relics found locally and paintings from over the centuries.



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