Blue skies, golden sands and you can go swimming here for most of the year. Cannes has a brash charm that distinguishes it from the gentility of the other well-heeled Riviera resorts. The town has a special buzz and the glitz is everywhere: leopardskin bikinis prancing up the red carpet at the Carlton; camp cat-burglars dressing up in stolen Dior; glamourpuss dogs with huge, spiked silver collars. And, other than during the film festival in May, Cannes can be positively cheap.
The nearest airport to Cannes is Nice: the cheapest flight is probably easyJet's lowest single fare from Luton of pounds 38 (booked electronically through www.easyJet.com; it's pounds 1 more if you uses the phone, 0870 6 000 000). Two bus lines run from Nice Airport to Cannes - for about pounds 8 - in an hour, or take the slower but more atmospheric coastal route through Antibes. Buses stop right on the sea-front, on the palm- tree-lined boulevard, La Croisette, the centre of all activities. Breathe in the scent of la ville fleurie and heady whiffs of Ambre Solaire.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
In 1834, Lord Brougham liked the fishing village of Cannes so much that he built a home there; it's been host to the fashionable ever since. Excellent Riviera rail and road links run east-west. A modern highway through the town centre cuts off a golden arc to the south that contains beaches, boulevards and smart hotels. To be truly chic your hotel must be within this arc. To the north is the modern townlet of Le Cannet and to the south, the Med. The lovely clean sand on the beaches is freshly imported every winter.
The Carlton (00 33 493 06 40 06) (1) on the Croisette is the place to see and be seen (pounds 120-pounds 300 for a double room); founded in 1902, its bullet- like spiky-tipped turrets are said to be modelled on the breasts of the courtesan La Belle Otero. Les Dauphins Verts (9, Rue Jean Dolfus, 00 33 493 39 45 82) (2) is a pretty, family-run hotel, within the Golden Arc (pounds 25-45 for a double). Basic hotels and the excellent tourist office (3) (on the Place de la Gare) are near the train station (4). Add on 15-20 per cent during the film festival.
TAKE A BOAT RIDE
Go with the Compagnie de Navigation Trans Cote d'Azur from the Quai Laubeuf (5) for pounds 4-6, rather than with the rip-off touts near the Palais des Festivals (6). Boats leave every hour for the 15-minute trip to the glorious Iles des Lerins (7). Few tourists bother to reach this miniature paradise of fig-trees, tiny coves, pines, fresh air and blue skies but it's well worth a visit. Walk up to the fortress on the lle Ste Marguerite (8), the famed prison of The Man in the Iron Mask. Today it is decorated with modern murals by Jean Legac commemorating the Moorish families who were also imprisoned there. There are a couple of restaurants on Ste Marguerite but a better option is the stall selling take-away salads, freshly chopped and mixed before your eyes.
TAKE A HIKE
Fashionable types should take a long stroll along the Rue d'Antibes, past the haute couture boutiques that run from one end to the other. Alternatively, ramble up to the old town, to the fortress and garden of Le Suquet (9), where wedding parties gather for open-air feasts. If you must get some exercise, go down to the nearby beach - but be warned: it is seen as very eccentric to actually go into the water here. Carry on instead to the couple of free beaches a little west of the yacht harbour.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
Near the market in the Rue Forville, the Taverne Lucullus does oysters, cray-fish and aioli, for pounds 5-10.
Wander down to the Musee de Castres (entry free) (11), to admire its collection of orientalist paintings, or take a short bus or train ride to the Picasso Museum in the Chateau Grimaldi (12) at Antibes. Charlotte Salomon, a Jewish artist who died in Auschwitz, painted at frantic speed in nearby Villefranche until her arrest and deportation.
The cocktail bar of the Carlton (1) is just the place for a sophisticated pre-prandial tipple. Be warned though - a drink will cost you a rather less-than-relaxing price. Sip slowly and drink to great stars of the past: Errol, Lana, Ava.
The smart dining district in Cannes is Mougins, to the north of the town, but you'll find better value in the side streets off the Rue d'Antibes, with set menus of between pounds 7-pounds 20. Fish is a speciality: look out for creamy hake and munch it with mesclun, a Provencal salad with nine kinds of bitterish leaves. To sample a local wine order Domaine la Bouderry, a rich rose.
From fishing village to glitzy resort
THE ICING ON THE CAKE
If you can bear an early start, head first thing to the fruit and flower market at the Porte de la Misericorde (13). The rest of the tourists will still be still asleep and you can marvel at perfect tiny carnations, dark velvety roses, violet-skinned garlic, fat vine tomatoes, glistening seasonal fruit and chocolate fish wrapped in silver, exquisitely displayed in jewel- like arrangements.
A WALK IN THE PARK
Cannes is full of flowers but, if you're fed up with glamour, try a football match instead. Fixtures are detailed in the local paper, Nice-Matin, and, although Cannes has a team, regional hopes are pinned on the Bleus of Nice.
Cross the Voie Rapide towards Le Cannet, along the Boulevard de la Republique, for snack bars and the little places that do traditional dishes such as rabbit with polenta, a taste of the old Provence - one which had to scratch a living from the rocky soil before life got lush on the tourist trade.
The Carlton hotel
Forget the dazzling summer firework displays, the entire length of the Croisette is lit up at night all year round, in many ways. Yachts glide in the bay, while beauties of both sexes stroll up and down. If you're feeling flush, enter the red velvet womb of a casino. If not, enjoy the champagne sparkle of the boulevard for free.
BLUES, CAMPS BAY, SOUTH AFRICA
Blues, The Promenade, Camps Bay, 8001 South Africa (00 27 21 438 2040)
Location and view
Blues is on the first floor of the promenade of Camps Bay, an entrancingly beautiful Cape Town suburb. The Twelve Apostles - outcrops of Table Mountain - rise overhead and, through the picture windows, the sun sinks into the ocean in a red, African haze.
Service and clientele
The waitresses are languid, model-esque blondes. Service is deliberately slow because, like the Hotel California, nobody wants to leave. We were near a nook-like window table, where a couple who looked like Gwyneth Paltrow and Rupert Everett were playing with each other's hands all evening, smiles in their eyes.
It looked like Terence Conran had visited the Cape - the rooms were all steel and light wood.
At the window tables you have a view of the mountains dropping down to the ocean, with a row of palm trees below you. It feels like you're isolated, alone with your love on the tip of Africa. Afterwards we walked to the sea. The view back to the restaurant was ineffably romantic.
Seafood-dominated, with Thai and Malay influences. Cape cuisine is shaped by the recipes of Asian slaves the original Dutch settlers brought with them.
We had a wondrous Thelema Estate Chardonnay, which tasted of fenugreek, lime and cream.
Oh yeah, and the food
Both my South African friend and I had the seafood platter - a tray of grilled lobster, crayfish, oysters, mussels and king prawns. There was a hint of lemongrass but above all the taste of the sea.
24-Hour Room Service
ST MARTINS LANE, LONDON
AS YOU enter Ian Shrager's new London hotel, St Martins Lane, and leave behind the bustle of the street from which it takes its name, the interior (designed by Philippe Starck) is supposed to create the illusion of entering another world. It does. But, rather than a moonboots-and-spacedust- style lobbyscape, guests land on pure Dali-esque terrain - gnomes pose as stools along with giant gold teeth, an oversized flowerpot supports a blossom of fake pink roses and, in the distance, a gentle stream of clouds drifts across a giant screen: the door to the Light Bar.
Despite attempts at playing cool, you'll probably not be able to stop a stray "wow" from slipping from your lips. The gimmicks (which include a supply of pashminas for guests) might not impress, but if you want to have fun, this is the place to book. Although the idea is serious (it's strong on business facilities), the mood is definitely one of entertainment. A typical night here might involve scribbling something silly on the pillar- cum-blackboard in the rum bar next to the Asia de Cuba restaurant (see Weekened Review, page 16) and then, after making some sizzling dancefloor moves in the Light Bar (or settling down for a sedate meal in one of the three restaurants), toddling off to bed in a lift that plays music and has a TV, just in case you start to feel a little bored en route.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
St Martins Lane is at 45 St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4HX (tel 0171- 300 5500, fax 0171-300 5501, reservations 0800 634 5500).
If you're here to have a good time, you can't really knock the location. Within a five-minute walk you'll find theatres, nightclubs, restaurants, galleries - and the centre of London's tourist map, Leicester Square.
Getting around: the Northern line underground station is two minutes away by foot and, a little further in the opposite direction, Charing Cross station gives you access to several other lines and mainline train services. Heathrow is about an hour away by tube or marginally quicker if you traipse to Paddington station and jump on the Heathrow Express.
ARE YOU LYING COMFORTABLY?
The idea is less about how the rooms are decorated (simple but stylish) and more about what you can do with them. Each one comes with an interactive light installation so that you can alter the colour, the mood and, ultimately, what the hotel looks like from the street. If you get fed up of playing changing rooms, try the ultra-modern gym, order an in-room massage (or anything else on the room service menu, from gummy bears to an "intimacy kit") or nip downstairs to the lobby shop (packed full of trendy essentials - jewellery by Noelle and Jade Jagger, toiletries from The Cross and a stock of the latest design magazines).
THE BOTTOM LINE
For this kind of fun, you need serious cash: standard double rooms cost pounds 215, studios pounds 285 and the penthouse is so expensive you probably shouldn't even ask the price (it's not listed) unless you're paid in gold bullion.
I'm not paying that: try the Pavilion Hotel, 34 Sussex Gardens, London, W2 1UL (0171-262 0905) where the equally colourful rooms (from "Highland Fling" to "Honky Tonk") cost from pounds 60 per night single, pounds 95 double.
Rhiannon BattenReuse content