The famous film festival, girls in leopardskin bikinis, imported sand, glitzy beach parties: Cannes has a brash charm all of its own

WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

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.

BEAM DOWN

The nearest airport to Cannes is Nice: the cheapest flight is probably easyJet's lowest single fare from Luton of £38 (booked electronically through www.easyJet.com; it's £1 more if you uses the phone, 0870 6 000 000). Two bus lines run from Nice Airport to Cannes - for about £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.

CHECK IN

The Carlton (00 33 493 06 40 06) (1) on the Croisette is the place to see and be seen (£120-£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 (£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 £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 £5-10.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

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.

AN APERITIF

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.

DEMURE DINNER

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 £7-£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.

BRACING BRUNCH

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.

EARLY HOURS

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.

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