Cannes is the ideal place to suck up the glamour of the French Riviera: when walking along the famous Croissette, it’s difficult to shake the idea that you’re in a James Bond movie…
Lamborghinis and Ferraris roar out of side streets, glamorous bronzed women stalk the beaches, and casinos pay host to VIPs dropping in by helicopter from their yachts (yes, that really does happen). All this might seem out of reach to anyone lacking a millionaire’s budget, but there are plenty of ways to grab a slice of the Cote d’Azur glitz on the cheap. Cannes resident Lewis Packwood shares his secrets.
1. Rent an apartment
There are thousands of holiday flats along the Cote d’Azur that stand empty for most of the year, and you can get some surprisingly good deals in Cannes – as little as £200 a week in the Pointe Croissette for an apartment that sleeps four. However, prices rise dramatically in May on account of the Cannes Film Festival, and you’ll be lucky to find somewhere in August, so September or spring are generally the best times to find a good deal, and at these times the weather is usually still hot enough to hit the beach.
2. Eat like the French do
Your biggest expense on the Riviera will undoubtedly be food (unless you happen to drunkenly stumble into a casino). Expect at least London prices in most restaurants, and be prepared to pay considerably more than you’re used to in local shops. The key is to self-cater: the Carrefour hypermarkets in Antibes and Nice have some good bargains, so stock up and cook yourself whenever you can. Even better, eat like the locals: French bread and cheese are comparatively cheap, not to mention delicious.
3. Look out for restaurant deals
There are some phenomenal restaurants along the coast, but they often come with phenomenal prices. However, look for the lower-price carte du jour (menu of the day) which can offer some decent discounts, particularly at lunchtime. If you’re looking for amazing value, try the PhilCat kiosk in Cannes, which does enormous lunchtime salads for a few euros, or join the queue snaking out of the door at Pizza and Co in next-door Antibes. The family-run La Sousta in Cannes also offers delicious and excellent-value evening meals at about $12–15 for a main course. But if you want a real treat, try the €35 menu of the day at the swanky Mantel restaurant – for the price of one of their usual mains you get an amazing three-course meal.
4. Take a budget flight
The easiest and cheapest way to get to the Cote d’Azur is to fly into Nice. Various budget airlines fly there from all over the UK, and fares start at around £33 in the off-peak season, but increase steadily over the summer.
5. Hop on the bus
For the airport transfer, the local bus is a snip at just €1.50 per journey (better still, pay €10 for a book of ten tickets to save money on later trips). The number 200 bus goes all the way to Cannes (timetable here), although be prepared for a long journey. The open-top number 8 is the cheapest tour bus you’ll ever take: for €1.50 you get stunning views of Cannes’ palm-tree-lined waterfront.
6. Suck up some bargain culture
The Matisse Museum in Nice houses a collection of artworks by local resident Henri Matisse, and best of all, it’s totally free! The lighthouse-topped hill in Antibes offers commanding views of the superyachts nestled in Antibes harbour, while Fréjus has a Roman amphitheatre that’s free to look around. Finally, no trip to the French Riviera would be complete without a stroll around stunning Monaco – and perhaps a walk along the Grand Prix track if that’s your thing. All of the above towns are easily reached by train – a return to Monaco from Cannes costs around €18.
7. Hit the beach
Large stretches of the coast are taken up by private beaches, where sun loungers can cost upwards of €30 to hire, but the public beaches are free to enter, and loungers cost as little as €4. Bijou Plage, a public beach on the Pointe Croissette in Cannes, has a sandy beach with excellent snorkelling, and there are various rocky outcrops along the Cap d’Antibes where you can plunge in for free and say hi to the fish (or even an octopus, if you’re lucky). The exclusive Plage Garoupe on the east side of the Cap also has a slither of public beach for the hoi polloi and lots of rocky outcrops to snorkel around. The beaches get rammed at weekends, so plan your visit for a weekday if possible. But if the temperature is below about 24 degrees C you’ll probably have the beach to yourself – locals tend to stay away on ‘cold’ days. And sharing a bottle of rosé at sunset on the beach is a great alternative to blowing your budget on expensive restaurant wine.
8. Watch some free events
Fête de la Musique is a day of free music that takes place all across France on 21 June – check the Cannes website for details offer concerts. Keep an eye on what’s happening at the Palais de Festivals too – this is where the Cannes Film Festival is held, but it holds concerts and events all year round, some of which are free (like the International Games Festival). The Fireworks Festival in July and August sees rival pyrotechnics manufacturers attempting to outdo each other, and you can watch the spectacular results of their efforts for nada. The International Yachting Festival in September also comes with free fireworks, and you can expect to see a chain of superyachts filling the horizon. As the oligarchs fly in, you can sit smugly on the beach and admire the view, knowing that you’ve paid a fraction of the cost of their helicopter ride to sample the glamour of Cannes.