After a morning visit to Villefranche-sur-Mer, we arrive in Cannes and pull into the driveway of the Carlton Hotel.
Inside the lobby, we are met with cold reserve. It may be home to the rich and famous but it feels like any modern hotel with no French je ne sais quoi. We are told, politely, that the price quoted on our confirmation slip is incorrect and they are to charge us more for the room. They claim our travel agent was advised but we have no such knowledge so we ask to see the manager.
We are escorted to room 611 on the sixth floor. A small entrance leads to an average sized room with a queen size bed and a mirrored wall behind the bed head. The window has a view of the back of the hotel. The marble bathroom is average for size and style but the large chip in the sink does no go unnoticed. At this point, we are disappointed. We have paid marginally more for a seaview room at the Hotel Negresco.
Our luggage takes too long to arrive and it takes a phone call before it is delivery. The hotel manager calls and explains that he cannot accept the original room rate since he has a written confirmation from our travel agent. Disappointed and jaded with the reception we have been given, we leave the mediocre room.
Our plan was to drive up to Super Cannes for a panoramic view of the Riviera but we are still on edge after the drive we had so we decide to give it a miss. I ask the concierge if we can reach it by funicular railway. He looks at me puzzled then explains that there has not been one since World War II. So much for reading guidebooks!
We stroll along La Croisette, Cannes’ most famous boulevard, and imagine it when the film industry takes over the town annually in May and famous people surrounded by bodyguards congregate. Today, we are glad to be on the cote d’azur where Carlton Plage, with its white and blue parasols on golden sand beckon beside the Mediterranean.
We take the direction of the Palais des Festivals, admiring splendid hotels and the sequence of plages that line up the Croisette. It is getting hotter by the minute. Unlike the beaches we saw in Nice, people are sunbathing on the sand with no deckchairs or parasols.
A little further along, the Palais des Festivals comes into view. The modern building which faces the water is the site of the annual Cannes Film Festival in May. We pause to study the autographed handprints of fame of numerous actors: Catherine Deneuve, Claude Chabrol, Jeanne Moreau, Gerard Depardieu, Anouk Aimee, Louis Malle and Jean Marais among others.
The beach is calling my name but Mr G, who is sunburnt from a few hours in the sun in Nice, can no longer bear the heat. So we return to the hotel for a little sieste.
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Late Sunday afternoon in Cannes and people are still sunning themselves au bord de la Mediterranee We pull up a couple of blue chairs overlooking Plage Martinez and watch the world of the French Riviera.
Beautiful bronzed bodies pose on beach chairs. Some are sipping on cocktails, others are sitting in the shade enjoying an aperitif. An older couple exchange loving looks like newly weds. Suntanned, muscular plagistes comb the sand with a rake sifting through any tiny bits of waste. One by one, they remove their T-shirts revealing bronzed and muscled torsos and continued their work. To the right, elegantly-dressed people are making their way down to a Ralph Lauren reception.
Ah, la cote d’azur!
With the sun setting over Cannes and white sails drifting towards the horizon, a tranquil pace is set. We stroll back along La Croisette and choose Le Stromboli, a restaurant opposite Palais des Festivals.
One waiter shows us to a table, another offers us the menu, another serves the aperitif and yet another takes our order. We give the sommelier our choice of wine and he helps us to extend our table to accommodate our cameras.
With a pastis, the local aperitif made from aniseed, we toast to our first meal in France. The entrée of moules farcies a la provencale is light but full on flavour. The sole meuniere, floured and cooked in butter, sprinkled with chopped parsley and butter sauce taste very fresh. The scampi a la provencale is a winner. A bottle of smooth, dry, Cotes de Provence Blanc des Blancs accompanies the meal.
A sense of surrealism washes over us as we dine in Cannes, under the stars, on a warm July night.
We order dessert, a poire belle Helene and a framboise Melba, which surprisingly make an appearance with cocktail hats and sparklers. Luscious and sweet, they put a fine end to the meal.
The waiter clears our dessert plates and puts two small glasses on the table.
“Marc de maison,” he says.
Marc is a potent spirit and digestif, a clear liquid distilled from grape skins and residue after the grapes have been pressed. When we ask for the bill, we notice that the marc was on the house.
As the night deepens, we promenade along La Croisette until the Carlton Hotel comes into view, sparkling under night lights like a diamond. We enter the lobby and tour the ground floor, looking for the spot where Grace Kelly walked along the hall in a scene from “To Catch a Thief”.
… continues tomorrow.
‘Le Tour de France Gourmantic’ series is the story of a young couple from Australia who took to the French roads on a whirlwind Tour of France back when the internet wasn’t at everyone’s fingertips, phones were still attached to sockets, GPS was an unfamiliar acronym, digital cameras were a pipe dream and the Euro hadn’t replaced French Francs. With just one fold-out map of France and boundless enthusiasm, they took their Renault 19 and went on a cultural and culinary discovery.
58 Boulevard de La Croisette
Le Stromboli (Restaurant)
3 Square Mérimée
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