Nothing can like cannes

Forget the film festival, the ‘star’ of the French Riviera is picture perfect in itself, writes SHAFQUAT ALI

When you are in Cannes behave like a film star. Well, that’s exactly what I told myself as I landed at the Nice Cote d’Azur Airport on my way to Cannes. There were two ways of getting to the upscale French Riviera town: by limousine or by chopper.
No prizes for guessing what I plumped for. Well, I walked into the crisp winter morning with the wind from the helicopter blades blowing straight on to my face and plonked myself next to the pilot. As I tugged my seatbelt, we had lifted off the ground.
And before me started unfolding the magic of the French Riviera. Deep blue skies with the sun playing and seek from above, crystal clear water gently lapping below and snow-capped mountains smiling from a distance – if this was not picture perfect, what was?
Indeed, we all know Cannes as the film festival city. But what most of us don’t know – or realise – is that the ‘star’ of the French Riviera would have been no less magical without the festival. Film stars simply add to its sparkle!
As we swooped down on the glamorous Riviera town, it didn’t take long for me realise why the rich and famous of the world chose to descend here for a fashionable holiday. Luxurious villas and majestic five-star hotels with sweeping views of the Cote d’Azur, well-heeled vacationers in expensive cars and nattily-dressed men and women strolling down the boulevard, it was the stuff of dreams.
It’s no coincidence that Cannes has captured the imagination of the high and mighty of the world since the 18th century. With the sea shore blending harmoniously into the wooded mountainsides, the gardens captivating the senses and perfumes from a thousand fragrances pervading the air, Cannes is as good as it gets. Not surprising then that artists, writers, poets and film stars, of course, swear by it.
Clearly, glamour and Cannes go hand in hand. By day it captivates you and, by night, it envelopes you with a certain romanticism that is almost surreal. And nowhere is all this more evidenced than the palm-tree-lined Croisette, with its five-star hotels, designer shops and spectacular stretch of white sandy beach. It is the heart of Cannes; it’s its most glamorous area. I wandered down the boulevard de la Croisette and though the only stars I saw were those twinkling from the skies, I found handprints of film stars at the Palais des Festivals.
Palais des Festivals is where the famous red carpet is rolled out and the celebrities sashay down in their finery, while the paparazzi train their flashbulbs and freeze those moments for posterity. It’s where the world’s elite go each year to rub shoulders with film stars and preview the hottest films of tomorrow.
But there’s more to Cannes than the Croisette and the catwalk. Walk up into the tiny streets of Le Suquet and you’ll find a world far removed from the paraphernalia of stars and Tinseltown delights. The roads are smaller, the lanes are narrower, the houses are functional and the atmosphere is more like a Provençal village than a Riviera resort.
The good thing is that it brings you back to earth!
Moving on, you can visit the morning flower market on rue Felix Faure before climbing the rue du Mont Chevalier up to Le Suquet, the oldest part of town. You are unlikely to find stars here or anything starry for that matter. The people are for real. They live in ivy-covered buildings with wrought-iron balconies. But the place is not without its fair share of romanticism. It has an old-world charm. People stop and smile. They are friendly; they are not snobs. They want to mingle with you. And they are eager to share their French hospitality.
You have fancy hotels here, too. But not half as impressive or grand as the ones lining the Croisette. However, the clusters of fish restaurants are to die for. And then you have the masts of hundreds of yachts adding colour and aura to this part of town.
Stroll into Rue Saint Antoine and rue du Suquet and you will find a maze of interesting shops and restaurants. The clothes are fashionable, not highbrow designer. These shops neither boast big brands nor do they come with expensive price tags. Still they are worthy of French style and make a fashion statement in their own right.
Cannes then is what you make of it. It means many things to many people. If you fancy bumping into film stars, suggest you stick to the Croisette. On the one side, you have all that God has gifted this charming place – the calm, blue sea and the inviting beach – and, on the other, you have what pleasures of high living the designers of the world have bestowed on mankind. The Croisette is about grand hotels, designer shops and chic French eateries.
Here everyone tends to confuse everyone else for someone in the movies. They mistake me for Tom Cruise. Well, Omar Sharif would be more like it. Never mind.
You get the drift. Here, they revel in the feeling that the guy across the table could be producing the next big blockbuster or the pretty girl who just swished past would be next spotted in the upcoming Hollywood flick.
Everyone is prim. Everyone is propah. Everything is just right. And never mind if the film festival comes but once a year.