Even when plagued by grey skies and pouring rain, Cannes can’t help but be glamorous. Wondering down the Boulevard de la Crosiette on an overcast afternoon, I constantly felt as if I might bump into Catherine Denueve – one of the elegant locals. Had I been fast enough to spot her, she might very well be have been among the crowds toting purchases from one of the chic designer boutiques or enjoying an aperitif at one of the seafront bars.
Cannes is best known for its annual film festival which dates back to 1939 when it was set up to rival Mussolini’s film festival in Venice. Almost a century on, the Cannes festival is one of key dates in the cinematic calendar, attracting the finest actors from across the globe and known as much for its artistic integrity as the outrageous parties on super yachts. The city itself dates back to the 10th century when it was known as Canua but it wasn’t until the late 19th century that Cannes became known as the glamorous epicentre of all things cinema on the French Riviera.
The Place to Be…
Not that the relatively recent advent of cinema means that its clientele hasn’t always been a well heeled one. During the 18th century, it was considered to be the perfect winter quarters for the English aristocracy – luxury hotels such as the fabulously Belle Epoque Carlton hotel were built to cater for British travellers in search of their Vitamin D fix. And with its Mediterranean frontage and rows of luxury boutiques, Boulevard de la Croisette remains the ultimate place to see and be seen. At the top of the Boulevard you’ll find the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, home of the yearly film festival, as evidenced by the red carpet which remains in place for most of the year.
One block behind that is the Rue d’Antibes, another shopper’s paradise where you can find traditional Provençal lavender products and linen alongside glossy international brands. If your energy levels begin to flag, make a stop at one of the very tempting patisserie or ice cream parlours. Even if you’re not looking to buy, the Rue d’Antibes is a great place to watch the immaculately coiffed locals swagger by, armed with vast designer handbag and an equally groomed pooch.
Far from the Madding Crowds…
Much as I loved it, I wasn’t staying in Cannes having opted for another ancient town nearby called Opio, where you’ll also find a surprisingly chic branch of Club Med. Discard thoughts of enforced fun and screaming children, the resort is great for those who want to soak up the glitzy attractions of the French Riviera while also enjoying the natural beauty of Provence. While there are plenty of activities to get involved in, no one will force you and with more than 60 hectares of grounds, there’s plenty of room to spread out. Recently renovated, the modern resort has a well-equipped fitness centre and an indulgent L’Occitane Spa, complete with sauna and Turkish Bath which offers treatments that will make you feel every inch the starlet.
However, you’d be strongly advised to ditch the movie star diet before you check-in as the food is sublime. With an emphasis on local ingredients and classic French cuisine, the buffet in the Le Provence restaurant is a sight to behold. At breakfast, we feasted on the freshest French bread, warm brioche, local lavender honey, fresh fruit and irresistible French pastries. Those who are still peckish can fill up on a traditional cooked breakfast of eggs and bacon or wolf down a few galettes, smeared in Nutella. The offering varies for each meal but the groaning cheese table, replete with the creamiest Brie I’ve ever tasted, nutty Comte and locally produced Roquefort, is not to be missed. A dinner of foie gras terrine and duck parmentier was a highlight and all thoughts of a film star figure went out the window when I saw the dessert table, strewn with mini versions of classic French desserts, such as tarte tatin and tarte aux fraises as well great vats of rich chocolate mousse, slices of sticky coconut cake and a caramel ice cream that was so good it caused a queue.
Luckily for my waistline, there were plenty of opportunities to walk off the buffet’s delights. The countryside around the resort is a walker’s paradise and a short hike to the small but perfectly formed town of Opio is great chance to explore the surrounding area. Today the town is largely known for its production of pink rosa centifolia for the nearby perfumeries in Grasse as well its olive oil. Take the footpath up to the Town Hall where you can enjoy spectacular views of the Opio forest and Esterel Mountains in the distance.
The village’s main landmark is its historic olive oil mill, Moulin de la Brague, which dates back to 1425 and has been run by the same family since 1848. The third largest olive oil mill in France and the biggest in the area, the Moulin de la Brague uses caillette olives which grow locally and are known for their super fruity flavor. The olive oil produced has won numerous awards and is so good that it’s used in the kitchens of some of Cannes swankiest hotels. Luckily, visitors don’t have to journey that far to sample the product as tours and tastings are available on a regular basis.
Charming and picturesque, Opio is the perfect place to dip your toes into Provençal life. The Club Med resort allows travellers to enjoy the area’s natural beauty and delicious local produce while being close enough to Cannes to make the most of the glitz and glamour of the French Riviera – perfect for those who want to mix the rustique with the refined. Just don’t tell too many films stars about it.
Seven nights all inclusive, staying at Opio en Provence, starts at £769 per adult, including flights from London Heathrow to Nice, all meals and resort activities. See clubmed.co.uk for more information and to book.