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Cannes…… Name with a strong power to evoke dreams: Holidays, palm trees, blue skies, stars, luxury hotels, yachts, restaurants, etc…… But also hills of mimosas, a village and market where old stones, colours and scents let us see the beating heart of eternal Provence. The incomparable charm of this city lies in the paradox, where the most striking Luxury neighbours with the meditation and simplicity of the Monastery of Saint Honorat. Beyond ready-made ideas, Cannes can surprise and satisfy each of its two million annual visitors and nearly 300,000 delegates; whether they are looking for luxury, a tan on the beach or the calm of a simple walk…. but always in the exceptional climate of the French Riviera.
La Croisette or one of the most famous walks in the world
A sumptuous façade overlooking the Mediterranean, this boulevard begins at the old port and ends at Pointe Croisette, which offers a splendid view of Île Margueritte, the Esterel and the Tanneron. Bordered by large palaces with prestigious names and residential buildings, the Croisette is adorned with magnificent public gardens full of flowers, including a rose garden with 14,000 roses. The shade of the palm trees gives an exotic note to the refined charm of the walk with its marine scents.
Cannes and its Palaces
It is a long time ago when the only place to stay in Cannes was Father Pinchinat’s inn where Lord Brougham had spent a night over a century and a half ago. Hotels abound. But the charm of the palaces with their big names still makes you dream: the interContinental Carlton, the Majestic, the Martinez, the Mariott. If the price of a suite is a little too high, you can always dream of a coffee break…
The Islands of Lérins
Off Cannes, at the eastern end of Provence, the islands of Lérins, unequal in size but symmetrical in shape, stretch parallel from east to west, surrounded by reefs and rocks. Before falling into oblivion for a few centuries, it would seem, according to the Greek geographer Strabon, that Lérins housed a small pagan temple well before the Romans, certainly built by the Oxybians. The first island, at 1100 meters from the coast, is the island of Ste Marguerite, named Léros by ancient geographers. It is 3.3 kilometres long and 900 metres wide and is the highest of the two islands. The abbots left Ste Marguerite to the inhabitants of Cannes in exchange for an annual tribute. But in 1617, the island was given to the Duke of Chevreuse who, a year later, gave it to the Duke of Guise. Richelieu, in the name of the King, had it fortified. In 1635 the Spanish, after a long siege, occupied Ste Marguerite, increased the fortifications and made it an important base of operation against Provence. They were expelled in May 1637 by the Count of Harcourt. In 1707, the troops of the Duke of Savoy invading Provence had to make a detour to avoid the firing of St Marguerite’s cannons. In 1746, the Austrians, assisted by the English, seized the island from where they were dislodged in 1747 by the Chevalier de Belle Ile.
To the north of the island, the Royal Fort that crowns the cliff was built under Louis XIII, fortified and enlarged by the Spanish and finally restored according to Vauban’s plans. Having become a state prison, one of its dungeons housed “Le Maque de Fer” for nearly 17 years in 1587, named after a velvet mask that he would never leave. Much has been written about the identity of the mysterious prisoners. Alexandre Dumas, Alain Decaux, André Castelot, Marcel Pagnol and many others have tried to unravel the mystery. Twin brother of Louis XIV? Italian diplomat? Molière? No one knows for sure, but one thing is certain, his identity had to remain secret to everyone. The secret was well kept… Nowadays, the calm of this place covered with maritime pines and eucalyptus trees, isolated between the sky and the blue sea, is ideal for long walks.
Sainte Marguerite is home to only one private property. (Read also our article in Le Mag)
At the beginning of the 5th century Honorat, who had chosen to live as a hermit in Cap Roux in the Estelle massif, at the request of the Bishop of Frejus withdrew from the islands. A monastery was built and, under the influence of St Honorat, became a place of formation for novices, a school of piety and Christian philosophy whose influence extended to all of Provence. Honorat died in 429 after having been Bishop of Arles. Thanks to him, many Bishops, whose names are very important in the history of Christianity, were formed here. In 990 Guillaume Guette, Lord of the West Indies, retired to Lérins to become a monk and cededex to the Monastery, a vast territory of which Cannes was a part. The abbots will then ensure the protection of Cannes. In the 11th century, to resist invasions and risks of attacks, the monastery was fortified. For centuries the Monastery has been prosperous and has been visited by many pilgrims seeking peace in prayer and calm. In 1791, the island became a state property. Saint Honorat is acquired by Miss Alziary de Roquefort, actress at the Comédie Française and friend of the painter Fragonard. In 1869, the Cistercian monks returned St Honorat to its first destination: collecting.
Nowadays, Cistercian monks have been living St Honorat for more than a century with their life of work and prayer. The harvesting of honey, the cultivation and distillation of lavender, whose essence has multiple uses, the production of a liqueur: Lérina and, finally, the restoration of the abbey are the main activities of the monks. People who wish to share a time of silence and search for God are welcomed for 4 or 5 days in the hotel section.
The Palais des Festivals and Congresses or the Seventh Art in Cannes
This huge building, with its sometimes controversial architecture, was built in 1982 on the Croisette. Throughout the year, it is the venue for many congresses and festivals, but the one that brings the greatest number of stars to Cannes is the Film Festival, a festival of the Seventh Art, the art of the 20th century par excellence. Born just before the Second World War, the Festival, interrupted for a few years by the latter, has for more than 70 years been an annual worldwide event for the greatest actors and directors, inspiring young talents and admirers of stars and sometimes revealing unknown talent to the general public. In front of the Palais des Festivals, on the Croisette, we walk on the hands… of the great film stars printed in the floor.
The beautiful residences in Cannes and their gardens
It was at Lord Brougham’s instigation that splendid villas were built in Cannes in the 19th century, surrounded by gardens where the lawns marry the local vegetation, giving this city its very special charm, a mixture of luxurious refinement and Provençal countryside from which palm trees spring… The facades of very varied architectures whose styles are made of the builders’ memories or feelings, ranging from the Italian palace to the English cottage, via the oriental or even Gothic style, are so many wonders where any madness only adds to the charm. Some of these villas have disappeared but their gardens still remain and surround new residences that often have kept the name of the original residence.
Now a district of Cannes, Le Suquet has kept the charm of the small fishing village which, long before Lord Brougham’s arrival, lived under the protection of the monks of Lérins. We arrive, on Place de la Caste, by the old levered bridge where the ramparts have kept its medieval atmosphere to this place. The statue of Our Lady of Peace seems to watch over the visitors. It is nice to get lost in the alleys with names evocative of a past with an ever present charm: Rue du Moulin, rue Coste Corail, rue de la Bergerie, rue des Suisses, rue de la Miséricorde etc… and slowly descend towards the old port