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Cannes

Updated: April 10, 2012 03:57 PM EDT


By Mary Novakovich and Louise Simpson,

When Coco Chanel came here, got a suntan and returned to Paris, she startled the milk-white ladies of society. Today, there's hardly an inch of sand along La Croisette's beaches that isn't covered with bronzing bodies in the summer. Cannes's glitzy image is embodied by May's International Film Festival, but away from flashing cameras and Hollywood starlets, a tamer city charms all year round. It is impossible to resist the wild and hauntingly peaceful Lérins Islands and the hilly, restaurant-lined streets of Cannes's old town of Le Suquet. So don't.

Things to Do

Whitewashed luxury hotels, designer shops and deliciously expensive restaurants make lingering along glamorous La Croisette a requisite activity. Fortunes are won and lost at casinos. Take photos of celebrity handprints on the Allée des Stars, or choose a calmer Cannes amid Le Suquet's winding, medieval slopes. All cobbles lead to panoramic Place de la Castre. From here the azure sea, glimmering with sailboats, ripples in the distance and Notre-Dame de l'Esperence church shelters St. Honorat's sacred bones.

Nightlife and Entertainment

This tinsel town on France's Riviera can be gloriously excessive, especially on balmy nights when the Majestic and Carlton palace hotels serve cocktails -- shaken not stirred, of course -- beneath palm trees and on private beaches. For something more laid back, join international crowds for beer and live acoustic sessions at The Quays pub on the Old Port. Or sink into leather Chesterfield sofas at Le Bar à Vin for a heady mix of wine, low lighting and romance.

Restaurants and Dining

Your taste buds will thank you when you fill your picnic basket with vine-grown tomatoes, olives, pickled lemons, rosemary, thyme and runny cheeses at Le Suquet's Forville Market. Narrow, pastel-colored rue St-Antoine is also a haven for foodies, with rows of cozy, gourmet restaurants. Or for a Michelin-starred treat, head slightly west to Mandelieu-la-Napoule, where the Raimbault brothers wow with dishes like sea bream en crôute served in a dining room aptly called L'Oasis.

Relaxation

Most people associate relaxation in Cannes with retail therapy along rue d'Antibes, but you can relieve much more than just your wardrobe here. Sail to Île Ste-Marguerite to discover meandering, butterfly-filled forest paths that lead you to Fort Royal, where the mysterious "Man in the Iron Mask" was once imprisoned. If that sounds too energetic, wind down, book in hand, on one of the island's rocky coves, and watch birds surf and dip into the turquoise sea.

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