It has become quite à la mode to suggest visiting tourist destinations off season, especially in Europe.
When my parents traveled through France and Italy at my age, they were barely able to make themselves understood to the locals, and, while frustrating, this was part of the charm of traveling in Europe. Now, upon arriving in any European town or city, one can usually find at least one person who speaks perfect English (often better than we Americans do). It is possible to arrive in France, move into your hotel, and subside entirely on Chinese takeout, McDonald’s, and delivery pizza, as so many of us do back home.
Many people, however, myself included, have no desire to pay upwards of 500 dollars for a plane ticket just to go to what feels like an extension of America, but that’s what has happened with the onset of globalization. There is a way to avoid this: visit Cannes in the winter.
1. Save money on accommodation and restaurants
The city is home to the Cannes Film Festival in May, and by April, the tourists have already arrived. The beaches are full, the restaurants are full, the streets are full, and everything is twice as expensive as it should be. However, by mid-September, the tourists have left, and by October, the weather cools down to 13 degrees Celsius (the native Cannois bundle up, but as a native of the East coast, I am more than happy to spend all day in flip-flops and a t-shirt).
Summer in Cannes is for the rich and famous, but once they have all packed their bags, Cannes goes back to the way it used to be, long before it was “discovered” by an English noble in 1834.
2. Explore Cannes old town away from the tourist crowds
All along the Croisette, which borders the Mediterranean Sea, couples walk arm in arm, as they have been doing for fifty some-odd years. On the Suquet, whose cobbled streets and tiny hidden alleys wind up and down the hill at the edge of the city, bartenders wait patiently in front of their respective cafés, arms crossed behind their backs, for guests to arrive.
Behind the brasseries, men in aprons stand, opening and cleaning oysters so quickly that one can barely make out the movements, assembling them on simple platters covered with crushed ice. They could easily win any one of the oyster shucking contests up and down the Eastern seaboard back in the States, but why bother when they’ve been here in Cannes doing it for as long as they can remember?
3. Experience the French Riviera just like the locals do
On the rue d’Antibes, locals filter into the Irish pubs that show so proudly their Guinness signs and football schedules. Any ex-pat would feel at home here, and many do, making their living on fishing boats, waiting patiently over pints of Strongbow cider for the more lucrative touring season to start.
Tourists are few and far between in the winter, and where they are, they attempt to blend in. When you come to Cannes in the winter, you don’t come for the festival. You come, like so many have before you, to experience the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur) the way the locals know it: before the beach side clubs open their dance floors onto the sand, before the cafés take their clear plastic tents down to allow diners to enjoy the fresh sea air.
The locals still think it’s cold, and we humor them by wearing warm boots and thick shawls arranged just so. We know in our hearts how easy it would be to sunbathe now, but why bother? The locals know best, that even in Cannes, February means winter and potage aux legumes, baked tomatoes à la Provençale, and cassoulet.
The tourists will be arriving in a matter of months, with their designer sunglasses and brightly colored scarves, and they will be catered to of course, but now, before they arrive, it is winter in Cannes, and it is by far the best time to remember that when the film festival has ended, it is just another town in la province de la France.
A few suggestions from the author (but if you don’t believe me, just ask the Cannois):
- Quay’s Irish Pub on the Quai St. Pierre for a drink with the natives and the ex-pats who believe themselves to be.
- La Turque on the Suquet for kebabs after a night out.
- Morrison’s Irish Pub and Morrison’s Lounge next door, on rue Teisseire, for another option when Quay’s becomes boring, or to dance to some of the top DJs in the area, especially on Sunday, which is ladies night.
- La Piazza for an Italian meal good enough to remind you just how close Ventimiglia is.
- À la Marée in the Old Port for oysters and bouillabaisse… after all, you are right next to the Mediterranean, and before the tourists came, Cannes made its living off of fish.
- La Frégate also on the Quai St. Pierre, just a few doors down from Quay’s for some of the best pizza you’ll ever have.
- The marché aux puces Forville next to the train station on weekend mornings, or the one in Cannes la Bocca, next to the Champion. The Cannois know how to fetch a bargain here… the Forville market is more food-based, while the one in la Bocca sells everything, with an excellent selection of clothing and jewelry.
- Musée de la Castre at the top of the hill along the Suquet. Ask to go to the top of the tower, for a panoramic view that lets you see clear into the next region of France.
Photo originally posted by Will Palmer