With the Cannes Film Festival enjoying an encore this May, we shine a star-studded spotlight on two of the French Riviera’s toniest towns.
Before throngs of red-carpet regulars descend on Cannes for its illustrious international film festival, May 15-26, I join a small group of travelers in the heart of the French Riviera for a glimpse of the glamour to come.
We arrive at the storied Hotel Martinez, ideally located on the Boulevard de la Croisette, in Cannes. Here, our journey begins with lunch at famed Zplage Beach Restaurant set on the hotel’s private beach club on the Bay of Cannes. Each year, the exclusive club overlooking the Mediterranean opens for the summer season—picture a sandy stretch with sun-loungers and umbrellas, and a hugely popular floating pontoon sending day-cruisers out to sea. A perennially busy rotunda bar offers a relaxed yet superchic atmosphere in which to relish specialty fruit cocktails and creative ice teas.
Sitting at a seafront table, we take in two things: fresh air and the menu—a worldly array of health-conscious cuisine bursting with flavor and locally sourced ingredients. Think tartares, wok-sauteed savories, skewers of beef and fresh fish cooked in a Tandoori oven. From a la carte items and entrees to plentiful sides (fries, noodles and more), the selection is stacked. And all diet bets are off with desserts, so save room (particularly for the unique Cannes Electric Lipstick by L’Oréal Paris sweet treat). During July and August, Zplage transforms at nightfall into a chic after-hours venue for firework displays, innovative concerts and Zlive soirees with DJs, cocktails and tapas.
Following this sumptuous indulgence is another—nap time in my well-appointed room. Luxurious bedding, dressing what feels like the most perfect mattress I’ve ever nested upon, envelops me in an ultrasoft cocoon, while rich wood and tones of ivory and blue create a Zen-like environment that lulls me right to sleep. In what seems like minutes, the alarm sounds, alerting me to my scheduled massage at the L.Raphael Geneve Beauty Spa for Hotel Martinez. With nine treatment rooms, this intimate oasis offers specialty spa therapies for the entire body, along with beauty, antiaging, slimming and detoxifying programs. After an hourlong rubdown works out my ubiquitous air-travel kinks, I relax anew, before sprucing up in the ravishing marble-tiled bathroom—luxury at its finest.
At dusk, our small group convenes for an aperitif at Le Bar l’Amiral, where, outside, we enjoy sips of Champagne and live music—a nightly happening here. It’s no wonder this bar, known for its uber-exclusive private parties, has racked up a number of prestigious awards, including several Champion de France titles and one World Champion honor—the service is extraordinary. So, too, is the venue’s list of famous regulars; loads of metallic plates engraved with names of these notables pepper the walls, affirming the bar’s status as the place to see and be seen.
Next, we sashay over to nearby Le Relais restaurant, which, acting as something of a terrace, extends all the way poolside and offers gobsmacking views. The vista of an illuminated city downright glows, making the resto’s art deco vibe all the more radiant. Amid this entrancing cast, we take a shine to Executive Chef Christian Sinicropi’s brasserie-style menu, featuring seafood and meat specialties, along with vegetarian dishes and, of course, off-the-charts desserts (we are in France, after all). We devour divine ravioli of caramelized spare rib, grilled lobster with basmati rice and lemongrass butter, and a heap of passion fruit creme brulee—sweet endings, indeed.
Tucked back in my bed, I ruminate on the many A-listers who have rested their heads at Hotel Martinez—from Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino and Jude Law to Scarlett Johansson, Penélope Cruz and Jennifer Aniston. Perhaps some, I wonder hopefully, in this very same slumbering spot. It is a dream I eventually awaken from, although slowly—a luxury in itself. Still satiated from the previous evening’s repast, I find a light in-room breakfast with sea views more than filling.
Later, I meet my travel companions at the Zplage pontoon for a private boat trip to Île Saint-Honorat Island to tour and wine taste. Here, the main attraction is Lérins Abbey, home to Cistercian monks who, since the fifth century, have cultivated vines—a small order of 20 monks produce between 40,000 and 50,000 bottles of award-winning vintage annually. Some stimulating sips and we land at the island’s lone restaurant, La Tonnelle, for lunch, before cruising back to the marina. With yachting a staple of the French Riviera lifestyle, elite watercraft abound, as a large percentage of the world’s well-traveled superyachters drop anchor right here.
On land, our explorations take us to the historic town of Le Suquet Cannes, with brightly colored buildings, petite shops and charming cafes flanking narrow streets and small squares. From the apex of the Musée de la Castre, we take in surreal vistas of boats, hilltop villages and heritage-rich sites; further down, we marvel at the vast array of fine fromage on offer at a local cheese shop—so very French. Continuing along Boulevard de la Croisette, which stretches from the Palais des Festivals to the end of Palm Beach, we delight in shopping luxury emporias, like Chanel, Salvatore Ferragamo, Christian Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, Fendi and Cartier.
This sense of refinement continues back at Hotel Martinez, where we are granted a peek at the property’s prized jewel—an almost 11,000-square-foot guest suite. This premier space—one of Europe’s largest hosting the noblesse oblige—joins the hotel’s other 12 exquisitely appointed suites, plus 409 rooms in Superior, Executive, Deluxe and Prestige categories, all embellished with elegant trimmings and awash in natural materials (a sea of marble adding particular panache) that soften the presence of top-quality technology. All frills add up to Hotel Martinez’s grand standing as the Riviera’s showiest property—despite the names of Hollywood elite floating in and out, it may well be the biggest star in Cannes.
Just when things appear to be at their most spectacular, we feast at La Palme d’Or, the hotel’s two-star Michelin restaurant featuring another menu from chef Sinicropi, this one award-winning. Smartly suited waitstaff—dressed to complement the eatery’s alluring decor, which pays dramatic homage to Hollywood with black-and-white photos and real-life panoramas of the Bay of Cannes and the Mediterranean Sea—supply top-notch service equaling the level of cuisine. Not only creative in his culinary technique and use of flavors, both chef Sinicropi and his wife designed ceramic servingware to match all dishes.
From start to finish, selections are divine. Our menu begins with a Dublin Bay prawn and beetroot gazpacho, and continues with the tenderest cheek of veal, young carrots and citrus fruits zests. Various cheeses soon arrive on a cart, which the server takes great pains to explain each one and its virtues. Finally, a tasty pre-dessert selection of small treats is presented before the grand finale—the chef’s signature dessert, the Chocolate Palme d’Or. Displayed so beautifully, we hesitate before cutting into the gold-colored Jivara chocolate bar accompanied with a scoop of ice cream (beyond delicious). A fresh herb tea made with just-plucked herbs brewed tableside helps digest these indulgences, which, for wee-hours types, continue in nightlife form, with options galore just steps from the hotel. Jet-laggers like myself, however, will find a haven back in their suites.
In the morning, we pack up for nearby Nice—an Italian municipality until 1860, now the largest city in the French Riviera. It’s also an air-travel hub for the jet set flying to or from Cannes and surrounding areas. Typically Mediterranean in its alleyways and narrow streets, and boasting rows of tall yellow and orange houses, Nice is a heritage type of town. At its center, the Promenade des Anglais, once an upper-class meeting point, still ranks as a spot of prominence.
Today, the town’s beachside avenue boasts a bevy of luxury hideaways, such as the Hotel Palais de la Méditerranée. Built in 1929, we immediately fall prey to the historic hub’s chic art deco design. Though quirky statuary near the chaise lounge-lined pool area generates a laugh, the surrounds are seriously posh, from the polished wellness and relaxation area to the third-level eating outpost, Le 3e bistro, which satisfies with a locavore-focused menu featuring a range of such favorites as the endive salad and French onion soup to seafood, pasta and sandwich options. Feeling refreshed, we head to Galimard Parfumeur in Eze for a lesson in the art of perfumery, before creating our own scent—initially a daunting prospect that eventually fascinates.
With senses of taste and smell awakened, I turn my attentions to sight and touch—both revived as I settle into my room. Six levels of elegance culminate in the hotel’s 187 rooms and 14 suites. All expansive, with the majority boasting balconies, spaces are soaked in chic, showcasing a traditional Côte d’Azur palette of ocher, blue and saffron. Together, these elements create a splendiferous setting for joie de vivre to unfold. Lively interiors enchant with lush furnishings and lavish appointments that, combined, reflect the hotel’s carefree sensibilities, while winking modern with sleek lines and a contemporary interior intermixing of art, wood and textiles.
A similarly intriguing patina lurks outside the hotel, which we’re introduced to during an excursion to Old Town. Baroque architecture sets a magnificent backdrop for stops at the famous flower market in Cours Saleya and walks along the streets of Place Rossetti, Place du Palais, Place Garibaldi and a maze of narrow corridors leading up to Castle Hill, with trompe l’oeil painted facades. At 270 feet high, the Terrasse Frédéric Nietzsche, the highest point of Castle Hill Park, proffers lovely 360-degree city views. Always a point of interest is historic Lascaris Palace, the Lascaris Palace-Vintimille family residence from 1657 until the French Revolution. Restored as a museum after 1963, it now houses antique instruments. Also with considerable roots—those dating back to 1860—is one of the oldest wine cellars in Nice, Cave Bianche, where we enjoy a wine tasting, before a French lunch on the outdoor terrace at popular Le Grand Balcon. Then, it’s off to Alziari, a premium purveyor of olive oil in Cours Saleya, a buzzing spot that also hosts an antiques market each Monday. Strolling through a series of constricted streets—quickly popping into a patisserie for fresh macarons—our path eventually leads back to the hotel to freshen up for a farewell dinner at La Petite Maison.
Sited in the heart of Old Town, this spot, we’re promised, is one of the best eateries in Nice. A favorite of Bono and Elton John, this always-bustling restaurant, which is housed in a 19th century grocery store, earns its cred with authentic Niçoise cuisine. From fresh grilled fish entrees to succulent steaks and homemade ice cream, all served in a lively, energetic atmosphere, it is a must-visit.
For us, it also marks the idyllic spot for a robust toast to a fabulous trip—vive la France!