The rich and famous will be flocking to Cannes Film Festival this month, but there’s more to Cannes than glitz and glamour. Aside from chic beach fronts, couture boutiques and harbours full of super-yachts, there’s also a more traditional side to the French Riviera. Here are a few alternative activities that’ll take you off the red-carpeted beaten track and back in touch with nature. Take some time out from the jet set scene to discover a different facet to Cannes and the beautiful Côte d’Azur.
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1. Explore The Lérins Islands
Just off the Bay of Cannes, the tranquil islands of Lérins make a refreshing day trip destination, bursting with history and natural beauty. Hop on a ferry for 15 minutes and you’ll find yourself on Saint Margerite, the largest of these islands, cloaked in eucalyptus and pine forests. Explore quiet coves and take a dip in the pristine waters, before relaxing in the cafés around the port. Then seek out the Fort Royal tower that, according to legend, was where the mysterious ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ was imprisoned. There are some gorgeous scenic walks over on the neighbouring island of Saint Honorat too, as well as a medieval monastery dating back to the 5th century.
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2. Admire The Views From Gourdon
Head for the hills, to the north of Cannes, to discover the picturesque village of Gourdon, perched elegantly on the edge of a cliff. The scenic drive up to this historic village offers beautiful vistas of the mountains and Loup River valleys below. The panoramic views from the top are truly breathtaking. Colourful paragliders float over the lush green countryside as it sweeps out towards the bright blue Mediterranean Sea. It’s free to park at the village entrance, so you can stretch your legs and explore the little village by foot. Check out the small shops and 9th century castle, Château de Gourdon. Wander through the quaint stone buildings and cobbled streets before stopping for lunch at one of the traditional restaurants serving up delicious local dishes.
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3. Awaken Your Senses In Grasse
As well as providing more fabulous views, Grasse is also known as the perfume capital of the world. Just 12 kilometres from Gourdon, you can easily combine a visit to both places in a single day trip. Surrounded by pretty fields of flowers, including fragrant jasmine and violet, Grasse has been concocting delicious scents for centuries. Visit the International Perfume Museum or join a tour of one of the 30 or so long-established perfumeries, such as Galimard. Some offer workshops so that you can learn the secrets behind traditional perfume-making techniques and create your own signature scent to take away with you.
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4. Go Wild Swimming in Clue d’Aiglun
Venture deep into the pine-covered mountainsides around Clue d’Aiglun and you’ll stumble upon stunning azure rock pools and glistening waterfalls. Just half an hour from the buzzing beaches of the Riviera, Clue d’Aiglun provides a peaceful alternative to a day at the seaside. Take a picnic and relax on the dazzlingly white rocks or dive into the inviting turquoise waters to cool off. The magnificent Clue d’Aiglun waterfall is a real hidden gem. This magical forest getaway, stretching towards Clue de Pierrefeu and Riolan, is dotted with cascades and plunge pools of all shapes and sizes. Some are more tranquil than others, perfect for a spot of wild swimming or snorkelling. There are enchanting limestone grottoes around the area too.
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5. Hit the Slopes at Gréolières
Although you might not catch much snowfall here in May, alpine resorts, like Gréolières, are still well worth a visit. During winter, this family-friendly destination offers activities including cross-country skiing and snowboarding. One of the closest Maritime Alps resorts to the coast, Gréolières Les Neiges is just under an hour and a half drive from Cannes. Expect to see far-reaching views of the Azure Coast, and maybe even some white-tipped mountains. You’ll find beautiful walks around the countryside, such as the hike from Gréolières to Cime de Cheiron. Or you can explore the area on horse-back or with a mountain bike. And just because you’re not skiing doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in some après-ski style dining. Take your pick from the selection of restaurants dotted around the village.
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6. Visit Villefranche-sur-Mer
The Bay of Villefranche is a beautifully authentic French fishing village snuggled in amongst some of the coast’s most glamorous beach resorts. With a kilometre of soft golden sand lapped by azure waters, it’s a popular beach yet remains a little more low-key than Nice or Cannes. It’s easy to access by car, or you can take the picturesque Sentier du Littoral coastal path if you’re in the mood for a leisurely walk. Stroll around the quaint old town where narrow cobbled streets and red-roofed buildings give it a charming Provençal feel. The medieval port dates back to the 12th century, and is filled with vibrantly coloured fishing boats bobbing on the water. Seek out one of the authentic seafood restaurants to sample the catch of the day.
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