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Cannes is the film capital of Europe, but when the glitterati leave and the red carpet is rolled up, what’s left?

Plenty. There’s much more to this city than the legendary palm-fringed seafront, La Croisette, and its 12-day festival of movie stars.

Cannes has transformed itself into one of France’s leading hubs for tourism, trade fairs and conventions. It doesn’t remain empty for long after the exit of more than 30,000 accredited film-industry professionals, as the next round of visitors swarm in and keep the city buzzing.

Cannes has transformed itself into one of France’s leading hubs for tourism, trade fairs and conventions. (Credit: Jerome Kelagopian)

Unsurprisingly, 55% of the two million tourists who flock to Cannes each year are foreigners. 

“Cannes as a business destination is sometimes highly underestimated,” said German-born Verena Kuhn, Director of Sales at the Intercontinental Carlton, who moved to Cannes twenty-five years ago. “There’s a full infrastructure here used for congresses with top people.”

Cannes as a business destination is sometimes highly underestimated

With more than 300,000 convention attendees, and more than 50 congresses and corporate events held yearly, Cannes shines in every season. The newly refurbished Palais des Festivals also welcomes 12,700 audio-visual participants and buyers (MIPCOM), 3,000 music industry attendees (MIDEM), 11,000 television producers (MIP-TV) at various times of the year. Add to that this week’s Cannes Lions Advertising Festival, running through June 25, with 13,500 attendees and the upcoming September Cannes Yachting Festival, which also attracts more 45,000 visitors for its colourful preview of the industry’s latest models, and the streets become chock-a-block with visitors.

And, the newly completed 23m-euro ($26m) modernisation of the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, a sprawling white concrete convention centre, means it now boasts 2,300 new gently curved chairs in the Grand Auditorium Louis Lumière, specially designed to evoke the waves of the sea, as well as new meeting space with a panoramic vista of the Mediterranean.

The newly-refurbished convention centre, the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, offers meeting space with a panoramic vista of the Mediterranean. (Credit: Fabre/SEMEC)

“Cannes is a kind of global fishing village — international, yet small,” said long-time resident Sharon Farren, an Irish business-development consultant. “Everyone in the community chips in, even if they’re not visible on the Croisette.”

Unsurprisingly, 55% of the 2 million tourists who flock to Cannes each year are foreigners.

By 2018, visitors will be able to take advantage of the city’s latest 65m-euro ($73.6m) project situated in Cannes-la-Bocca, La Bastide Rouge — a new business and leisure development with a 1,000-student university campus devoted to new technologies (French Tech Côte d’Azur), aeronautics research, communication and audio-visual studies, as well as a large hotel. The highlight: in keeping with Cannes’ cutting-edge cinematic spirit, the La Bastide Rouge will launch Europe’s most modern cinema, a colossal concrete 12-theatre multiplex equipped Dolby Atmos sound, along with four restaurants and a VIP screening room.

The appeal

“It is a little different way of doing business compared to Scandinavia,” said graphic artist Vivi Engh-Andersen, who moved to Cannes from Norway three-and-half years ago and launched her own company Oui Cannes Design. “It goes a little slower, the networking process takes a longer, and you adjust to their pace. Instead of staying cooped up during those freezing winters, I can take my computer to the beach and work.”

Although a luxury resort, Cannes is still a "real working town". (Credit: Fabre/SEMEC)

Above all, Cannes’ enviable location works to its advantage. Locals boast they have breakfast in the sunshine at the beach and spend the afternoon skiing at a resort or playing golf in an oak and pine forest, both no more than an hour’s drive away.

Have breakfast in the sunshine at the beach and spend the afternoon skiing at a resort or playing golf in an oak and pine forest.

“The city has different personalities,” said Cannes native Christian Sinicropi, two Michelin-star chef at La Palme d’Or at the Grand Hyatt Cannes Hotel Martinez. “There’s also a spiritual side. If you take the boat to the Ile St-Honorat, the atmosphere is peaceful and wild, like the Côte d’Azur one hundred years ago. The monks who live there at the Abbaye de Lérins monastery produce their own wine and excellent olive oil — we serve them both in our restaurants.”

A short boat ride away, Ile St-Honorat's atmosphere is peaceful and wild. Monks at Abbaye de Lérins still produce their own wine and olive oil. (Credit: Jerome Kelagopian/SEMEC)

Still, it’s less laid-back than its neighbours, like Nice and Saint Tropez. “Cannes is a luxury resort with great weather, but it’s also a real working town. Everyone is always preparing for the next congress,” said Liz Ackland, director of Manchester, UK-based Right Venues, which works with incentive groups. “After 15 years of running my business in the UK, I was ready for a lifestyle change and decided to create a niche in the south of France. As long as you stick to their rules — say ‘bonjour’ and ‘au revoir’ — people here are very friendly.”

Getting there

The second-largest airport in France after Paris, Nice airport offers flights to more than 100 worldwide destinations and is served by 48 airlines, including low-cost carriers from London, Rome and Geneva. The 50-minute express shuttles to Cannes (27km) run every half hour, seven days a week, from 8:00 to 20:00 (May-Sept, until 22:00) for a fare of 22 euros ($25) or round trip, 33 ($37) euros. Taxis are costly, anywhere from 70-95 euros ($79-107). Another option is the airport shuttle to connect to the SNCF Nice train station. Expect a 45-minute ride to Cannes’ newly spruced up train station, located in the city centre, to cost between 7-10.80 euros ($7.85-$12.12) one way.

Cannes is a luxury resort with great weather, but it’s also a real working town.

For business travellers with private jets, the Cannes Mandelieu airport is just 8.2km from Cannes.

Where to stay

On the seafront Croisette, the Intercontinental Carlton, Cannes, where Hitchcock filmed “To Catch a Thief,” is one of the city’s most emblematic elegant five-star hotels, with a sun-drenched terrace and sandy private beach and restaurant.

There’s more to this city than the legendary palm-fringed seafront, La Croisette, and its 12-day parade of movie stars. (Credit: Perreard/SEMEC)

For a more intimate contemporary-style boutique hotel, the four-star Le Canberra offers 35 affordable spacious rooms and is just a 10-minute stroll from the Palais. Port side, the Radisson Blu 1835 Hotel & Thalasso boasts sweeping views of the Mediterranean, plus a heated indoor pool and spa.

Dinner for one

Almost 500 restaurants and cafés pepper the streets, including four Michelin-starred restaurants.

On a small pedestrian street near the train station, the lively sidewalk trattoria Da Laura dishes up tasty authentic Northern Italian cuisine. The ever-changing chalkboard menu features dishes such as from linguini con vongole and homemade burrata and basil ravioli.

Almost 500 restaurants and cafes pepper the town, including four Michelin-starred restaurants, among them Palme d'Or. (Credit: Jerome Kelagopian)

If you’re looking for an atmospheric old-fashioned bistro and wine bar set back from the seafront, La Cave serves a three-course prix fixe dinner for 45 euros ($51) of regional specialties including artichoke Carpaccio in truffle oil, roast lamb with thyme, topped off by a Grand Marnier soufflé. For Art Deco elegance on the seafront, try the moderately priced Le Relais (Grand Hyatt Cannes Hôtel Martinez), headed by Palme d’Or chef Christian Sinicropi, who excels in ultra-fresh Mediterranean fare.

Special attractions

Beyond the designer boutiques and sandy beaches, follow the winding cobblestone streets of the old quarter, Le Suquet, or explore jaw-dropping Belle-Époque villas with luxuriant gardens perched up in the hills behind the city, such as the Villa Domergue, which hosts summer jazz concerts in the gardens. As well as attractions like the recently opened art museum Musée Bonnard in nearby Cannes-la-Bocca, where the great master once lived, there are year-round innovative cultural events. 

Of the two million visitors who flock to Cannes each year, 55% are foreigners. (Credit: Fabre/SEMEC)

Or you can escape to the nearby tiny island of Ste-Marguerite, a 15-minute boat ride from the old Port of Cannes, and head to for the Musée de la Mer, an ancient fort with a collection of underwater artefacts and a dungeon where the Man in the Iron Mask was said to have been imprisoned.

“Cannes is glamorous in any season,” added Verena Kuhn. “It’s not only about doing business enclosed in a meeting space or an auditorium. Sure, there’s the high-level shopping, sunshine and great dining, but people also enjoy dressing up for the evening functions. And that’s where the networking really happens.”

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