Cannes wouldn't be Cannes without the yachts and casinos, glamour and glitz but there is plenty more glamour to enjoy throughout France .
Besides abundant sunshine and turquoise waters, Cannes has plenty of old-style charm and, unlike its pebbled neighbours, is the only town on the Côte d'Azur that can boast white sandy beaches.
From lounging on a yacht or touring in a luxury car, to strolling through the Old Town or along the palm-lined Croisette, there's plenty to keep you occupied in the city.
An hour from high-altitude skiing, Cannes is also a great base for exploring the scenic Estérel mountains, and the nearby Îles de Lérins offer pristine nature and vineyards a 15-minute ferry ride away.
During the Cannes Film Festival (May 17-28, 2017) this city of 73,000 inhabitants swells to 210,000, and the fancier hotels double or triple in price (and should be reserved a year in advance).
Though the stars descend for the festival, it takes persistence to catch a glimpse of them.
Apart from staking out a carpet-side spot 48 hours ahead, which some do, others swear by the back entrances of the grand hotels -- the historic InterContinental Carlton, the Martinez or fancy Le Majestic (featuring Cannes's best red carpet views).
Or you could try nabbing a table at beachside café-bar Le 72 Croisette, a good vantage point for spotting celebrities arriving at the Hôtel Martinez's Michelin-starred Palme d'Or restaurant.
Dancing till dawn at Le Bâoli may be the surest bet, but entrance and drinks prices are daunting. The perpetual night of Cannes's three casinos -- the most anywhere in France -- has its allure, though the Casino Palm Beach, at the Pointe de la Croisette, is the ritziest.
You'll need a badge to enter screenings, but Cinéma de la Plage projects past festival favorites on a giant screen on Mace beach each night of the festival for free. Movie buffs can also take the new Cannes and the Cinema tour, which follows in the footsteps of the stars.
Le 72 Croisette, 72 Boulevard de la Croisette, 06400 Cannes; +33 4 93 94 18 30
Sand and sea
Tahitian Adventure rents out two- and four-person outrigger canoes.
Forget April in Paris, under Cannes's azure skies sunbathing season begins the minute temperatures are passably warm. Weeks before festival season starts, the deck chairs are out and perma-tanned habitués are paddling around in the bay's glittering waters.
There are two kinds of beaches here: private and the rest. A stay in a five-star beachfront hotel comes with exclusive beach access. But if the swank hotels are out of budget, some of the best and least-crowded beaches lie to the west of the Old Port. In July and August, get there early to stake out a place in the sun.
For discovering Cannes's limpid waters and abundant sea life, it's impossible to better the unspoiled Îles de Lérins. Tahitian Adventure's two- or four-person outrigger canoes are perfect for a day of snorkeling, swimming or combing the islands' rocky beaches, and the company's stand-up paddleboats (from one to 10 people) are great for families and groups.
Plongée Club de Cannes offers an initiatory dive (with instructor), diving classes or a hugely popular three-hour-long Îles de Lérins snorkelling tour, that includes a boat trip to the islands, all equipment and a guide to point out Cannes's undersea wonders.
Le Suquet (Old Town) and beyond
The Vieux Port, or Old Port, likes to the southeast of Le Suquet.
Le Suquet's warren of winding cobbled streets date back to Roman times and are topped by an 11th-century château and 16th-century Notre-Dame d'Espérance church.
Following the Rue Saint-Antoine past shops, cafés and medieval pastel-colored houses, leads up to the eclectic Musée de la Castre. The museum's Tour du Suquet offers stupendous 360-degree views of Cannes and the bay.
Visitors can then head down bustling Rue Meynadier, Cannes' central spine, whose pretty 18th-century townhouses harbour a slew of boutiques and the city's most tempting gourmet shops. Fromagerie Ceneri (No. 22) is a Cannes institution; the city's top bakery, L'Atelier Jean-Luc Pelé's bread, pastries and chocolates are made on the spot (No. 36); and at Délices Lamarque (No. 43) you can stock up on traditional Provençal bonbons.
A favourite eatery of the Cannois, Aux Bons Enfants (No. 80) has been serving up French Mediterranean fare since 1967.
At the end of Rue Meynadier, Rue d'Antibes is shopping central, along with Boulevard de la Croisette, where the big names -- Prada, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Boucheron and the like -- all in one place.
Before the film festival arrived, Cannes was a humble fishing town.
At the foot of Le Suquet, local chefs can be found at bustling Marché Forville (Tues-Sun, 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., on Monday it's a flea market). This is Cannes's historic market, where stalls overflow with seasonal local bounty: tantalizing fruits, cheeses, charcuterie, olives and olive oil and the town's last handful of fishermen displaying their daily catch.
Paris – There are reportedly more than 6,000 named streets in the French capital -- Paris' great appeal is that it always leaves room for discovery, even for those who think they've seen it all.
Colmar – Colmar is a town full of colours. The bright flower-lined canals add to the rows of brightly painted houses. Known as the wine capital of the Alsace region, bordering Germany, Colmar is also the birthplace of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty.
Val d'Isere – France is blessed with some of Europe's best skiing terrain, with inter-connected resorts spanning the Alps and Pyrenees. Val d'Isere is among the most beautiful. Its slopes tend toward the technical but there are plenty of runs for intermediates and beginners.
Mont Saint Michel – Rising 600 metres off the coast of northwest France's Normandy region, Mont Saint Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that pulls in 3 million visitors a year. It's home to a medieval monastery. Adding to the excitement are the tides that regularly cut off the road that connects the island to the mainland.
Marseille – France's ancient port is a teeming blend of Mediterranean influences, packing a punch when it comes to heritage and culture. Come for the Bouillabaisse fish stew, stay for the surprisingly awesome pizzas.
Mont Blanc – The birthplace of modern mountaineering, Mont Blanc towers 4,810 meters over the Alps on France's border with Italy. The world's 11th highest mountain has a beguiling but formidable reputation. Nearby, Chamonix is one of France's most popular ski destinations.
French Riviera – France's Riviera coastline, including Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo, is a glorious, glamorous playground of sunshine, beaches and billionaires' yachts.
Chateau de Versailles – South of Paris, the breathtaking Palace of Versailles was transformed by Louis XIV from a hunting lodge to a prominent chateau. It was the political capital and the seat of the royal court from 1682 to 1789. Highlights of the palace include acres of lawns and fountains, its Hall of (357) Mirrors and its stunning chapel.
Lake Annecy – Still in the Alps, and still near Annecy -- Lake Annecy is a crystal clear glacier lake said to be one of the world's cleanest.
Millau Viaduct – No list of incredible global engineering achievements is complete without France's elegant Millau Viaduct. The highest road bridge deck in Europe, the viaduct sits 270 meters over the River Tarn. Opened in 2004, it's now a vital link on a major route connecting France with Spain.
Lyon – France's second city, Lyon is considered by many to be its coolest. By and large it's cheaper than Paris and some say it's got better food. It also hosts an amazing winter festival of lights.
Carcassone – One of the most visited places in France after the Eiffel Tower, the citadel of Carcassonne is a vast collection of medieval towers, drawbridges, cobbled streets and courtyards.
Mupop – Almost dead centre in the middle of France, the town of Montlucon has enhanced its traditional charms with the recent opening of what has to be one of France's, if not Europe's, greatest new museums: Mupop. Dedicated to the history of pop music, both within and outside of France, this expansive collection features entertaining interactive displays covering everything from rural folk singers to 1960s teen bedrooms and punk recording rooms.
Vineyards – It may have rivals in New World producers, but France is still the quintessential wine country and the millions of acres dedicated to grape growing are part of its charm. Here the Chapelle de la Madone sits above a vineyard in Beaujolais, central-eastern France.
Bordeaux – While we're on the subject, Bordeaux is possibly the world's wine capital. But it's not just about the drink -- the city has a lively restaurant scene set among some of France's most elegant streets.
Provence – Summer finds France's southern Provence region basking in a glorious heat that draws vacationers from across France and beyond. Inland from the region's glorious coastline, beautiful lavender fields like these behind the 12th century Cistercian abbey of Sénanques fill the air with their aromatic scents.
Le Chateau de Chambord – Le Chateau de Chambord is the largest of several amazing castles built along the Loire Valley. The French Renaissance building features 440 rooms and a double-helix fireplace supposedly based on a design by Leonardo da Vinci.
Rocamadour – Central France's Dordogne region is a favourite with summer vacationers who love relaxing in its rural greenery interspersed with ancient market towns. A favorite here is Rocamadour, a pilgrimage dominated by the collection of churches and monastic buildings that sit on the cliff tops above.
Saint-Malo – A 12th-century walled city built against the threat of English invasion, Saint-Malo is a classic French mix of ancient city (filled with fabulous seafood restaurants) set against a stunning landscape. The waters around it rise and fall with the world's highest tidal ranges while the skies constantly change to the whims of wild Atlantic weather.
Villages – Wherever you go in France, once outside the main towns and cities, the countryside is dotted with thousands of small, picturesque villages. Often built from local stone, these communities are home to a quieter pace of life. Old timers play petanque, locals sit outside the cafe, the aroma of fresh baguettes drifts out of the boulangerie.
Gorge du Verdon – France's answer to the Grand Canyon might be smaller than its American equivalent, but it's no less beautiful. The Gorge du Verdon is where an Alpine river plunges down a magnificent valley. The limestone cliffs and natural lakes are served by a maze of hiking, cycling and horseback riding trails connecting tiny villages.
Jardins de Giverny – Claude Monet's hazy floral paintings immortalised his garden in Giverny, northwest of Paris. These have largely been preserved to reflect the glorious floral abundance enjoyed by the impressionist artist and are now open to the public.
Paris – All good trips to France begin and end in Paris. There's enough in this city to sustain many repeat visits. In fact there's enough in the Louvre Museum to sustain many repeat visits.
Local specialties not to miss: Thomas Pietri's superb socca, a gluten-free pancake made of chickpea flour and olive oil, is baked fresh on the spot in a wood-fired oven, generously peppered and served hot. La Tarte Tropézienne, at the market's southeast corner, serves up the sinful cream-filled confection born in 1955 in Saint-Tropez.
Though the cafés circling Forville market are great for a drink, snack and people-watching, for good coffee, nearby Salsamenteria di Parma's the place to go.
For a fabulous after-market lunch -- or dinner any evening but Sunday and Monday -- Le Bistrot Gourmand cooks up fresh market fare (at lunch, the "menu découverte," 22 euroes, is a bargain).
Where to stay
Though the beachfront grand hotels offer views, pools, spas and all the luxury trimmings, they're expensive.
For a good, lower-budget alternative right on the waterfront, the family-owned Hôtel Splendid offers a comfortable stay, all the amenities, gorgeous views from rooms with private terraces, and an unbeatable location across from the Palais des Festivals.
Families will appreciate the handsome Villa Garbo, a private mansion converted into 12 duplex suites, each with two modern baths and a well-equipped kitchen that makes sampling market delicacies easy and economical.
Villa Garbo, 62 Boulevard d'Alsace, 06400 Cannes; +33 4 93 46 66 00