Tuesday, June 3, 2014

France 2014: Road Trip to Cannes through the Cornice de l'Estéral

We did not want to visit Cannes until after their Film Festival was over, since we would not be able to watch movies at this industry-only event anyway, but figured it would be extra crowded and hectic because of it.  So we made plans to go a few days after the end of the festival.

En route to visiting Cannes, we wanted to drive along the stretch of coast called the "Corniche de l'Estéral" which features dramatically red cliffs of the Estéral Mountains on one side of the road and the beautiful deep blue Mediterranean Sea on the other.  To force our GPS to pick the route that hugged the coast, we split the trip into smaller stops, heading first to Saint-Raphäel, then Agay, then Théoule-sur-Mer, and finally Cannes. Our original thought was to start at Cannes and go the other way around, but weather caused us to reverse our plans.  We've noticed that we usually get clear weather in the morning, but it often clouds over by the afternoon.  We wanted the clearer skies during the coastal drive more than in Cannes.  As it turns out, this was the better direction for another reason.  All the vehicle pull-offs with the excellent views were on the right hand side, so we were able to easily stop any time we saw the opportunity.  There were so many beautiful and varied views in one stretch that we seemed to be pulling over every 100 meters or so to take more photos.  The poor GPS kept having to re-estimate our arrival time in Cannes to account for our dawdling.

Saint-Raphäel had sandy beaches and a wooden boardwalk with nice views of the mountains and of the coastline of the town centre.  The route of the coastal drive went right through the length of this town, following the waterfront for most of the way.  It was quite windy here and we were not sure if that was because of the time of day (around 8am when we got here) or because of its location on the coast.

As we left Saint-Raphäel and headed towards Agay, we started catching glimpses of the red cliffs and peaks of the Estéral Mountains.  It was exciting to see them in the distance as our vehicle approached, and then actually drive beside them.  The colours reminded us of being in Sedona, Arizona where we found very similar rock formations.  Just past Agay, we came across a viewing point where you could actually climb onto some of the rocks.  

Just when we thought it could not get any more scenic, we entered the stretch of coastline between Agay and Theoule-Sur-Mer where we encountered even more stunning beauty.  We had now reached the point where the mountains met the sea and we were overwhelmed by the results.  This is when we started to stop every 100 meters for another amazing view.

By the time we reached Theoule-Sur-Mer, the views of the mountain had started to subside and we were back in beach territory.  There were still very lovely coastlines to view from here, but it could not quite compare to what we had just previously witnessed.  We did see some very interesting and unusual architecture though, including a famous "Bubble House" formerly owned by French fashion designer Pierre Cardin.  As cool as it was on the outside, photos on the Internet show it is even more fascinating on the inside.

Finally we arrived in Cannes, which hosted the 67th Cannes Film Festival just a few days ago.  The Palais des Festival was still cordoned off and there was still red carpeting on the steps, but the red carpet runway had already been rolled up.  On the sidewalks surrounding the building were autographed hand prints from various celebrities including Timothy Dalton, Meg Ryan, and Angelina Jolie.  I was able to confirm that Sylvester Stallone's hand was twice the size of mine.

To emphasize the importance of Cannes as a "movie" town, film references were scattered all over the place.  There were many cardboard cutouts of famous characters from movies like Charlie's Angels, Star Wars, and Lara Croft Tomb Raider where you could stick your face in to become part of the scene. Rich made a menacing looking Jedi knight in his shades.  I didn't fare so well as the third Angel. A pay telephone "booth" (probably one of the few remaining anywhere?) was mounted to the sculpture of a piece of film.   A sculpture of Superman bursting through a brick wall can be found on a busy retail street.

Cannes also has long stretches of sandy beaches that hug the coastline, filled with lounge chairs and umbrellas for rent and restaurants alongside.  Apparently by July the beaches are packed, but in late May, they were still relatively empty.  We saw the strange sight of a bulldozer piling up sand right next to sunbathers.  It turned out that they were preparing for a sand sculpture competition.  Up on the boardwalk above the beach, rows of people sat in metal chairs enjoying the sunshine and the view of the sea.
Running parallel to the beaches, the south side of the Boulevard de la Croisette has parks and walkways where people can stroll and be entertained by amusement rides and buskers. Two unfortunate performers dressed in white wedding clothes were unsuccessfully trying to generate gratuities but they looked so creepy that people were avoiding them.  A man in a wheelchair, who was blowing large bubbles, may have had better luck.

The north side of the Boulevard de la Croisette hosts luxury stores such as Hermes, Dior, Gucci, and high end hotels like the ornate Carlton Hotel.  Sitting in front of the Carlton was a flashy bright orange Italian sports car that was causing the men in the area to literally drool.  Rich decided to waltz into a Breguet watch shop and try on a watch that costs more than 32,000 Euros.  I held my breath the whole time, hoping there was not a "you break it, you buy it" policy.

Further in from the Boulevard de la Croisette were more reasonably priced retail stores including a fun one called Bathroom Graffiti.  In there, we found colourful elves giving us the finger (reminiscent of Ai Weiwei's art pieces), a stuffed bear doing yoga, and John Lennon inspired "Peace" pillows featuring pug dogs.

The underground parking lot had a machine that dispensed freshly squeezed orange juice–a nice way to end a long hot afternoon of walking around.

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