I have lived all over France, from the cold, coal-digging North to the sunny South to infamous, nearly central Paris. And while I have chosen the latter as my current home, it was actually during a four-month stint in Cannes that I decided to move to France.
I went to Cannes, as so many American students do, as part of a study abroad program. I spent the spring semester of my sophomore year of college taking classes in French language, history, culture and cooking, and by the time my four months were over, I was certain I wanted to move, not only to France, but to Cannes... and this was before the summer season had begun.
Cannes is a city, like many seaside cities, that is best known in its high period, when international movie stars arrive to walk the red carpet at the film festival, and glamorous hotels put out chaise lounges for those wishing to sip cocktails at the seaside. But the Cannes I knew – the Cannes that exists for the rest of the year – was much different.
In the winter, native cannois bundle up against the (relative) cold, seeking shelter indoors and company over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. They do their daily shopping at the Forville market in the old town, picking local produce and cheeses and eating, not in expensive, seaside restaurants, but in the comfort of their own homes, with friends around the table. When the summer season arrives, the people that flood Cannes' streets are not the natives: they've already departed for picnics at the public beaches and hikes in the Alpes Maritimes... which is where knowledge of one of the local specialities, pan bagnat, comes in handy.
My professor in Cannes, a Frenchman by the name of Serge, complete with a moustache, tiny glasses, a large red scarf and a boisterous laugh, answered all my questions about the natives of this little corner of the Riviera. In their language, pan bagnat means pain baignée, or “bathed bread” in English: a sandwich made of a special local bread, “bathed” in olive oil and topped with local specialties: tuna, anchovies, tomatoes, olives, boiled eggs. The exact combination can vary from family to family and according to your personal tastes, but in the end, what you get is a sandwich that only gets better with time. Make them before leaving on a walk or a hike, and when you finally unwrap them to eat, you'll be rewarded with bread that has soaked up the juices and flavors of this very Provencal group of ingredients.
Recipe: Pan Bagnat
Summary: Southern French Sandwiches
Slice the bread in two horizontally. If the bread is particularly doughy, remove some of the interior ofthe bread.
Brush each side with olive oil. Cut the clove of garlic in half, and rub it vigorously against each side of bread.
In a small bowl, combine the tuna, salt and shallot. Place the tuna mixture on one side of the bread. Top with tomato slices, anchovies, egg and lettuce, if using. Place the other side of the bread on top.
Wrap the sandwich very tightly in plastic wrap to secure the ingredients. Best if prepared several hours in advance.
Emily Monaco is native New Yorker, living and writing in Paris since 2007. She loves discovering new places and, of course, their local cuisines! Read about her adventures in food and travel at tomatokumato.com or follow her on Twitter at @emiglia
This week we are featuring, Rob Toledo, a world traveler who hopes to one day get a foot on every continent. He is working along TravelEx currency exchange creating guides of various places in the world. Follow him on Twitter @stentontoledo
Every May, Cannes becomes the darling of the international spotlight. We see the biggest stars of the screen posing in their finery in front of the gorgeous Palais des Festivals for the yearly Cannes Film Festival. Not only does the festival serve as a showcase for the best of upcoming films, but it also highlights the beauty intrinsic to the French Riviera. Yet Cannes is really so much more than the annual film festival. In fact, Cannes can be a destination spot for a vacation that includes it all: art, nature, and cultural.
Festival d’Art Pyrotechnique
Every July and August, Cannes hosts this festival that features international teams showing off their firework shows. When the evening falls, a different team is highlighted for some of the most impressive half-hour displays of pyrotechnics. Travelers can find a spot on the beach and sit back for the festivities. The festival is also a competition, so the participants try to outshine one another with cutting-edge programs set to music. It’s an all-around win for families traveling with children or for those of us who are really just big-kids at heart.
Château de la Castre and Fort Royale
Located at the top of the Susquet hill, this castle was built in the 11th century. Travelers can explore this ancient castle whose original purpose was to guard against pirates on the open sea. Today, the castle houses an impressive collection of pre-Colonial artifacts and art. The largest component of the collection is Mediterranean artifacts from Iran, parts of Africa, and Greece. Art buffs interested in primitive arts, such as those from Asia, will also find a large of assortment of pieces to ogle.
Across the sound, sits Fort Royal. Historically, the fort was used as an important military base by both the French and Spanish monarchies. Upon being recaptured by the French in the 17th century, the site then became a state prison. Those familiar with the tale of The Man in the Iron Mask will recognize this as its setting. Visitors can expect to learn a lot about the French Rivera’s storied past and the historical aspects of Cannes.
And Who Can Forget The Beaches
Of course, Cannes earned its reputation as a travel hotspot because of its miles of beaches. While most of the beaches are private and require a fee for day use, there are public beaches located on both ends of the city. However, they tend to be crowded and pebblier than the private beaches. If you like to see and be seen, a private beach attached to one of the major shore hotels might be just right for you. For their rather hefty entrance fees of up to $30, they offer day use of parasols and beach recliners as well as access to world-class restaurants that cater to folks in their swimsuits. For something more off the beaten path, a quick ferry ride out to the Illes de Lerins might be in order. Not only can you explore castle ruins and a monastery and sample their homemade foods and wines, but the islands are full of quiet coves for swimming, snorkeling, finding shade beneath the palm trees, and finding a moment of solace from the bustling shops and beaches of downtown Cannes.
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