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23 June 2017

Long Weekend in Cannes: Bex's Guide

I can't pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with the French Riviera but it was more than two decades ago. We returned many times on family holidays, and Cannes — a rarity on the Côte d'Azur with its sandy, not rocky, beaches — soon emerged as our favourite town. My parents now have an apartment there and I usually go once or twice per year — once in the summer and once for Christmas. Spending a long weekend there last week reminded me that I still hadn't put together a guide for my favourite things to eat, drink and do in Cannes, so without further ado, here it is!



FOOD & DRINK
There are some very good restaurants in Cannes but, as will become a theme for this guide, many are expensive — and some over-priced or include an 'view tax'. I've listed some of my favourite places to eat and drink below but also check out the food listings in the 'retail therapy' section, because if the weather's nice, a warm poulet rôti, some freshly baked bread and fresh fruits from the market make for a perfect — and more reasonably priced — beach picnic.

For a cup of speciality coffee... Cafe Itineraire (10 Rue Hoche).

For a superb Italian lunch... Da Laura (7 Rue du Vingt-Quatre Août) or if they're full and/or you want pizza too, try San Telmo (31 Rue Hoche).


For a special beach lunch... La Guerite (Île Ste-Marguerite; you can go by boat). In town, we like Plage Royal (Boulevard de la Croisette nr Rue du Commandant André). NB all of the Croisette beach restaurants are pricey and you are definitely paying for the location.


For a casual-cool bistro... Pastis (28 Rue du Commandant André) or Bobo (21 Rue du Commandant André).

For pizza and people-watching... Le Vesuvio  (69 Boulevard de la Croisette).


For impeccable, freshly caught seafood... Astoux et Brun (27 Rue Félix Faure).

For a classy cocktail in art-deco surroundings... Bar l'Amiral at the Martinez Hotel (73 Boulevard de la Croisette).

For drinks on the Croisette... Caffe Roma (1 Square Mérimée) or Le 72 (71 Boulevard de la Croisette).



RETAIL THERAPY
If you're into high-end designer shopping, you will be well catered for in Cannes. Most of the luxury boutiques are on the Croisette, although you can also find some amid the high-street and mid-range stores on rue d'Antibes, the main shopping street. Here are some of the other, more affordable shops that I like:

Fashion: 1.2.3 (81 Rue d'Antibes); André (96 Rue d'Antibes); Banana Moon (78 Rue d'Antibes); Comptoir des Cotonniers (10 Rue d'Antibes); Delta Machine (13 Rue Hoch); Grain de Malice (37 Rue d'Antibes); Lolë (10 Rue Macé); Longchamp (17 Boulevard de la Croisette); Minelli (66 Rue d'Antibes); Petit Bateau (50 Rue d'Antibes); Princesse Tam Tam (67 Rue d'Antibes); Vilebrequin (77 Rue d'Antibes); and Zadig & Voltaire (6 Rue du Commandant André).

Food: Boucherie Christophe (88 Boulevard Jacques Monod)Boucherie Pierre (32 Avenue de Lérins); Cesarine (10 Avenue de Lérins); Ernest Traiteur (52 Rue Meynadier); JP Paci Chocolatier (28 Rue Hoche); Marché Forville (5-11 Rue du Marché Forville); and Monoprix (9 Rue du Maréchal Foch).



Home: Augustin Latour (8 Rue Chabaud); Bathroom Graffiti (52 Rue d'Antibes); Bouchara (3 Rue Chabaud); Galeries Lafayette (6 Rue du Maréchal Foch); Geneviève Lethu (6 Rue du Maréchal Joffre); Gypsy Coffeeshop (27 Place du Suquet; I'd skip the coffee, though); and Monoprix (9 Rue du Maréchal Foch).

Other: Arta Photo (2 Rue Macé); Cannes English Bookshop (11 Rue Bivouac Napoléon); Festival de Cannes boutique (1 Boulevard de la Croisette); Fnac (83 Rue d'Antibes); and Sephora (90/94 Rue d'Antibes).


BEACHES
Spending a day (or three) on the soft, sandy beaches of Cannes is a must-do for your stay if the weather is warm enough. The 'season' usually runs between mid-June and mid-September, but note that the Mediterranean can be quite cool even in the height of summer. Renting a lounger and parasol at one of the private beaches (such as Zplage, pictured below) that line the Croisette can be very expensive, especially if you want to be in the 'front line' or on one of the pontoons.


There are plenty of great public beaches, though, which you can access freely. The sand is soft and clean so you might not need a chair or a parasol. Some of my favourites include:

Plage Zamenhof. Nestling in the southeastern corner of the Croisette, Plage Zamenhof is my favourite beach in town. It's a decent size, the turquoise waters are clear and clean, the waves tend to be gentle, there's a sandbar you can swim out to and there are great views of the Croisette and the distant Esterel mountains. If you'd like to rent a lounger and/or parasol, look for the royal blue and white colours of the municipal beach near Plage Juliana. You can hire a deck chair and parasol for €15 for a full day (a fraction of what you'd pay at the private beach clubs).


Bijou Plage. Down towards the Pointe de la Croisette in the Palm Beach area, Bijou Plage is another great public beach, which is particularly good for families as it's located in a sheltered cove. There are nice views of the Iles de Lérins and there's a good (if pricey) beach restaurant of the same name. Nearby, you can find a 'handiplage', which offers disabled access to the sea.

Plage du Mouré Rouge. On the opposite (eastern) side of the Pointe de la Croisette, the beach near the Mouré Rouge, which we call Sunrise Beach (you can guess why), is a little quieter than some of the other public beaches. The sea can be quite seaweedy and the sea bed a bit rockier, but there are plenty of water sports rental options.


Plage du Midi. This stretch of beach is located at the opposite end of town to my parents' flat (out west towards La Bocca), so we rarely go, although I often go running down that way. You don't get a Cannes town view from the beach but the vista of the dramatic Esterel mountains will make up for it, and the beaches are just as nice as those in town.


THINGS TO DO
Le Suqet. Cannes's pretty historic quarter, set on the hill at the western end of the town, is fun to explore. The steep-ish steps of Le Suquet that lead up to the Musée de la Castre (6 Rue de la Castre) are well worth the climb when you have an amazing panoramic view of the city and the bay when you reach the top. Try to go for sunset or golden hour. There are lots of restaurants on Rue Saint-Antoine and Rue du Suquet; some are rather touristy but there are gems too.



Palais des Festivals (1 Boulevard de la Croisette). Even if it's not the Film Festival, there's usually something going on at the Palais des Festivals. The tourist information office is located here — they have a wealth of leaflets and brochures highlighting local events and activities from SCUBA diving to jazz concerts. Don't forget to pose for a photo on the red-carpetted steps outside.


Iles de Lérins. These islands are a short boat ride away from Cannes. The largest, Île Sainte-Marguerite (where the mysterious man in the iron mask was imprisoned), is good for (rocky) beaches and hikes, while its smaller sister, Ile Saint-Honorat, is home to an 11th century monastery and has a fortress to explore. The two smallest islands are uninhabited.




EXCURSIONS
Antibes. This coastal town lies six miles east of Cannes (an easy 12-minute train ride). There's plenty to see and explore, including the Fort Carré, the Garoupe Lighthouse, the Picasso Museum and the market. For a special meal, try the Michelin-starred Figuier de St-Esprit, and for a green-tinted tipple, head to the Absinthe Bar (25 Cours Masséna).


Just over a mile south, on the other side of the peninsular, Juan-les-Pins is also worth exploring. For cocktails with a sea-view at Fitzgerald's old haunt, the Belle Rive is a great choice. I haven't eaten there but my parents have had many lovely meals there.


Château de la Napoule. Some five miles west of Cannes in Mandelieu (a short drive or train ride) is a castle whose origins date to the 14th century. It's now a museum and arts hub with lovely gardens.

Nice. Capital of Alpes-Maritimes region and France's biggest city, Nice is located 20 miles east of Cannes. There are frequent trains from Cannes that take just under 30 minutes, and plenty to do at the other end, including various museums (the Musée Matisse, for example, and the natural history museum), parks, markets, and, of course, shops, restaurants and beaches.

Sanremo. If you fancy a proper pizza or espresso, you'll need to head over to Italy. Sanremo, a few miles over the border, is a 90-minute drive from Cannes or a two-ish-hour train journey (the trains run infrequently, however, so check times in advance). It's a historic seaside town with decent beaches — deckchair rental is much cheaper than in Cannes!


PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Accommodation: As a result of my parents' flat, the only Cannes hotel I've stayed in is the Martinez, a gorgeous, luxurious art-deco hotel, which I would highly recommend if your budget stretches. Prices do drop as distance from the Croisette increases. Various friends and family members have had good experiences at the Splendid, and there are some good options on AirBnB.


Arriving: If you are arriving at Nice Côte d'Azur airport, you can take the 210 express bus to Cannes city centre. The buses run about every half an hour, the journey takes about 45 minutes and a return ticket costs €33. The N200 'local' bus is slower (the journey is about 1h15) but it only €1.50 one-way; you'll need to pay a surcharge if you have a lot of luggage, though. Taxis to Cannes cost about €80 one-way and aren't much faster than the express bus. The main train station in Cannes is very central and an easy walk from most central hotels.


Getting around: Cannes is a relatively compact town and is best explored on foot. There are double-decker public buses that run up and down the Croisette and, of course, various taxis, boats and helicopters (!) too.

Money: The Euro (€) is the French currency and you'll probably need a fair few of them if you come to Cannes. Credit cards are widely, but not universally, accepted, although it's useful to have some cash to use at smaller shops, markets and cafés. There are ATMs throughout the city centre.


When to come: July and August is peak season in Cannes. The weather is gorgeous — sometimes a little too hot — and there's a lot going on, but the beaches and restaurants are usually busy and the hotel prices shoot up. I prefer to come in June (although the Cannes Lions festival can be busy) or September, when the sun is usually shining, the sea is usually warm(ish), the beaches aren't super busy and the town isn't too crowded. If you're a movie buff, you may enjoy visiting during the Film Festival in May; you may spot a few celebrities, but getting to see any films (unlike in London) is difficult even for residents. April, May, October and November usually involve pleasant, if less predictable weather, and you may not get so much beach time; some of the beach clubs will also be shut for the season.




20 June 2017

The Caffeine Chronicles: Half Cup

With so many great coffee shops in the immediate vicinity of King’s Cross these days, it’s rare that I venture down into Bloomsbury on my lunch break. Half Cup is close enough to St Pancras station to count as being part of the King’s Cross neighbourhood in some classifications, although I still think of it as being in Bloomsbury.


Geography aside, I wandered over for coffee and all-day breakfast on the day after the recent UK election. I had stayed up way too late watching the results come in and by lunchtime, I was in need of caffeine and comfort food. Happily, Half Cup provided both in equal measures.


The coffee shop is located a few blocks south of Euston Road on a smart, red-brick block on Judd Street. There are a few tables out on the broad pavement for days when the weather has been as pleasant as this week. In less clement climes, there is a whole room in Half Cup — decorated with colourful, vibrant murals on the walls — dedicated to customer seating. It’s a bright and funky space, as conducive to working as it is to chats with friends and small meetings.



To get to the seating area, you will need to enter the antechamber, which houses the coffee bar where you can order Nude coffee, all-day breakfast, snacks and sweet treats. I ordered a piccolo (£2.50) and the coffee of the day was Nude’s East Blend, a chocolatey, nutty El Salvador–Brazil combination. They also had a Colombian decaf espresso in the hopper. There aren't any hand-brewed filter options available but they do serve matcha, beetroot or turmeric lattes (£3), if they are your thing. The food menu looked good too, and the breakfast brioche (£6) seemed to satisfy all of my basic breakfast food groups — avocado, poached egg and bacon — so I ordered one of those. 



My piccolo was good, if perhaps slightly under-extracted. The East Blend worked well with milk, though, and had a smooth, creamy taste. The breakfast brioche was everything I wanted from a post-election lunch: the bacon was crispy, the egg suitably runny and the avocado flavoursome.



I didn’t realise while I was there, but Half Cup also serves craft beers, including their own Half Cup Pilsner, and a range of bottle beers and wines — handy if you’re there later in the day than I was, or don't have to go back to the office; they open until 7 pm on weekdays and 5 pm at weekends. The staff were very friendly and the bustling ambiance made it a lovely place to spend a lunch break, and the visit has encouraged me to try to venture out of King’s Cross more often at lunchtime, which is much easier some days than others…


Half Cup. 100–102 Judd Street, London, WC1H 9NT (Tube: King's Cross). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

For more great coffee spots near King's Cross, check out my King's Cross coffee guide.


16 June 2017

The Caffeine Chronicles: CREAM

During the London Coffee Festival, recommendations for pre- and post-festival brunch came thick and fast on social media, but one name kept coming up: CREAM. Located on New Inn Yard, a quiet street just west of Shoreditch High Street, CREAM serves coffee from Hackney-based Dark Arts and a creative, dynamic food menu in an industrial-chic, warehouse-like space.


The cafe is south-facing and so when I arrived just before noon on a sunny Saturday, the space was bathed in gorgeous light and the front doors were fully open so that you could sit at one of the tables next to the pavement if you wished. I was definitely getting Portland vibes, although I was also unusually lucky with the weather when I was in Oregon.



There is plenty of table space inside, with smaller tables on one side and bigger, communal ones next to the counter. I was also very taken by the chairs, which were as comfy as they were cool. I'm a sucker for a good pendant light too, and CREAM makes excellent use of them, although they were more decorative than functional on such a sunny day.




There were seven dishes on the all-day menu — mostly classic brunch dishes with interesting twists. Veggies are well-catered for here — I was tempted by the bean burger, but I ended up ordering the only dish with meat in it, the pancetta hash with a poached egg and pea shoots (£9). I also ordered a piccolo with Lost Highway, a Brazilian coffee from Dark Arts (who always pick great names for their coffees).



I took a seat at one of the bigger tables and got on with some writing — luckily, I'd brought my Moleskine notebook because CREAM has a no-laptops policy at the weekend. The coffee arrived swiftly and was very nicely prepared and had chocolatey, nutty notes that were accented by the milk of the piccolo.



The pancetta hash was delicious too, combining a variety of textures and savoury flavours. The barista asked if I wanted some bread on the side and I said no, which was fine for me, but if you're looking for a more substantial brunch, you might want to go for the bread. Or you could save room for pudding: the cakes on the coffee bar looked great.


Perhaps the sunshine was drawing the denizens of Shoreditch out into the sunshine, but CREAM was bustling without being excessively busy, which is often the case in this part of town during weekend brunch hours. Instead, I could enjoy my food and coffee at a relaxed pace while indulging in some Shoreditch people-watching. Overall, it's a lovely spot and well worth a visit.

CREAM. 31 New Inn Yard, London, EC2A 3EY (Shoreditch High Street Overground). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

14 June 2017

The Caffeine Chronicles: Modern Society

While carrying out errands in Shoreditch a few weeks ago, I walked past Modern Society on Redchurch Street and remembered that I still hadn't had the chance to visit the small coffee bar located inside the hip lifestyle boutique. I didn't have time that day but when I was back in Shoreditch on Saturday, I made a beeline for Modern Society.


I couldn't have picked a better day for it: the sun streams in through the south-facing front windows on clement days, bathing the cafe and shop in light. After the light, the next thing I noticed was the gorgeous, mainly monochrome design. The sleek, marble-topped coffee bar occupies a space near the door, while a trio of small bistro tables — marble again, but this time a dark green — line the front windows. Further into the shop, there is a beautifully curated collection of clothes and homewares. Intentionally, I didn't go to check out the brand of the candle that was burning when I arrived because I'm a sucker for such warm, tobacco-accented scents and I have too many candles already!




The coffee menu is simple: espresso is £2, and you can have a 4-, 6- or 8-oz espresso with milk (for £2.20, £2.60 or £3, respectively), or a filter (£2.50) or Chemex (£3.50). They also offer a few sweet treats and serve a simple food menu with granola, and avocado and/or eggs on toast.



I asked the friendly baristas which coffee they were serving through the Chemex and they showed me the new Kenyan Esme coffee they had just got from Assembly, one of my favourite London roasters. I was sold! I took a seat in the sunshine and caught up with some writing while the baristas prepared my coffee.



The coffee was very good indeed, with some very nice grapefruit and berry notes coming through. I don't drink Chemex-brewed coffee very often but when it's brewed well, as at Modern Society, it produces a really great tasting cup. Unfortunately, my sunny position didn't translate to particularly stunning photos, but I also love Modern Society's presentation, with the brass band wrapping around the glass flask. Plus, I'm a sucker for a good tray.


Although it was never packed, there was a constant stream of customers drawn in by the shop, the beautiful coffee bar — or perhaps the fun signage. The baristas were knowledgeable and very welcoming and it's reassuring to know that even on a sunny Saturday in Shoreditch, it's possible to find somewhere calming and cool to enjoy a great cup of coffee.

Modern Society. 33 Redchurch Street, London, E2 7DJ (Shoreditch High Street Overground). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

12 June 2017

A New Pizzeria on Bellenden Road — Made of Dough Review

I was sad when I heard that The Beautiful Pizza Boy, the Peckham pizza-and-cocktail joint run by the fine people of Pedler and Little Bird Gin, had closed down a little while ago. However, like a phoenix rising from its floury ashes, a new pizzeria has just opened on the same spot on Bellenden Road. Made of Dough has been trading at Pop Brixton for a couple of years but Bellenden Road is its first permanent spot.


Last weekend was their soft launch so we and — thanks to an impressive array of London media and blog mentions — many others headed down to Peckham on Saturday evening to check it out. We got there just before 6:30 pm, which was lucky, given that over the next few minutes, the queue seemed to grow exponentially. We were a group of three and had to wait about an hour for a table but twosomes and those willing to eat at the bar were seated more rapidly. We soon reached the bar, which is at the front end of the long, narrow restaurant, and could order from the drinks menu, which included beers, wines and Italian-influenced cocktails.




Given the weather, the Amalfi lemon bellinis were proving popular, although not as much as the spritzes — made, I believe, with Prosecco, Aperol, gin and San Pellegrino aranciata — which I tried and which slipped down very nicely with my pizza. One of our group tried the bellini, which was nice but very sweet and came with more foliage than needed given that the gin was also rosemary- and thyme-infused.


I'm glad we waited for a table because we got to sit in the small patio area at the back of the restaurant, which was perfect for such a warm, sunny evening. The interiors are similar to the space's Beautiful Pizza Boys days — exposed-brick walls, hip pendant lights and simple wooden furniture — although less colourful and a little more bling. The pizza oven remains in the centre, which means the delicious smell of pizza wafts throughout the restaurant, helping me build up my appetite while I waited.



The pizzas start at £6.75 for a margherita, with the most expensive being the truffle pizza (£11). One of the pizzas includes lamb merguez from Flock & Herd, the excellent butcher across the road, while another has grilled artichoke hearts, rosemary, cold-pressed garlic oil and lemon. Because I prefer tomato sauce to fresh cherry tomatoes on my pizza, I ordered a margherita with serrano ham rather than the serrano pizza (which also came with baby kale — not my choice of pizza topping). We were all very happy with our pizzas: the bases were great (chewy, puffy and very moreish), and the toppings were high quality and generously portioned. The pizzas themselves were of a good size too.



As it was 50% off everything, we tried several of the salumi side dishes (£3.50 or £4 each), including the olives, which came with pane carasau (Sardinian flat bread); spicy salchichón with peppercorns; carpaccio di zucchini; and cavolo nero with celeriac and pomegranate. I don't eat courgettes, so I only tried the other three dishes, which I enjoyed very much; the courgette did seem to be the weakest link anyway.



I didn't strictly need a dessert but I couldn't resist the call of the motherf**king [sic] peanut and vanilla gelato shake (£4.90). It was delicious and came in a rather fun cup. Sadly, it slipped down all too quickly.


Given how busy it was — the queue was still well out the door when we left — the staff were friendly and welcoming. Although I very much hope Made of Dough continues to thrive in its Peckham home, I also secretly hope that it will be a little easier to get a table in the future. There are a couple of seats in the window where you can wait with a drink, it's not very relaxing sitting next to the queue, and they can't serve drinks at the seats on the pavement out front.

Made of Dough. 182 Bellenden Road, London, SE15 4BW (Peckham Rye Overground). Website. Twitter. Instagram.