Monday 23 October 2017

Cannes: The secret to an affordable holiday on the French Riviera

Côte d'Azur holidays

Mimoza Resort - mimozascannes.com
Picasso's signature at La Colombe d’Or. Photo: Gráinne Kelly
Raspberry Love at the Radisson Blu's rooftop cocktail bar in Cannes. Photo: Gráinne Kelly
Château de la Napoule, with Once Upon a Time carved over a doorway. Photo: Gráinne Kelly
Doorway to the Man in the Iron Mask's cell. Photo: Gráinne Kelly
French Riviera. Photo: Gráinne Kelly
Cannes Old Town, Photo: Grainne Kelly
Inside the Maritime Museum on Sainte-Marguerite Island. Photo: Gráinne Kelly
Radisson Blu Cannes Rooftop Bar
Grainne Kelly

Grainne Kelly

The Côte d'Azur is synonymous with big spenders - but it can be done on a budget, says Gráinne Kelly.

Set the mood

Looking out from my rooftop perch, I see nothing but shiny sports cars, beautiful people and palm trees. LA? Nope. It's Cannes. Best of all, I have my own backstage pass to Europe's little piece of Hollywood from €87 a night.

Turns out, the French Riviera can work as an affordable break.

I've checked into the revamped Mimozas Resort, a complex of 280 apartments set about 20 minutes from Cannes in Mandelieu-la-Napoule. It's a budget-friendly alternative to flashy celebrity hangouts along the Côte d'Azur.

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Mimoza Resort - mimozascannes.com

Mimozas is owned by Irish hotelier Ray Byrne (The Wineport, Ice House). The place feels a bit dated, but rooms are spacious, beds comfy and linen is immaculate. Plus, staff go out of their way to make you feel at home.

All told, it's an ideal base for those wishing to spend all their time exploring the gorgeous islands and villages along the Côte d'Azur, but who don’t want to sacrifice a comfortable night’s sleep (or half of their annual wage) to do so.

Cheap kick

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Château de la Napoule, Mandelieu-la Napoule, French Riviera.

You’d be shocked at how many amazing cultural nuggets completely overshadow Cannes - which is, I think, fairly boring and pretentious.

Disney fans will fall in love with Château de la Napoule (chateau-lanapoule.com, above), just a 15-minute walk from Mimozas.

A labour of love for Irish-American Elsie Whelan and her husband Henry Clews, this medieval fortress is pure fairy-tale magic - the lovers were inseparable, spending years restoring the castle to its former glory.

Today, they lie buried together on its grounds.

Explore the beautiful gardens, climb the medieval turrets or just sit on the terrace listening to the waves crash into the castle foundations. Château de la Napoule is straight out of Disney/ The Secret Garden. Truly magical!

Best of all? A visit costs just €2.80.

Insider Intel

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Doorway to the Man in the Iron Mask's cell. Photo: Gráinne Kelly

Grab a fresh French baguette and something sweet from Paul’s (paul.fr), before taking a ferry to Sainte-Marguerite Island. Return ferry tickets cost €14.50pp, but there are family and kids' passes available too. 

The Maritime Museum (+33 4 89 82 26 26) here houses the cell where the famous Man in the Iron Mask was held captive for 11 years (above).

In peak season, the island is buzzing as more shops and restaurants are open. However, off-peak provides the perfect setting for a chilled out picnic on the shore without swarms of tourists cramping your style. Definitely worth a visit!

Guilty pleasure

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Radisson Blu Cannes Rooftop Bar

You’ll think you’re an absolute fool to consider forking out €22 for a cocktail at the Radisson Blu's Panoramic Lounge Bar in Cannes (radissonblu.com).

That is, until you see the view.

The rooftop terrace boasts spectacular panoramas of Cannes and the Mediterranean. Kick back on the snug couches and swing chairs as you watch the sun go down. Try the Raspberry Love cocktail, it’s delicious!

Alternatively, splash out on lunch at La Colombe d’Or (la-colombe-dor.com) in the stunning hilltop village of Saint Paul de Vence.

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Picasso's signature at La Colombe d’Or. Photo: Gráinne Kelly

Ferraris and Porsches line the entrance to this quirky hotel restaurant, set in a relaxed, leafy courtyard and crammed with eccentric clientele that make for sumptuous people watching. A three-course meal is pricey, so cut the cost by opting for a light lunch and a glass of house wine for around €30-€40.

Don’t be surprised to stumble across artworks by Matisse and Picasso on your way to the bathroom (above), either - the poor fledgling artists paid for their accommodation in Colombe d’Or with art before they hit the big time.

Glitches & Tips

Taxis are incredibly expensive in the Cote d’Azur. Drivers charge from the time the taxi is booked (i.e. not just from pick-up), so hire a car or stick to public transport, or your fare could wind up costing more than your flight.

I’d highly recommend renting a car. Half the fun comes from driving around the rolling green hills along the way to each hilltop village or seaside town - as we publish, rates started from around €75 for three days in April.

In terms of Mimozas itself, I found the spa - run by a separate management company - dissappointing. The facility was small, the therapists chatted to each other during my appointment, and my nails were painted sloppily.

It's a handy option for stressed-out mums seeking to escape the kids for an hour or so, but don't check in expecting a destination-style spa resort.

Get me there

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Cannes Old Town, Photo: Grainne Kelly

Ryanair (ryanair.com) and Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) both fly direct to Nice. As we publish, Ryanair flights start from €29.99 each-way. Nice Airport is around a 20-minute drive from Mimozas Resort (mimozascannes.com).

Rates at Mimozas start from €87 per night. Breakfast costs an additional €15pp or, if you're feeling the spirit of the French Riviera, breakfast and a Mimozas cocktail can be delivered to your door for €40 for two people.

A seven-night family Easter break costs €599, apartment only.

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