In the Footsteps of Film Stars: The InterContinental Carlton Cannes and the French Riviera
October in Cannes – the crowds have gone, the weather is still mild (albeit variable) and hotel prices have started to fall, representing an ideal time to visit – provided sunbathing isn’t high on your list. As I’ve covered the BA Club Europe and Heathrow T5 premium departure experience on countless previous occasions, this report will focus predominantly on our time in France, with a full review of the famous InterContinental Carlton Cannes together with a look at the Canopy lounge at Nice airport. LHR-NCE
After quite a wait for boarding to commence, our flight that morning would be on one of BA’s older A319s, G-EUOC – my fourth and final time aboard this particular aircraft delivered new to BA in 2001 and retired in March this year.
Options for lunch on this relatively short Band 2 sector were a beef salad or a tomato and mozzarella salad; I went for the former, which is one of my favourite options currently doing the rounds on Band 1 and 2 routes. Whilst the beef was a little on the rare side for my taste, the dish was excellently flavoured, paired with a basic side salad and accompanied by a choice of warm bread from the basket.
A bread plate is sorely missing from these trays, requiring the precarious balancing of the roll on the side of the tray. In a welcome change from previous Club Europe offerings, the chocolate mousse dessert was eminently passable, accompanied by a peppermint tea that rendered the pre-supplied UHT milk unnecessary. This milk is unnecessary even for breakfast tea drinkers, as fresh milk is always available on the trolley.
This was my second pair of Club Europe flights to feature the new herringbone tray liner, a welcome and smart change from the previous plain navy blue design and the even blander white design before that.
The approach into Nice Côte D’Azur Airport must surely be one of the world’s most scenic, with its over-Mediterranean flight path and relatively late near 90-degree turn to line up with Runway 04L.
Landing on time at 14:25 local, with NCE not being directly connected to the heavy rail network, we decided to take the quickest and most comfortable route to Cannes in an Uber, arriving at the InterContinental some 30 minutes later and EUR57 lighter in the comfort of a Mercedes E-Class. InterContinental Carlton Cannes and Views from the French Riviera
Opened in 1913, the Carlton is one of the most famous hotels in the world and has been the home away from home for many a film star over the past 70 years since the annual Cannes Film Festival premiered in 1946. The hotel itself has starred in numerous movies, including Elton John’s 1982 music video for ‘I’m Still Standing’. And still standing the Carlton very much is.
The property’s grand yet welcoming façade on La Croisette was having a billboard removed by a crane to mark the end of the season as our Uber pulled up outside, and so we were unable to drive right up to the entrance. Despite this, porters rushed to take our bags and escort us up to the hotel, depositing us at reception immediately to the left of the revolving entrance door.
The Carlton’s foyer, as with the rest of the property, is serenely grand, yet fairly intimate. The interior design is undeniably long past its prime (dated is perhaps too harsh a word to use), but everything is generally well kept and in good condition – in public areas, at least. An atmosphere of historic grandeur seeps from every corner, and guests feel quite literally as though they are standing in the footsteps of the rich and famous who’ve occupied the property in days gone by – some a distant memory, and some not so long ago.
Whilst there was a signed IHG Priority reception desk, I couldn’t see a dedicated Ambassador one; in any case, there was only one receptionist on duty so this was a moot point. A short wait later, we were promptly checked in, with directions to the restaurant, beauty and fitness centre and lifts given and the offer of IHG Elite welcome points or a welcome drink voucher. When a property doesn’t have a Club InterContinental lounge (as is the case at the Carlton) or I don’t have Club access included in my rate, I tend to accept the drink voucher over the points, and this afternoon was no exception. On request, the receptionist was happy to provide two vouchers, which for Platinum Elite members (as I was at the time of travelling) included a choice of sparkling or house wine, beer or soft drink from the Carlton Bar. Gold Elite members have to make do without the sparkling wine, whilst Spire Elite members can also choose from a cocktail.
Opposite reception, a near-identical desk is home to the concierge, whilst off to the right of the foyer is the Carlton Bar and Carlton Restaurant beyond. A staircase sweeps up to the beauty and fitness centre and guest floors to the right hand side of the lift lobby, with a small business centre tucked in underneath. The floral centrepiece of the foyer during our stay was an elegant pink display in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Our fourth floor Deluxe room was a one-category upgrade from our booked Superior room, and the highest category room available before moving into suites (of which there are unsurprisingly many at the Carlton in various sizes, with Prestige Suites being named after famous guests). At an average of 30 square metres, Deluxe rooms are in fact slightly smaller than Superior rooms, although are still a little larger than Standard rooms. Despite the size anomaly, Deluxe rooms benefit from significantly enhanced views with impressive 180-degree panoramas of the Mediterranean as opposed to the ‘city view’ offered by Superior rooms, which one assumes is likely to be the side of an adjacent building.
Our room was towards the larger end of the range for Deluxe rooms at around 35 square metres, with high ceilings and interior design unaltered for several decades. The Carlton has long been rumoured for a full refurbishment in order for it to once again truly compete with Cannes’s other luxury hotels, but it’s only in recent years that this has commenced with two new hotel wings under construction at the rear of the property to include a new conference centre and rooftop swimming pool. Any sign of refurbishment has yet to make its way into the original building, and whilst public areas may have been well maintained over the years, time is visibly showing in guest rooms.
Our room’s space was used effectively, with two armchairs paired around an occasional table taking full advantage of the bay window (always more welcome than one chair sandwiched into a corner), a large desk, minibar console, suitcase stand and an expansive in-built wardrobe running the full width of the bathroom wall offering ample storage space. The wardrobe included an ironing board with attached iron, although no receptacle was provided with which to fill the secured iron with water. We had requested a room with two beds, and whilst the room had been set up accordingly, I was disappointed that the headboard was sized for a double bed, meaning one bed had to make do without a headboard – a less than ideal experience.
I’d requested a birthday gift to be placed in the room, and sure enough a very pleasant chocolate cake was waiting on the table, alongside a large bottle of complimentary mineral water (courtesy of my Ambassador status), a welcome card and welcome gift of lavender. A single additional small bottle of complimentary mineral water was available in the minibar, replaced daily; it’s incredibly stingy to only have one complimentary bottle with two guests in the room, and equally stingy not to replace the Ambassador mineral water each day despite this being a published benefit.
Continuing this miserly theme, despite the presence of a Nespresso machine, only four complimentary capsules were provided for the entire stay, with additional capsules being available for purchase at an eye-watering cost. I’ve never seen this level of stinginess in any hotel before, let alone an InterContinental. The spoons provided with the coffee cups were rather unexpectedly plastic.
No kettle or teabags were provided in the room, although room service were happy to provide a complimentary tray on request, with cups and teabags replaced daily. I will never understand why, in many properties, housekeeping do not replace water glasses each day (or skip the chocolates during turndown service for that matter).
Being an older property, there were limited power sockets with none adjacent to the beds or at desk height, although the housekeeping team thoughtfully provided an extension socket for the kettle the following morning (along with hotel-branded bookmarks for our books). The TV was inexcusably tiny, a relic of the mid-2000s for sure.
What the TV lacked in size, the bathroom made up for – large enough to house a separate shower stall when the hotel finally commences refurbishment of its original building, we made do for now with a powerful but undeniably over-bath shower, complete with dreaded shower curtain instead of a screen. Dual sinks, a bidet and bath robes were all present (with slippers in the wardrobe), along with standard Agraria amenities. There were no dental or shaving kits, although there was a hilariously dated wall-mounted hairdryer, so under-powered that a standalone hairdryer was provided on the desk to alleviate complaints no doubt. By this point, a leaky tap, half-functioning heated mirror and a door that didn’t close unless abruptly shoved were all to be expected.
That evening, after a brief exploration of the immediate area around the hotel, we strolled the 20 minutes or so to the old town and Le Beija Flor, a small family-run unfussy restaurant offering a good-value menu and decent-quality cuisine with quick and friendly service.
The following morning, breakfast was taken in the Carlton Restaurant, accessed either from the spiral staircase at the eastern end of the hotel or via the foyer through the Carlton Bar.
In the summer season, the Carlton Terrace is home to a large outdoor seating area, although during our stay in the slightly colder climes of mid-October, a large enclosed tent (complete with partial sea view and bouncy floor) had been erected to provide additional seating during busy times.
We had breakfast included in our rate, although the full buffet (including a variety of egg dishes available on request) is also available for EUR45 per person, with further à la carte options available to all at an additional cost. The buffet offered the usual broad selection of generally high quality items, although my requested fried eggs on toast that first morning arrived without toast. DIY toast is of course available on the buffet, but it’s impossible to time the toasting correctly to align it with the arrival of the eggs, so delivery together is always preferred. An omelette the following day was left mostly uneaten as it was terribly overcooked and tasted downright odd – we stuck solely to the buffet the following mornings. Service in the restaurant was generally a little slow and haphazard if well-intentioned.
We started our first full day on the French Riviera exploring Menton, a 1h20 scenic train journey away from Cannes towards the Italian border. With Gare de Cannes being a 12-minute walk from the Carlton with fairly regular services to most Riviera destinations, the train seemed like the easiest option to explore the Southern French coastline, although with no special multi-trip tickets offered, the cost of one-way tickets soon racked up.
Described as the most Italian of the French Riviera towns, Menton’s old town and accompanying port is particularly worthy of a mention for its architectural and scenic quality.
Despite some heavy downpours, the rain shifted in time for us to see most of what the town had to offer, before heading back to the station for the short 11-minute train ride back to Monaco and Monte Carlo.
Noted as ‘a sunny place for shady people’ by English writer Somerset Maugham, the Principality of Monaco certainly feels a little absurd, with its Beverly Hills-esque manicured grounds and visible wealth dripping uncomfortably from every corner. Starting our walk in Port Hercule, home to many a superyacht, we followed part of the famous Grand Prix circuit up to the casino, before heading around the Grand Hotel Hairpin and down to conclude our day at the somewhat out of place Jardin Japonais.
Back in Cannes later that evening, we dined at UVA, a modern Mediterranean restaurant serving smartly designed dishes in a welcoming atmosphere, just a short walk from the Carlton.
A moody sunrise awaited the following morning for our quick 26-minute train trip to Nice, the largest city on the French Riviera.
Starting at the rather vulgar Negresco hotel, we walked along Promenade des Anglais to the scenic but busy old town, ascending to Parc du Château for a superb view over the city before heading back down to the calm old port. Whilst historically Nice hasn’t had the best of reputations, I found the city to be a pleasant way to spend the best part of a day, although it can’t compete with its neighbouring smaller towns for beauty.
We hopped off the train 13 minutes out of Cannes at Antibes. From Port Vauban, we headed up to Musée Picasso, uniquely set within an historic castle and showcasing some of the artist’s principal works created during his residency between September and November 1946. We ended our tour of quaint Antibes at the Place Nacionale as thunder advanced and the heavens opened.
The Carlton Restaurant is closed each Sunday and Monday evening, which for a property with no other true restaurants leaves prospective diners a little stuck for choice in a town where most other restaurants are also closed for dinner on Sundays. Thus, we made do with a passable meal in the oddly-lit and devoid of atmosphere Carlton Bar, which nevertheless presented a good opportunity to utilise our welcome drink vouchers as well as take full advantage of the EUR15 Ambassador dining credit.
Our final full day held a trip to Grasse, 30 minutes north by train into the foothills of the Prealps. Heading up through the picturesque old town, we spent a good couple of hours at the Fragonard perfume factory and museum. The free guided tour of the perfume and soap manufacturing process was genuinely one of the more intellectually stimulating experiences of recent trips and was fully worth the inevitable hard sell of items after.
Table 22 by Noël Mantel was our venue for dinner that evening. Colourful, gourmet Mediterranean cuisine is the order of the day here, and although I found the setting a little pretentious, the good value menu meant a satisfying and high-quality meal was enjoyed.
As we’d not really taken time to explore Cannes to this point beyond walks to and from the station and restaurants, we spent the morning of our departure around the town we’d based ourselves in for the previous four nights. Heading along La Croisette (which sadly was undergoing post-peak season restoration during our visit), after a stroll past the Palais des Festivals and around the old port, we headed up through the old town to the 17th century Notre-Dame de l’Espérance for a view that stretched all the way back to the Carlton and beyond.
One of the most personally valuable benefits of InterContinental Ambassador membership is the guaranteed extended checkout to 16:00; our flight departure time that evening was 18:10, moved forward earlier that morning from the originally booked 21:40 departure thanks to BA’s free same day change policy on all short haul fares (with the exception of hand baggage only Euro Traveller fares). Checkout was handled promptly and efficiently at reception, with another Mercedes E-Class Uber whisking us back to Nice airport in short and comfortable order.NCE-LHR
BA use the older Terminal 1 at NCE, but despite this there were no queues and we were airside within minutes of arriving at the airport. The airport authority operates two lounges at T1; the Library lounge for Schengen departures and the Canopy lounge for non-Schengen departures. The latter is located after passport control, handily across from the gates BA tend to use, albeit on the level above the gates themselves. At the time of our visit, the lift up to the lounge was under refurbishment, and so we navigated the rather narrow open spiral staircase to reach reception – goodness knows how passengers with reduced mobility would fare (although there was an agent stationed at the bottom of the stairs offering assistance with luggage who could presumably be called upon for further help).
The Canopy lounge is comprised of two main areas. The initial rectangular room features basic armchair and sofa seating broken up by dust-covered partitions and sporadic planters, with buffets at either end.
These buffets are fairly standard third party offerings, with a selection of whole fresh fruit, crisps, nuts, dismal-looking sandwiches, bread, soup, salad, yogurts, fresh and packaged cakes, sweets and biscuits. Surprisingly, Constantin champagne was available on request.
The extension to the lounge, an airy square space, clearly provides inspiration for the lounge’s name, and features a more diverse selection of seating options with a more relaxed atmosphere.
Both areas of the lounge feel well connected thanks to a common design palette, although that palette is inevitably somewhat utilitarian and not of a particularly high quality, par for the course in third party lounges. Certain seating areas offer readier access to power and USB sockets than others, whilst wifi was fast throughout the lounge with no access code required. Both lounge seating areas offer views over the internal gate area, with partial views of the apron beyond. Washrooms are available in the lounge.
A distinctly haphazard boarding process commenced at Gate B42 with a single queue showing little regard for the group boarding process, despite announcements. G-EUOG, a 2001-vintage A319 was the aircraft taking us back to London that evening, this time in Row 5 rather than Row 1, thanks to the same day flight change.
Dinner options of either an egg or seafood salad were available; we took one of each allowing a rare double photo opportunity. Both dishes were flavoursome and nicely presented, although portion size was on the small side. The hummus starter was a useful accompaniment to the offered warm bread, whilst the tiramisu dessert was a sweet way to end the flight.
Thanks for reading along on this trip to the French Riviera. Your comments and questions are welcomed and appreciated.