There is perhaps no destination with as much “star power” as the glitzy French Riviera towns of Cannes and Antibes Juan-les-Pins, boasting modern-age movie stars gliding down red carpets and informed by a Gilded Age history fueled by jazz, champagne and the new American elite of the 1920s.
Meetings Focus joined Atout France, regional tourism bureaus and a collection of suppliers and North and South American meeting and incentive planners for an early April sojourn to two of the most chic destinations on Earth, where the stars of the screen mingle with recreating royals and the cream of international society.
After an hour-and-a-half flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport to Nice Cote d’Azur International Airport, the group boarded a helicopter operated by Azur Helicopter. Indeed, arriving via a luxe, black helicopter over the blue waters of the Mediterranean and the golden strand of the French Riviera was a harbinger of cosmopolitan times to come.
The U.S. market is actually the second-largest segment traveling to this seaside enclave, following the French domestic market, according to the Cannes Convention Bureau. In fact, American movie stars, musicians, artists and literary giants such as Rudolf Valentino, Cole Porter, Man Ray and Ernest Hemmingway put the destination on the map in the Roaring ’20s.
Cannes is home to a variety of hotels that provide an elegant meeting or incentive environment, including three spotlighted on the familiarization trip: the InterContinental Carlton Hotel, Majestic 5 and Grand Hyatt Martinez, all of which grace the La Croissette like pearls on the storied strand of beachfront.
The Majestic 5, a Leading Hotels of the World property built in 1927 and renovated in 2010, offers 349 guest rooms, 82 suites and two penthouses, with some that overlook the famed red carpet of the Cannes Film Festival, held in spring and just archiving its 67th year. The hotel offers 17 meeting rooms, with all boasting daylight sun except for two breakouts.
The InterContinental Carlton Hotel offers perhaps the most impressive edifice, towering above the La Croissette and renown as the seat of movie industry power during the film festival. Fittingly, the Carlton celebrates its film industry history with images of movie stars festooned throughout the hotel, and Grace Kelly was introduced to Prince Rainier of Monaco here in 1955. Built in 1913, the impressive property offers 343 guest rooms, including 39 suites and nine meeting rooms. Three of its meeting rooms offer a terrace, and groups can also use its pier for private dining and boat departures.
The 85-year-old Martinez, the base for the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, boasts some of the largest hotel meeting capacity outside of Paris, with 409 guest rooms and 16 meeting rooms, along with a rooftop suite that can serve as an elegant reception space overlooking the La Croisette.
Many groups choose to hold events in local villas such as the Villa Saint Georges, an artistically inclined mansion in the city’s exclusive La Californie neighborhood.
For a nice day trip to get your group out on the Mediterranean, the island of Sainte-Honorat is only a 15-minute trip from the old port of Cannes and features a working monastery more than 1,500 years old where monks still produce fine wines.
Perhaps best known to fans of American literature as the vacation home of the Great Gatsby, Antibes Juan-les-Pins was founded some 2,500 years ago by the Greeks and is now a playground of the richest of the rich.
“If you’re a millionaire you go to Cannes, St. Tropez and Monaco. If you’re a billionaire, you go to Antibes,” says Laure Pelletier, who handles marketing and promotion for the Antibes Juan-les-Pins Office of Tourism, further describing it as ‘The True Soul of Provence.’ “Antibes was created by the Greeks, invaded by the Romans, but never destroyed. In 1926 the Americans started coming in summertime and started the whole trend of the ‘Lost Generation.’”
Its postcard-perfect, romantic old town offers art galleries, meandering paths and myriad dining opportunities. Perhaps because of this, Antibes has fascinated the likes of Hemingway and artists such as Monet, Renoir and Chagall. Its more modern accolades include a new convention center that opened in October and one of the top hotels in the world, the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. More-modest business accommodations can be found at the AC Ambassadeur Hotel and the Garden Beach Hotel.