Cannes: Perfect holiday straight from a film – almost

Noel Baker liked classic comedy ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ so much, he decided to base his family holiday around it. Here’s what he found…    

Cannes: Perfect holiday straight from a film – almost

If you want quotes, I’ve got them - lots of them. “May I take your trident, sir?” Or “Freddy, what I’m saying is, know your limitations – you are a moron.” What about: “I will have him running, jumping, screaming – or my name isn’t Dr Emil Schuffhause.” And of course: “Mother?”

I could go on, but if I did you might want to rip this page up and roll it into a ball before flipping it into the nearest bin. Unless, that is, you are also a fan of the 1988 classic comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Michael Caine once said it was the most fun of all the films he acted in. In another interview he summed up its enduring appeal: “I, like most men, use that (TV remote) clicker, and if I come across Dirty Rotten Scoundrels I stop and have a look. Basically, I’ll be sitting there watching and laughing.”

I was in primary school when the film, directed by Frank Oz and depicting a clash of conmen on the perma-sunny French Riviera, was released. It was a few years later before it entered my consciousness, but having wept with laughter on my first viewing, it’s never left. So when my wife idly suggested a family holiday, maybe to the south of France, I couldn’t resist trying to tie in as many Scoundrel pilgrimages as possible. As well as Caine as the aristocratic con artist Lawrence Jamieson, DRS also features Steve Martin as the altogether more hucksterish Freddy Benson, with both men duking it out for top dog status in the seaside hamlet of Beaumont Sur Mer.

No such place exists but the film was shot in Cannes, Nice, Antibes, Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, Villefranche-sur-Mer, and Beaulieu Sur Mer. So my family and I visited them – all of them.

We based ourselves in Cannes for the first week, and its slightly shabby glamour was an instant hit. You couldn’t fail to be charmed by the old lads playing games of boule at Place de Gaulle on the seafront, or to be knocked out by the chocolate treats at various patisseries in the old town. One night we ate a family meal at Elosi on the winding pedestrian drag of Rue st Antoine. Not only was the food amazing, but the waiting staff threw every grumpy catering cliche out the fenetre – they even started pulling funny faces for the amusement of my two children.

Antibes was the recipient of two family day trips on the coastal rail line, and it is worth many more. Its old town is fantastic, with its crooked treets and cobblestone, its squares and market, all set along the crystalline blue of the Mediterranean. This is home to the yachting set, but the easy pace of life in the old town is contagious. It’s easy to visualise Lawrence – mustachioed, urbane, complete with cravat – sauntering its narrow streets. It is full of small wonders, like the Musee Picasso in the Chateau Grimaldi castle which focuses on the period of the artist’s life where he stayed in Antibes, and between this and the stylish Hotel de Vile is a wonderfully atmospheric Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Platea.

Next stop was Nice, accessed this time from our headquarters for the second week of the holiday in the Belambra holiday village near the quiet, pretty village of La Colle sur Loup. Nice is a glorious city and our visit coincided with the French equivalent of Heritage day, except this was held over a weekend, attracting visitors in their droves. Down on the stony beaches the beautiful people played beach volleyball or soaked up the sunshine, while in the nearby old town – the atmosphere was giddy, mostly down to the number of foreign students still milling around like contemporary Dickie Greenleafs (sorry, wrong film). I took in a stroll around the Palais Lascaris in the old town, which houses a collection of musical instruments said to be the second best in the country. Its rooms contained a Henri Matisse Jazz 1947 collection of paintings, and superb photographs.

Next, it was the Nice to Ventimiglia train and the ultimate destination: Beaulieu Sur Mer, aka Beaumont Sur Mer, home to the contest between Freddy and Lawrence and where they were both tripped up by the Jackal. First impressions of Beaulieu Sur Mer was of a wealthy town in a slumber. High brown hills rise above the town and one restaurant owner, when I asked him about the film and its location, referred to the “the good old days”. Branches of Sothebys tell you this is a place for people with a bit of cash put aside and the drag along the sea has an undeniable allure. The old casino where some scenes were shot lies like an empty husk but every other building fronting onto the blue sea dripped opulence. The set menu at one beachside hotel was €205 – for lunch. Every car that pulled out of its stylish gates was a Jag, Merc or a Porsche. Villas towered over the town from the escarpment, yachts floated off the jetty.

We walked out the Cap, where things get even more rarefied, such as at the Villa de Ephrussi, a spot you will definitely recognise in the film. Its ornate gardens and gushing fountains mean its right at home on this most prosperous part of the Riviera,

A short bus ride takes us around the other side of the peninsula and into Villefranche Sur Mer, a beautiful twin of Beaulieu Sur Mer, but one with plenty of life and a lovely old town. Within the hour we were back up the mountains and on to two beautiful places that didn’t feature in the film, but maybe should have: the mountain top town of Vence, and down the hill, the fortified town of St Paul De Vence.

Stuffing ourselves in a restaurant overlooking the valley, with a view all the way out to sea, I was reminded of another DRS quote, from Freddie “I’m at the train station, ticket in hand. I said to myself, ‘Why am I leaving?’ I love me here?’

How to get there:

Ryanair has daily flights to Nice from Dublin starting at €57.99 one way. It also operates flights to Nice from Shannon twice a week from €48.99 one way. There are daily flights with Aer Lingus from Dublin to Nice starting at €62.74 one way. Aer Lingus has flights twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays, to Nice from Cork, starting at €61.24 one way. On arrival the train network is superb with fares costing just a few euro. The local bus services provide regular and cheap access to mountain areas. Taxis are expensive.

Where to stay:

In Cannes we stayed at Villa Francia, self-catering accommodation a short city bus ride up the hill from the centre. Basic but comfortable lodgings, with sea views, an infinity pool and excellent playground and sport facilities. Off peak accommodation €472 for seven nights. http://tinyurl.com/lg4h529  In our second week we stayed at the Belambra Club near La Colle Sur Loup. Classic holiday club fare, with comfortable self-contained accommodation in wooded location. Pool, kids club, near the lovely village of La Colle Sur Loup. Three nights in April for a family of four costs €231. see http://tinyurl.com/neqnvvm

What to do:

Aside from the delights of the towns in which Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was filmed, visits to Vence and St Paul De Vance are both recommended.

Where to eat:

Bring your wallet, and you’ll be rewarded. Malabar in St Paul de Vence served beautiful, simple food. La Cosi offered great fare on the sloping pedestrian street of Rue St Antoine in Cannes.

Travel digest by Barry Coughlan

Christmas getaways

The Travel Department is promoting Christmas or New Year breaks in Tuscany on a half board basis with flights from Dublin, starting from €899 with excursions included. Departures on December 22 or 29. See www.travedepartment.ie

Bali breakway

Trailfinders has New Year offers to a huge number of destinations and a long-haul break is on offer to Bali for seven nights on an all inclusive basis at the 5-star Spa Village Resort Tembok in Bali from €1,299. www.trailfinders.ie

Beach luxury

Beach holidays are available in South America from Nuevo Mundo and a 13-day special is available from €2,945. It features stays in Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and the luxury resort of Punta del Este in Uruguay. www.nuevomundo.ie

Haven offers

Stena Line has launched autumn breaks featuring four-night specials available right up to the end of next month for bookings made by September 30. From €299, two adults and up to four chldren can benefit from a four-night stay (including travel) in one of 10 Haven Parks. www.stenaline.ie/havenoffers , call 01 204 77 33.

Welcome to the nightmare

The Nightmare Realm, an extreme walkthrough scare house attraction on Albert Quay, Cork, returns from October 3 to November 2. Tickets are priced at €15 (adults) and €13 (students) and visits are restricted (strictly) to over 13s. Details on www.thenightmarerealm.ie

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