A week on Dubai’s The Palm

Our Emirates plane

The third of three big competition wins in as many years (after a 2018 Trek America Deep South Tour win and a 5* weekend in Cannes win in 2019), my 2020 prize – consisting of a week all inclusive basis at a hotel on The Palm in Dubai, return economy flights and private transfers – had been booked, cancelled and delayed a few times since I won it at the height of Covid restrictions. With Dubai remaining on the ‘red list’ for much of 2020 and 2021 and then heavy restrictions on testing and isolating once we could technically travel there, we were beginning to wonder if it would ever be the right time to go.

Extra space on the plane

In fact, it had been so long since I won the prize that the hotel it was in conjunction with, Sofitel Dubai The Palm, was under new management and the terms and conditions of when we could take the prize had changed from having just a few obvious blackout dates which coincided with school holidays to having only very limited low and off-peak dates allowed. But with a ‘take it or lose it’ ultimatum now that travel was starting up again, we plumped for a week in May, right on the cusp of Dubai becoming unbearably hot and outdoor bars and terraces beginning their summer shutdown.

Luckily, by the time we flew, most restrictions on travel had been lifted with no requirement for us to take any PCR tests as we were fully vaccinated and masks only having to be worn on the airplane and indoors once in Dubai.

The view at night from our hotel room

We’d been booked on an early flight from London Heathrow on the Saturday morning so had decided to stay in an airport hotel the night before. Using public transport to access the airport itself, we had chose to stay at the Premier Inn for Heathrow T2/3, just a short distance from the airport but not walkable with the under-the-runway tunnel for vehicles only and still a rather expensive taxi ride of you don’t want to grapple with luggage on the local buses. The airport does offer a Hopper Bus which transfers passengers between the airport and its main hotels but we found this didn’t run late enough into the evening or early enough the next morning to suit us.

We were up early on Saturday morning to meet our pre-booked taxi to take us back to the airport. Flying with Emirates from Terminal 3, we were relieved that despite media coverage of lengthy check in and security queues at UK airports, it didn’t take us any longer than usual to reach the departures lounge where we grabbed some breakfast before it was time to board.

Our flight wasn’t full so we were allocated 2 seats either end of the middle 4 giving us plenty of room to spread out on the 2 empty seats between us. As I’ve always found with Emirates, there was a great selection of TV shows and films to keep us occupied on the 7-hour flight and the food wasn’t bad for plane food!

Above, lunch at Maui Beach Bar, and below, a cocktail by the pool and a walk along the private beach

Arriving into Dubai on time despite a slightly delayed departure, we were met straight after clearing immigration by our transfer company, Arabian Adventures, pointing us in the right direction to meet our driver once we’d reached arrivals and given a welcome pack with information on tours and our pick up time for our transfer back to the airport at the end of our trip.

Quickly locating our driver, we were soon on our way to The Palm, memories of my last (and first) trip to Dubai flooding back as we passed some familiar landmarks along the way.

Pulling up at our hotel, our luggage was whisked away and we were shown to the reception area to check in before being escorted to our luxury seaview room. The room was bright and spacious with two large twin beds as we’d requested and a large balcony overlooking the pool. As it was already dark, and a ‘dusty’ Dubai day, we couldn’t see much beyond that but looked forward to checking out our view in daylight the next morning. Our luggage was brought to our room not long after we arrived there ourselves so after quickly freshening up, we headed out to dinner.

Above, view of Atlantis from The Pointe, and below, at The Pointe

Despite our prize being an all inclusive stay, this didn’t really exist in the hotel in the form I know it as for European package holidays at least. Rather than all inclusive, we were actually staying full board with an inclusive drinks package added on.

With a variety of bars and restaurants on site there were an awful lot of rules on what was and wasn’t included and with it being late and certain restaurants having to be pre-booked, we had been advised to make use the Manava Buffet restaurant that evening.

Down by the beach

This certainly turned out to be a good choice as we found plenty of dishes on offer to suit two rather fussy eaters! We were told as we entered that the night’s theme was simply ‘international’ and there was a real range of dishes available. We both left feeling full up.

Breakfast the next morning was also held in the Manava restaurant and was again pretty impressive with a range of hot dishes, continental options and both pancakes and waffles! From here, we headed straight out to the main pool area around the hotel’s lagoon pool and soon found sun loungers under the shade of an umbrella.

Above, and below, the view from our balcony

Most loungers had a table next to them with a button on to press for service when we wanted a drink or food. Having the inclusive drinks package, we were brought a laminated menu listing what was available to us. While this menu was limited, not being big drinkers, there was more than enough on it for what we wanted.

Above, and below, spending the evening by Dubai Marina

Our full board package including 3 meals a day, we decided to leave our sunloungers to sit and have dinner at Maui Beach Bar where we had a limit per person on what we could spend as part of our package or could pay the difference if we wanted something that cost a little more.

At Jumeirah Beach Residence’s The Walk

While there was plenty on offer on the menu, there was a lack of smaller snacky lunch time meals – my BLT sandwich came with a huge portion of fries and was as big as a main evening meal, way more than I needed after a big breakfast and before another meal to come later that day and later in the week, I found myself asking to order off the children’s menu instead – luckily the staff were happy to bring me the kids’ grilled cheese!

We spent the day relaxing by the pool and taking regular dips in the lagoon pool to cool off not returning to our room until early evening. We had booked dinner at the hotel’s World Eatery restaurant that night but upon arriving there for our reservation, were told it was closed with a later opening time that night! Disappointed, we returned to the Manava buffet restaurant instead. Once again enjoying the range of food on offer here we decided to stick to this restaurant for the remainder of our stay!

Peering into the Shark Lagoon at Atlantis Aquaventure

With the daytime temperatures being so high and having been to Dubai before, we had decided to spend most of our days on the hotel complex and use evenings for sightseeing. The Palm is not the easiest place to navigate with public transport being mainly non-existent so we used taxis to get around each night.

This evening, we had decided to stay on The Palm to visit The Pointe, a new shopping and entertainment complex which had only recently opened. The main draw for us was The Pointe’s Fountain Show, billed as the largest in the World and running every half hour from 6pm til late. With a show scheduled to start, we, along with all the other visitors that evening, made our way to the barrier overlooking the fountains expectantly only for nothing to happen! Deciding to wait half an hour and see if the next show was on, we went for a walk down to The Pointe’s beach area overlooking the famous Atlantis hotel across the water grabbing an ice cream along the way. As we made our way back for the next scheduled show, we heard a worker telling someone that they weren’t on that evening and again, despite crowds gathering at the barrier at the scheduled time, nothing happened. Disappointed, we got a taxi back to our hotel and went for drinks there before heading to bed.

An evening drink

The next day was another relaxing day, this time spent mainly on the hotel’s private beach and in the sea. That evening, after another trip to the buffet restaurant, we caught a taxi down to Dubai’s Marina Walk. The marina looks especially impressive at night with its towering buildings lit up and reflected in the waters and dhow boats transporting tourists on dinner cruises. From here, we walked to the Jumeirah Beach Residence area and The Walk, a lively beach side area lined with hotels, bars and restaurants before catching a taxi back exhausted by the heat of the night.

A ‘dusty day’ – the view of the marina in the distance disappearing after a sandstorm

We were up a bit earlier the next morning to grab breakfast before heading off-site for the day to visit Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark. It was just a mile’s walk along The Palm’s Crescent from our hotel but with the heat an already stifling 30-something degrees at 9am and with taxi’s being relatively cheap, we decided to ride there instead.

Arriving at the park, we made our first mistake of the day. Although we’d be taking our towels, sun lotion and flip flops around the park with us, we’d hired a (rather expensive) small locker for the day to put our valuables in and had chose to put these things in a locker near the front entrance of the park. Not realising the size of the park, this meant we had a long trek back every time we needed to return to get something! (We later found out there were lockers a bit more central and that we could move our things to a different locker free of charge.)

Our second mistake was to jump straight on the first ‘ride’ that we saw – what we assumed was a lazy river – without studying the map or investigating the park further. Not only did the ‘lazy river’ turn out to be a rather vigorous and raging rapids ride for the most part, it also turned out to be the longest in the World of such a ride and, being unfamiliar with the park, we were soon lost along the course with no idea where we got on – or where we should get off – the ride! This caused lots of laughs as we lunged into rapids section after rapids section until eventually, what must have been a good 30-45 minutes later(!), one of the park’s lifeguards said to us “Oh, you’re riding again?” as we drifted past, signalling to us that we’d finally done a complete lap and getting off at the next exit to find where we’d left our flip flops, sun lotion and towels!

The lagoon pool outside the Sofitel Dubai The Palm hotel

Finally off the rapids ride, we found our way to the first of the three towers containing the park’s main waterslides. We started at the closest tower to the entrance, the Tower of Neptune, home to the infamous Leap of Faith ride but both decided to forego the body slide rides in favour of those we could sit on a double raft to ride down together.

After doing a couple of the lower level rides here, we moved on to the Poseidon Tower, home of some of the park’s family rides. Riders needed to be in groups to ride these which worked in our favour as we got to jump the queue when 2 more riders were needed to fill a boat on the Zoomerango slide and then again on the Aquaconda.

From here, we walked down to the final, and newest, tower, the Trident Tower where we waited in our longest queue of the day waiting 30 minutes to ride the new Odyssey of Terror group slide as well as riding what became our favourite ride, Shockwave.

Cooling off in the sea

With the sun beating down in the hottest part of the day, we found our feet burning as we walked from the ride exits back to pick up our flipflops left in the open storage areas back at the tower entrances. It was only when we walked back to our locker at the front of the park that we realised our third mistake -the aquasocks we had seen many visitors to the park wearing to protect their feet and which we’d assumed had to be purchased from the gift stores, were actually available for free from guest services!

Collecting our pair from a booth near the entrance, it was a relief to be able to walk between ride exits and entrances without worrying about the balls of our feet!

After lunch sat out on the Atlantis hotel beach, which was accessible from the waterpark, we spent the afternoon revisiting the three towers riding any slides we’d not yet been on and revisiting those we’d enjoyed the most before catching a taxi back to our hotel.

Drinks back at the hotel

Arriving back to our room later than we would have on a pool day and therefore being later for dinner, we decided to have an evening in going for drinks at a hotel bar instead of sightseeing in Dubai that evening.

With the stifling heat continuing for the rest of our stay, we abandoned our tentative plan to have a ride into Old Dubai one of the days and instead spent the rest of our week relaxing on the beach and around the pool on site. We did make it out to Madinat Souk Jumeirah one evening for a spot of souvenir shopping and a walk along the canal to see the famous 7* Burj Al Arab hotel and then back to The Pointe on our penultimate evening after we got confirmation that the fountain show was definitely going ahead that night!

Unfortunately, on our departure day, we had been booked on a morning flight, the early start meaning we lost the chance for one last breakfast buffet at the hotel’s Manava restaurant but the hotel staff were very accommodating making us up a takeaway breakfast of fruit, pastries and drinks for our journey.

It had been a very different type of holiday than I’m used to – lots of time to relax and unwind instead of dashing around sight-seeing – but I’d enjoyed every minute of it!

A day in Monaco…

… and an evening in Antibes

Having won a 5* trip to Cannes in the South of France, it wouldn’t be complete without a trip to one of the most luxurious and expensive places in the World – the Principality of Monaco. Sandwiched between the French resorts of Cap d’Ail and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Riviera, Monaco is actually its own country.

View of Monaco

Leaving our Cannes’ hotel bright and early after another delicious breakfast, we walked to the station and caught a train along the same line as we had to reach the city of Nice the day before. This time we continued a few stops further on until we reached the sprawling Monaco station.

From here we followed signposts pointing in the direction of the Prince’s Palace, stopping along the way to gawp in the windows of the various airplane, super-yacht and mansion-selling stores along the street – prices all on request, of course, because if you need to ask, you probably can’t afford it!

The Prince’s Palace, Monaco

We soon reached a pretty and rather bustling square with a range of cafes where we crossed the busy road to the bottom of the hill leading up to the palace. As we made our way up the hill, we stopped to catch our breath and enjoy the picturesque views over Monaco’s waterfront, the built up city rising up into the hills behind it.

Crowds gathering for the Changing of the Guard

Along the way we passed the statue of the late Prince Rainier III, who famously married Hollywood star Grace Kelly before the path opened out into the courtyard. We arrived just in time to witness the changing of the guard, a daily ceremony held in the palace courtyard although with just 15 minutes to go til this began, it was difficult to find a place to stand from where we could get a clear view.

After watching the guards march and change places, the crowds started to disperse and we spent a bit of time in the courtyard from where there were more pretty views over the country. Leading off the courtyard were a series of narrow roads leading into Monaco-Ville, Monaco’s Old Town. The streets were lined with souvenir stores, cafes and restaurants – it was a shame we were still full from our breakfast as this would have been a perfect place to grab something to eat and drink, especially as the prices here seemed quite reasonable.

After weaving through some of the old streets, we followed signposts to Monaco Cathedral which stands across from the interesting building of the Palace of Justice. Although it was a Sunday, we arrived at a time when there were no services on so were able to have a look around the inside of the Cathedral.

The Palace of Justice and Monaco Cathedral either side of Rue d’Eglise
The Palace of Justice

The Cathedral faced out towards the sea so from here we crossed the road to the clifftop path and followed it in the direction of Monte Carlo, leaving the path to enter Jardins de Sant-Martin, a clifftop park with pretty views over the Mediterranean Sea, sculptures, ponds and fountains which lead out to the popular Monaco Museum of Oceanography.

Above, Monaco Cathedral, and below, wandering through Jardins de Sant-Martin

Unfortunately, we did not have time to pay the museum a visit and instead continued to follow the path back down to sea level and the Monaco marina.

Public toilets, Monaco-style!

With our visit being just a few weeks before the Monaco Grand Prix, preparations were already being made for that and the preceding E-Prix with many roads cordoned off to vehicles and bleachers already set up for fans to watch from.

This meant we were able to walk along part of the Grand Prix track as we made our way down to the marina area.

Above, and below, super yachts and views at the Monaco marina

The walk along the seafront was most notable for the abundance of super yachts docked in the marina. We thought the boats docked in Cannes looked expensive but they were tiny compared to some of the mansion-sized boats we saw docked here!!

Designer stores in Monte Carlo

From the marina, we found our way into the city of Monte Carlo where the streets were lined with designer stores.

After a bit of window-shopping, we found our way to the famous Casino of Monte Carlo, the setting of many a Hollywood film including a couple of James Bond films.

Outside the Casino of Monte Carlo

Unfortunately, we didn’t have our passports with us, a requirement of entry into the main casino, so instead we had to settle with a look round its grand foyer.

The infamous Fairmont Hairpin bend of the Monaco Grand Prix race track

With my friend’s husband being a big Formula 1 fan, he had requested photos of the infamous hairpin bend on the Monte Carlo racetrack. The bend was just a short walk from the casino and it was fun to watch cars carefully wind their way around the sharp turn.

Hungry by this point, we failed to find anything affordable restaurants in the area or any cafes at all so, not wanting to walk all the way back to the old town, we instead headed back to the station, grabbing some snacks from a store there to tide us over.

The city gates, part of the city ramparts

Instead of going straight back to Cannes, we decided to stop off at the town of Antibes, just a few stops before. From the train station, we wandered until we reached the Old Town where we found more narrow cafe and boutique store-lined streets opening out onto busy squares. Finding ourselves at Place Nationale, and hungrier by the minute, we decided to take a seat in the sunshine at one of the restaurants spilling into the square for drinks and pizza before walking down to the seafront.

While the restaurants here were squarely aimed at the tourists, there was a good atmosphere as everyone sat out enjoying their Sunday evening.

Dinner eaten, we continued our look around the Old Town stopping to browse in the stores and for ice cream along the way.

Walking along the city ramparts – view of Plage de la Gravette

Eventually, we found ourselves at the old city walls and walked through the city gate out towards the marina where more expensive (but slightly more modest than what Monaco had to offer) looking boats were docked. We followed a pathway along the front and up onto the city ramparts where we found ourselves overlooking the pretty beach Plage de la Gravette, still busy despite the sun starting to disappear.

Above, the Picasso Museum, and below, Antibes Cathedral

Continuing to walk along the city walls, we reached the former Chateau Grimaldi, which now houses the town’s Picasso Museum, and Antibes Cathedral.

As it was starting to get dark, we decided we should probably return to the station and make our way back to our Cannes’ hotel but we both wished we had had more time to spend in Antibes.

The next morning, due to another British Airways cancellation leaving us on an earlier flight than originally planned, we were up early for one last 5* hotel breakfast before being met by our private car driver returning us to Nice Airport. Here, our business class flights once again gave us access to the lounge before our flight was called for boarding and despite it not being long since breakfast, we certainly made the most of the buffet food on offer! It had certainly been an experience getting the 5-star experience on our trip and the attentive service, super-comfy beds, business class flights and delicious food was something I could definitely get used too.

Visiting the South of France – a day trip to Nice

Won back in 2019, our prize of a 5* trip of a lifetime to Cannes in the South of France had been a long time coming with various lockdowns and travel bans forcing us to cancel and reschedule multiple times in the intervening years but we had finally made it and after walking up in our luxurious 5* hotel room at the Five Seas Hotel, we were excited to see what was on offer at our included breakfast.

Once up in the rooftop breakfast room, we were not disappointed as we were greeted enthusiastically by courteous staff, shown to a table with views across to the Cannes sign in Le Suquet district, poured fresh juices and handed a menu each. On our table already lay two baskets, one full of fresh bread – crusty chunks of white French stick and slices of a seeded bread – the other filled with delicious pastries. Further to this, the menu contained a wide range of options from cereals to cheeses and meats, fruit and hot, egg-based options. Not wanting to come across greedy, we ordered a selection of cheeses between us to eat with our bread and a cheese omelette each with a side of bacon. The staff seemed surprised that this was all we wanted so my friend added an order of the salmon to eat with her bread and I added a bowl of fruit to my order along with a pot of tea.

The bright blue sea

Waiting for our choices to arrive, we munched on the light, flaky Pain au Chocolate pastries. As each of our courses arrived, we were running out of room on our table. Everything that arrived was just as delicious as the course before it from the tasty selection of hard and soft cheeses to what we both agreed was the best cheese omelette we had ever tasted. The fruit salad that followed, full to the brim with fruits including apple, kiwi and pineapple finished it off perfectly.

Fontaine de Soleil

We were on a schedule that morning having booked onto a walking tour of Nice, a 40-minute train ride from where we were staying in Cannes. With the Cannes train station being just a short stroll from our hotel, we had just enough time to return to our room and grab what we needed for the day before heading straight out.

Above, Nice Opera House, and below, my travel mascot, Mr Ted, visits the old sweet shop, Henri Auer

At the station, the ticket machines were easy to navigate and the station platforms well-signposted. The train followed the coastline offering beautiful views of sandy beaches and blue seas as we made our way into Nice. Unfortunately, it was an overcast day with rain forecast later. Pulling into Nice station, we followed google maps to the main shopping street, Avenue Jean Medecin, from where it was about a 20 minute walk down to the seafront.

Arriving early for our tour, we took at stroll through Jardin de Albert 1er, a small urban park dotted with sculptures, and along the sea front where I was surprised by the bright blue colour of the sea, before making our way back to the Fontaine du Soleil meeting point.

After admiring the fountain, which is dedicated to Greek god Apollo, we followed our guide into Nice’s old town stopping to hear about the old sweet store, Henri Auer, and the Nice Opera House before continuing to Marche Aux Fleurs, a bustling market selling flowers and food. From here we made our way to Place du Palais de Justice, a square in the old town in front of the courthouse and then to Place Rosetti where Nice Cathedral stands.

Enjoying views from Castle Hill

Our guides then led us along some more of the winding, narrow old town streets until we were back out at the far end of the seafront. Here, we took an elevator up Colline du Chateau or Castle Hill where the Castle of Nice once stood. Now, the hill is parkland with a cafe, children’s playgrounds and beautiful views over Nice.

Unfortunately, the occasional drizzle had now turned to heavy showers but while the views did not look much like the blue-skied picture in a complimentary postcard we were given, it was still pretty spectacular and our guides explained that the bright turquoise colour of the sea was caused by large grey stones on its seabed.

Above, and below, the man-made waterfall on Castle Hill

After visiting three viewpoints on Castle Hill, one of which looked across to the port on the east side of the town, our tour came to an end leaving us to find our own way back down to the centre of Nice. Before taking the elevator back down, we took the short walk to see the man-made waterfall built into the hill and visible from the fountain we started at.

Back down at the seafront

Back down on the seafront, the rain was getting heavier so we decided to shelter at one of the bars along the promenade ordering a few snacks to keep us going. The rain stopping again, we headed back out walking back through the old town and exploring more of its narrow streets lined with shops, cafes and restaurants.

Eventually, we ended up back out in the main town where we walked along Promenade du Paillon back to Fontaine du Soleil. With the rain once again getting heavier, we headed back into the old town and found a cafe to sit in and have drinks before looking for somewhere to eat dinner.

Place Massena, the square that is home to Fontaine du Soleil

With Nice once being part of Italy before joining France, there is a heavy Italian influence in the restaurants there. We had passed many lovely looking restaurants in the old town over the course of the day but now found many of them to be closed until around 7pm – by which time we had to be making our way back to the train station – so unfortunately, we had to settle for one of the more touristy restaurants near to the market area.

After dinner, we started our walk back to the train station only for a heavy rainstorm to set in. We arrived at the station soaking wet and were glad when we got back to Cannes and our hotel to dry out and warm up! It was a shame the weather had not been on our side today but we had still enjoyed our trip to Nice and our walking tour of the city. We had one full day of our trip to the South of France left and planned to use it to visit Monaco and we were both hoping that the weather forecast for a return to sunshine the next day would be correct!

A 5* weekend in the South of France

Cannes

Way back in 2019, I was lucky enough to win an online competition I’d entered for a trip to the French Riviera. The prize consisted of a three-night break in a 5* hotel in Cannes, business class flights with British Airways, private transfers and spending money. Inviting one of my friends along as my plus one, we arranged the trip for the following April.

In the BA lounge at Heathrow awaiting our flight

Spoilt for choice, we were given the pick of a range of luxury Cannes hotels and after a bit of googling, decided to go for the Five Seas hotel, a small, boutique hotel tucked away down a back street of Cannes rather than one of the larger hotels lining the sea front.

All set to go, things, of course, did not go to plan and with lockdowns and travel bans suddenly in place everywhere for the first half of 2020, we ended up having to cancel our plans.

Drinks on offer in the lounge

Thankfully, the prize promoters were willing to honour the prize and, naively expecting things to have returned to normal within a few months, we rescheduled for September 2020. And then, with PCR testing, travel bans, lock downs etc etc still being a threat to travel abroad, we rescheduled again to April 2021. And then to September 2021. And then to April 2022.

We were beginning to wonder if we would ever make it there but it was fifth time lucky and the other weekend, we finally got to the point of packing our suitcases ready to head to Heathrow airport!

Even at this point, things were not plain sailing. We had booked an early afternoon flight back from Nice which would give us the morning in Cannes but just weeks before we were due to travel, the promoters informed us that this flight had been cancelled by BA and we had been put on a morning flight, our transfer from the hotel to the airport now scheduled for a disappointing 8.30am.

Above, a late night arrival in Nice, and below, transferring to our luxury hotel the next morning

But being a freebie, we couldn’t really complain and we had at least booked the early morning flight into Nice giving us most of that day there to get to and explore Cannes.

Or at least that was the plan. With flight cancellations amongst other problems at UK airports being heavily in the news during the school Easter holidays, and BA often being mentioned as an airline cutting flights, I was keeping a close eye on the flights we were booked on.

On the Wednesday, just 2 days before we were due to fly on the Friday morning, and a day before we departed for London to stay in an airport hotel overnight, I happened to check on the status of our outbound flight only to see it listed as cancelled. Not only that but when we signed into the BA website, we had been bumped onto the 9pm flight which didn’t arrive in Nice until 00:05 Saturday morning.

Managing to get hold of the promoters, we came up with a plan to transfer onto the 9pm flight but on the Thursday night. We would then cancel our London airport hotel, instead booking a similarly priced hotel at Nice airport before transferring to our Cannes hotel on Friday morning as originally planned. It was a long night as we wondered if the promoters would successfully be able to arrange this with their flight providers but the next morning, just hours before we left for London, we got a phone call back saying it had all been arranged!

Strolling along La Croisette in Cannes

Since my friend and I were travelling from different parts of the UK, we’d decided to use our UK transfers allowance on trains instead of private transfers, opting to upgrade to first class in line with the theme of the weekend. Once in London, we used the tube to travel to the airport, deciding to put the remainder of the UK transfer money in with our spending money for Cannes.

After using the self-service bag drop off machines at Terminal 5, our business class tickets came with fast track security passes and we were soon in the departures lounge a full 3 hours before our flight was due to depart. We had done a bit of research on the airport lounges available to us and decided to follow the signs to the BA South Galleries Lounge.

We were surprised at how large the lounge was, with a range of seating options many next to a charge point for phones or laptops etc. Food was being served from a central kitchen and a variety of snacks including crisps, pretzels and biscuits lay at self-service areas alongside bar areas with champagne, wine, beers and soft drinks which were also all ‘help yourself’. Self-service hot drinks machines also sat in every section of the lounge so you never had far to walk to get what you wanted.

At the market

Finding a quiet, cosy corner to sit in, we scanned the QR code on the table to access the menu ordering the steak and ale pie with mash each before helping ourselves to drinks. Within minutes, our food was delivered to our table. We spend the next few hours eating our way through the menu and the tasty treats dotted around the lounge before deciding to take a walk to check out some of the other lounges available to us.

We ended up in the BA North Galleries Lounge, smaller version of the the South Galleries but with a better view of the runways so we spent some time sat watching the planes come in to land as the sun set until it was time to board.

Above, down by the beach in Cannes, and below, on a hilltop in Le Suquet district enjoying the views

Expecting to get just a snack on board as part of our business class ticket, we were surprised to find it was a full meal. I was quite pleased that neither of the choices – salmon or quinoa, were things I ate or I’d have probably eaten it despite being full from the offerings in the lounge. Instead, I politely declined, settling for drink.

Once at Nice airport, we quickly passed through immigration and collected our luggage before crossing the road to our hastily booked airport hotel. The room at the Campanile was cheap but cheerful and fine for the few hours we needed before our transfer to Cannes the next day.

The next morning, we were promptly met outside the hotel by our driver to take us to our Cannes hotel. Luggage taken off us and lifted into the car, doors held open for us and complimentary bottles of water placed before us, this was very different to our usual experience of dragging our luggage to the nearest station or shuttle stop, jumping on a busy train and trying to find our own way through an unfamiliar city to a budget hotel!

Back in Le Suquet admiring the views

Instead, 45 minutes later, we pulled up at the door of the Five Seas Hotel. Before we could even undo our seatbelts, various staff members were surrounding the car emptying it of our luggage and holding doors open for us. As we walked into the foyer, we could see our luggage safely lined up against the wall waiting to be taken to our room.

We were greeted by a series of friendly faces, invited to take a seat on cosy furniture in the foyer and offered complimentary water or juices as someone checked us in. Despite it not even being 11am, we were then told our room was ready. Expecting to be given our room number, key and be sent on our way, we were surprised when we were instead led to the lift – which was called for us, doors held open when it arrived – and taken to our room, given a tour of its facilities and having all the hotel facilities explained to us.

The room was lovely with a free minibar containing snacks and soft drinks, a large bathroom and separate wardrobes amongst other features. Once settled in, we headed out to explore. We had a vague plan for the trip to try and see as much as possible of Cannes that day then to use the local trains to visit Nice, Monaco and Antibes on the other two days.

The Cannes sign in Le Suquet district

Making our way down to La Croisette, the long promenade, we strolled along the front for a bit before deciding to head back into the town to find some lunch. Here, we stumbled across Marche Forville, an indoor market which today was filled with various street food vendors. Grabbing some homemade bruschetta and a savoury pie to eat on the go, we continued to walk through the town, soon finding ourselves on the main high street.

Resting from the steep walk up to the hilltop viewpoint

After some window shopping, we returned to the seafront grabbing an ice cream from one of the many gelato vendors on offer before deciding to hop on to Le Petit Train de Cannes, a cute land train that takes tourists around the main parts of the town while a pre-recorded commentary plays.

The train took us down the far end of La Croisette, the commentary pointing out the many famous hotels which various celebrities have frequented over the years.

Back down by the sea front

Much of La Croisette promenade looked like a construction site during our stay as the town raced to make itself presentable in time for the upcoming film festival and as we passed churned up pavement after churned up pavement, we wondered how it would ever be ready on time! Even some of the famous hotels and venues such as the iconic Carlton Hotel and the infamous Palm Club, were currently closed for renovations.

It was a shame the train didn’t have a hop on/off option like tourist buses but it was still fun to get a glimpse of the highlights of Cannes and learn something about what we were seeing.

Down by the beach

The train did make one stop, at the top of the hill in Le Suquet district – the old town with winding, narrow roads and colourful houses – outside L’Eglise Notre-Dame d’Esperance. Given 10 minutes until we were told the train would depart for the rest of the tour, this was long enough to visit the church and walk up to the walled viewpoint for beautiful views across Cannes.

Hopping back onto the train at the sound of its bell being rang, we both agreed we would walk back to Le Suquet district after the tour and explore further so after we pulled up back at the seafront station, this is exactly what we did.

Above, the famous Carlton Hotel, and below, drinks at its rather pricey beach club

Finding a bar in one of the street’s there, we sat and had drinks, people watching for a while before continuing to wander, eventually finding ourselves back on the hilltop. With more time to spare, this time we walked up to the higher viewpoint by a sculpture of huge letters spelling out Cannes and then into the gardens of the neighbouring Musee de l’explorations du Monde before heading back downhill taking narrow street after narrow street until we happened to see the sea glistening in front of us.

Passing by Palais des Festivals, site if the Cannes Film Festival

Finding ourselves at the western end of the bay by the Port of Cannes, we strolled out along on of the jetties, looking back at the town and enjoying the views before walking back into town to look for somewhere to have dinner. Menus at the more touristy restaurants were not too badly priced although a bit more than I was used to and at over 20 euros each for a margarita pizza and soft drink, I was still glad we had been given spending money for our trip as part of the prize!

Posing on the red carpet

After dinner, we walked back to La Croisette and walked further east along the promenade as far as the Carlton Hotel. It was a nice evening and the sun was starting to set so we decided to look for somewhere outside to sit and have drinks. With the Carlton Hotel closed for renovations, its beach bar was open to all. Glancing at the over-priced menu, we immediately dismissed it and continued to walk before stopping and turning around. Being used to travelling on a budget, if this was our own money, there’s no way we’d ever consider visiting such an expensive bar but we’d been given spending money to live the life on this trip so we decided maybe, as a one off, we should just forget the cost of the drinks and go for the experience.

Ending the evening at our hotel’s rooftop bar

After taking seats on the cosy loungers on the beach, we perused the menu and ordered. There was a good atmosphere with mellow trance music being played from the main bar area and a few groups of people sat dotted around at the various tables or at the bar and it was nice to relax with drinks as the sun started to go down. The ambience was spoiled slightly by pigeons jumping onto our table and stealing the complimentary nuts we’d been brought with our drinks and we noticed other tables having a similar problem. While we sat, some of the bar’s patrons got up to walk along the jetty and take photos and once we’d finished our drinks, we decided to do the same.

Back at our hotel, we freshened up before visiting its rooftop bar. With prices not far off those at the Carlton Beach Bar, we didn’t stay for long but the service from the staff serving, like everything else at the hotel, was impeccable.

It’d been a fun first day in the South of France and after all the walking we were more than ready to take to our uber-comfy beds, ready to see what the next two days – which we planned to spend in Nice and Monaco – would bring.