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Cannes in all its summer glory. (Photograph by Catherine Phillips, My Shot)

Cannes Done Right

If you’re like me, you still remember the video for Elton John’s 1983 mega-hit “I’m Still Standing,” where the legendary singer-songwriter plays piano on the beach in Cannes. (You can also see glimpses of the ultra-luxe Hotel Carlton, a Cannes landmark that has housed more celebrities over the years than you can count.)

The belle of the French Riviera slides into the spotlight each May when the crème de la crème of actors, directors, agents, and jet-setters descend on the city for the Cannes International Film Festival. But beyond the red-carpet glitz and glamour, what else does this city by the sea have to offer? Lots.

Here’s a tiny taste:

1. Look for the Man in the Iron Mask

Take a 15-minute ferry ride to the Île Sainte-Marguerite, home to Fort Royal, the former prison where the so-called Man in the Iron Mask was held in the 17th century.

Locals and tourists alike come here to enjoy nature, but the mysterious prisoner who was made to wear an iron mask to conceal his identity continues to haunt the quaint fishing village. Some say he was King Louis XIV’s illegitimate half brother — a view proffered by Alexandre Dumas in his Three Musketeers trilogy and echoed by Randall Wallance in his 1998 film The Man in the Iron Mask — but the jury’s still out. Maybe you can help solve the age-old mystery.

Though the prison now houses a youth hostel and the Museum of the Sea, visitors can tour a number of cells where prisoners were held — including the one occupied by the famous masked man.

2. Chill out on the beach

After letting your imagination run wild on Sainte-Marguerite, you might be in the mood for some relaxation when you get back to the mainland. So why not bask in the sun on the fabulous sandy beaches around Cannes? Many of them belong to the luxurious hotels that line the shore, but the public beach is also quite nice.

3. Make a deal

Looking for a painting to hang above your couch or something to add to your grandmother’s collection of porcelain dogs? Pay a visit to the Saturday flea market across from the old port, and you’ll probably go away happy.

If you’re in town on a Monday, check out the second-hand goods on offer at the Marché Forville (the rest of the week, this bustling market is the place to buy fresh vegetables, fruits, and flowers).

4. Mingle with the stars on La Croisette

As soon as the sun sets, Cannes’ famous boardwalk, La Croisette, is the place to be. Stroll around the fancy cafes, hotels, and designer boutiques and you’ll be likely to spot a celebrity or two. Then stop by the Palais des Festivals, where the film fest is held each year, and see where Angelina Jolie, Richard Gere and other actors have immortalized their handprints in cement on Cannes’ very own little Walk of Fame.

5. Dine in the old town

For dinner, check out the ever brassy and vibrant La Suquet, Cannes’ old quarter. There are plenty of good restaurants along the steeply winding Rue St Antoine, so you really can’t go wrong, but I’d suggest trying Le Chaperon Rouge or Le Mesclun for romantic ambiance and excellent food.

Bottom line: though much of Cannes culture circles around style and celebrity, it’s also a place where history and l’art moderne mesh seamlessly and centuries-old mysteries are just a short boat-ride away.

This city has a lot of things to stand on besides its famous festival.

Hanna Snarberg (a Swede) and her partner, Alex (a Ruskie), share their wanderlust on their travel blog, Sam and the Dunes (“Sam” is their lovable pooch).