How to save a euro or two at the fest

Cannes may be the most important film festival on the calendar, and an essential destination for the international film industry, but it is, as one regular observes, “a money sink.”

Festival vets know what newcomers will soon discover: Half the challenge of the event isn’t managing the screening schedule or meeting agendas but the exorbitant costs. And beware: After a brief period during the global economic crisis when prices dipped at even the Croisette’s string of five-star hotels, costs are rising, potentially in excess of 5% over 2010 prices for everything from rooms to adult beverages in the Carlton lounge.

This is part of the cost of doing business for Cannes highrollers and yacht dwellers, as well as dealmakers needing to impress prospective partners. But for the rest of the festival crowd, counting every euro is a daily obsession, and saving money is still something that everyone — no matter the budget level — wants to do.

And with an exchange rate hovering around of $1.43, Yank visitors get no breaks, though the rate is neither as burdensome nor as advantageous as past years.

But just as the wily fest maven knows where to sniff out the hidden gems among the dozens of films on display, the budget-conscious visitor can find all kinds of ways to do Cannes on the cheap — or at least, cheaper than you’d think.

CELL BLOCK

Getting there starts with turning off roaming on the cell phone, which can save hundreds of dollars. Renting or buying a local SIM card controls mobile and data streaming costs. Rental services are ubiquitous on the Internet as well as in airports and train stations, even the local tabac.

PLANE TRUTH

It may be an obvious point, but reserving flights well in advance is now a must, since last-minute deals are about as likely as crashing Hotel du Cap. Destination is key, and the smart choice for North Americans is Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, not Nice. At de Gaulle (or better, online), buy a round-trip ticket for the bullet train (TGV; start at sncf.com/en), which delivers travellers five hours later to the Cannes station located conveniently in the middle of town, and only minutes from the Palais. The trip is relaxing, offering a beautiful ride through central France and the Cote d’Azur; what’s more, you avoid the mess around Nice airport and the traffic on the highway to Cannes, to say nothing of those €100 taxi rides. (If you must land in Nice, by all means take the Cannes Express bus outside baggage claim for the €12 trip to Cannes’ city hall depot.)

SHARE THE WEALTH

In a thoroughly unscientific poll of dozens of Cannes regulars, apartment sharing is the overwhelming favorite form of lodging. Not only is there the obvious advantage of spreading rental costs with roommates, but by planning at least a few months ahead, online shopping shows that Cannes and environs offer a large range of types of multi-room apartments. Indeed, because of central Cannes’ high rents, more and more are opting for the town’s neighborhood north of the train station, where prices can be as much as 30% lower than the quarter surrounding the Palais and the walk can be merely 10 minutes away. Many rental agencies, such as John and John (with offices in both Santa Barbara and in their main office in the Grand Hotel complex), offer shared lodging deals.

For even deeper discounts, look outside Cannes proper to nearby towns like Le Cannet and La Bocca. Though arriving in time for the 8:30 a.m. competition screenings can be a challenge the further out one stays, some even opt for hotels in Nice adjacent to the train station (20 minutes to Cannes via express train), or in the train-convenient Juan-les-Pins and Antibes. The velo (bicycle) can be an excellent option for those living at a distance from the Palais. (Elite Rent a Bike, online atelite-rentabike.com, is a popular choice, with €10 daily rentals for a week or more.)

FOOD MIGHT

Although hotel diehards can’t resist being served their warm croissants with confiture, apartment dwellers who prepare their breakfast in their kitchens can slice considerable costs off of what may be one of the biggest wallet busters in Cannes: Eating. A surprising number of festival vets even opt out of lunch and more (“The best way to cut costs? Don’t eat! It takes too much time!”).

Given that time is everything in Cannes, if lunch must be missed, pack the bag with a load of protein and energy bars — the perfect antidote to the carb-heavy noshes on the Croisette.

Dinner can be nearly as challenging as lunch, since films and meetings don’t end until midnight, but with a steady stream of parties (and accompanying hors d’oeuvres) along the beach, free food is plentiful … so long as you get an invitation. Reasonably priced restaurants include Al Charq (20 Rue Rouaze), Pastis (8 Rue Commdt Andre) and, for pure convenience and fabulously swift service, Le Pizza (directly across from the Palais entrance).

The smartest, simplest eating strategy, and the most economical, is simply shopping at the best-priced markets.

Family-run mini markets can be found near the train station, while locals shop at the cheap Superette de la Californie (on Rue Alexandre III), and the Marche Forville — Cannes’ daily farmers market — provides the area’s freshest eats. Among the chains, the Casino supermarket north of the tracks and the Monoprix on Rue Gambetta offer a wide range of fresh and packaged foods.

But any way you cut costs, one thing is almost certain, and may make the expensive Cannes worthwhile. “I always lose weight in Cannes,” says a Paris-based festival programmer, “which is great just before summer arrives.”

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