For 200,000 filmmakers, dealmakers, studio execs and stars who transform the sedate seaside town of Cannes into the world's glitziest, most prestigious film festival, a trio of five-star hotels loom large over the mythic Croisette, the main road of the French Riviera. Part home base, part office, part resort -- each hotel has a beach, or plage, for tented parties, lunches and topless tanning -- the Martinez, Carlton and Majestic Barriere, separated by mere blocks and each bringing in 100 to 200 extra staffers during the festival, are the places to take meetings, have drinks and get some rest (and avoid the half-hour drive to and from the iconic Hotel du Cap). "It's not unusual to start the day at the Majestic, then lunch at the Carlton Terrace and finish with drinks after dinner at the bar of the Martinez," says Hannibal Pictures CEO Richard Rionda Del Castro. With rooms peaking at $37,500 a night (for a penthouse suite at the Martinez), a major portfolio or VIPs like Sharon Stone or Sean Connery are needed to book them. Of course, those two can stay in the 3,000-square-foot suites that bear their names at the Carlton. "Brad and Angelina like it here," says Eric Aceto, the hotel's assistant concierge. "Maybe someday, one of our suites will be named after them."
The 343-room, century-old Belle Epoque hotel (set to close for renovations this year) is the site of choice for studio stunts such as a bee-suit-wearing Jerry Seinfeld on the roof for 2007's Bee Movie and dancing pandas on the pier for 2011's Kung Fu Panda 2. A favorite of Angelina Jolie and Sean Penn, the Carlton is an industry magnet, drawing producer Avi Lerner, Universal execs and Sony Pictures Classics co-founder Tom Bernard. "People stay in the same suites forever," says Bernard, who has kept his for 30 years. "My neighbors have been everyone from Troma, which makes horror movies, to the gift suite, where they give away trips to Bora Bora."
Prime Ad Space: A famous example of covering the façade with a promo banner, for 1983's Octopussy. An anonymous producer tells THR: "A big corner banner at the Carlton costs over $90,000. For the Carlton facade, it's over $460,000."
Top-Heavy: The corner domes reportedly were modeled on the breasts of the world's first film star, Carolina Otero. La Belle Otero was worth about $25 million at her peak. But because of a gambling addiction, she died a pauper at 95 while living in one room in Nice.
Le Spa des Stars: The new spot, for celebrities and VIPs only, offers an alternative to relaxing at the public Carlton Terrace or Carlton Bar with its signature framboise fraiche. Located on the ground floor, the spa is available only during the festival.
Business Front: A 2007 police raid busted a high-end prostitution ring operating out of the hotel. In 2011, Morgan Stanley sold the Carlton and six other hotels for about $650 million to Lebanese investor Toufic Aboukhater, who lives in nearby Monaco.
Hotel Romance: To Catch a Thief, starring Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, was partly filmed at the Carlton, where Kelly also met future husband Prince Rainier during the 1955 festival. Elton John also immortalized the hotel in his 1983 video for "I'm Still Standing."
Office Space: Studios like Paramount/DreamWorks Animation, Sony and Fox always set up base here. (Not everyone sticks around: ICM head Jeff Berg is relocating to the Noga Hilton this year.) Says Anne Globe, DreamWorks Animation's chief marketing officer, "The Carlton hotel is central to the festive atmosphere at Cannes."
Compared to Cannes' other hotels, the 409-room Martinez, which didn't open until 1929, is an arriviste. But the imposing, gleaming Art Deco showplace -- which includes a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, a huge octagonal swimming pool, a theater and Z Plage, the biggest private beach in town -- is a must-book for the fashion crowd, from Giorgio Armani to Gucci to Jimmy Choo. Also, George Lucas has stayed here, and Woody Allen is a Martinez devotee. "There are a few stars who are very simple, and he's one," says head concierge Fabrizio Bozzolan. "Mr. Allen comes to the concierge desk by himself if he has a question. He's one of our favorites."
Opening Act: In 2011 on opening night across the street from the hotel, Lady Gaga sang "Judas" from Born This Way to frenzied fans. She told the crowd: "It was so lovely performing with the ocean. I would've liked to have jumped in after the performance!"
Indie Cred: Francois Truffaut co-wrote the 1964 nihilistic erotic fantasy The Soft Skin while holed up here for a month. In 1982, Wim Wenders interviewed directors in Room 666 for his documentary about the future of cinema titled, naturally, Room 666.
Fashion House: Chopard holds its Trophy party, one of the swankiest tickets in town, here every year. And "lunch on that terrace is fantastic," says a Giorgio Armani rep, "if you want to see stars relaxed -- it's not like at the Carlton -- because it's more private and tucked away."
Sky-High Exposure: In 1997, Spice Girls posed on the Martinez rooftop to promote Spice World.
Cordoned Off: If you aren't staying at the hotel or an invited guest for an event, it's nearly impossible to get past the ring of security circling the motorcourt, as even film critic Roger Ebert discovered in 2006. Arriving a little late for a Dreamgirls preview party, the critic labeled the guards "gorillas in tuxedos" for their roughness.
Star Treatment: Cannes regular Quentin Tarantino avails himself of the 9,000-square-foot L. Raphael spa on the penthouse floor. A signature treatment, great for just-deplaned guests, is the energy-restoring massage with carrot-seed oil.
Film Fete: In 2011, Harvey Weinstein and The Weinstein Co. COO David Glasser, with Sarah Jessica Parker, celebrated a slate of films at the Martinez, trumpeting The Artist as well as My Week With Marilyn, Bully and SJP's I Don't Know How She Does It.
Although more French stars stay here than elsewhere on the Croisette, there's no shortage of international stargazing at the 349-room hotel overlooking the Bay of Cannes. For the cost of a $25 vodka tonic, anyone can sit at the famed bar Fouquet and be guaranteed that guests such as Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Monica Bellucci and Gerard Depardieu will walk by. "It's just like The Player but on the French Riviera," says Cannes veteran blogger Allison Coe. "If you listen to the conversation, you'd think it came from a bad script." The Majestic 64, the hotel's private beach and bar, includes a jetty that's a sought-after spot for photo calls and parties.
No Reservations: When Miramax arrived for the first time in 1980, the Weinsteins hadn't booked rooms. "We begged, and they put us in a broom closet -- literally," said Harvey Weinstein a decade later. "Things got progressively better. We're quite sure at the end of it all, we'll be back in the broom closet."
Legacy Suites: According to Hollywood on the Riviera by Cari Beauchamp and Henri Behar, legendary publicist Renee Furst was rumored to have willed her rooms to producer Ben Barenholtz when she died in 1990. He used them for the entourage of Barton Fink.
Room Flipper: DDA PR, which reps foreign sales agents, financiers and films, has headquarters on the second floor. Before the Majestic became one of the premier places to stay, founder Dennis Davidson (who sold DDA in 2009) was said to be a de facto broker, buying up rooms he would lease out later.
Screening Room: Unlike other hotels on the Croisette, the Majestic has its own movie theater with a digital projector. Guests relax in sprawling armchairs for private screenings while the wait staff takes orders for everything from popcorn to foie gras.
Cigar Aficionados: One amenity that closed but is being brought back next year is the humidor room, or fumoir. Says Rionda Del Castro: "I was once with a German buyer, and we wanted a cigar. The bar was packed, and I asked the waiter to give me the key -- they had a special room for humidors. We pick up our cigars and turn, and there's Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman smoking Cubans."
Security First: With the Palais des Festivals located only steps across the street -- meaning red-carpet premieres can be viewed from the hotel's balconies -- there's a TSA-style checkpoint at the entrance. "Because the hotel is a U shape, we station guards at the front or else people could slip through the gardens, and it wouldn't be safe," says assistant concierge Thierry Parachini. "We're closest to the action, but for the stars, we're also the most private."