Heading off to Cannes next week for the MIPIM property fair? If you want to keep your cred and be seen at all the coolest hang-outs, you'd better read this first
Jean Henrietti is looking forward to MIPIM more than most. For the bar manager of Cannes' Hotel Martinez, the four-day international property event is the most lucrative time of the year. "It is twice as important as the film festival," he says. "We sell 4000 bottles of beer a night at MIPIM." Henrietti refuses to reveal his turnover, but with beers at £5 a pop and no shortage of takers for Taittinger champagne at £50 a bottle, he's talking serious money.

And so is everyone else at MIPIM. The annual international property fair, now in its 11th year, is the world's biggest gathering of professionals from the property-related industries. Some 16,000 delegates are expected to jam into the Côte d'Azur resort – population 70,000 – between 14 and 17 March for a frenzy of networking, dealmaking and hard-core drinking.

"In the last two years, the MIPIM phenomenon has reached huge proportions," says Henrietti, adding that the French are somewhat bemused by their guests' mixture of business etiquette and lager-loutishness: "It is strange. They are smartly dressed people in suits, all drinking beer out of the bottle." Cannes hosts giant trade fairs almost every week, with the legendary film festival, the respected television festival and the infamous porn festival among the better-known.

MIPIM is the second largest after the film bash, giving surveyors and designers the chance to behave like Hollywood stars for a few days. It stands for Marché International des Professionels de l'Immobiliers. Developers go to sniff out deals and new market trends and sectors. Architects go to sweet-talk future commissions out of developers. Regional development agencies go to flaunt vital statistics and partnership opportunities to potential investors. Lawyers and surveyors go to shower valued clients with lavish corporate hospitality, and to attract new business. All go to quaff outrageous amounts of free champagne.

Everyone who has anything to do with property agrees that the event is one of the most important business opportunities on the calendar, but MIPIM novices say the experience can be almost too much. "It was all a bit overwhelming," says Alan Moore, director at project manager Trench Farrow & Partners, who went for the first time in 1999. "The thing has got so big that it gets harder and harder to network effectively." So, to help MIPIM-goers, Building has prepared an indispensable guide to what's hot and what's not at this year's event.

Before you go
If you haven't bought your ticket by now, then you're probably too late. Flights, hotels and even restaurants get booked up months ahead, and seasoned MIPIM-goers make their arrangements well before Christmas.

Likewise, you should plan as many meetings as possible in advance. "Set up lunches and dinners before you go," says Trench Farrow & Partners' Moore. "Once you're there, it's very difficult – people get too many better offers, basically." Finding people in the crowd can be a nightmare, so distribute your mobile phone number before you leave home. Consultant Arup is one step ahead on this, having sent out thousands of cards listing the mobile numbers of its entire 30-strong delegation. Some firms, such as lawyer Mishcon de Reya, even organise a pre-MIPIM party.

What to pack
The most essential piece of equipment is a pair of designer sunglasses to protect your addled head from the Mediterranean glare and to disguise your bleary eyes.

Take your best clothes and at least two boxes of business cards, as you will invariably end up dishing them out to waiters, Polish lawyers and every other unlikely prospect you come across. For the women, flat shoes are a must for all that rushing around. Serious MIPIM-devotees recommend caffeine tablets.

Where to stay
Cannes' most desirable hotels line Boulevard de la Croisette, the town's palm-sprouting seafront promenade. Top of the pile (although, surprisingly, not the most expensive) is the famous Carlton, a belle époque confection where single rooms cost anything up to £450 a night. Peter Crossley and Gary Whittle, managing director and board director respectively at architect Broadway Malyan, are among those staying there this year.

The next most desirable is probably the Martinez, which hosts the opening-night gala and Monsieur Henrietti's bar – the unofficial residence of almost the entire British and American contingents. Rooms here cost from £150 to £480.

Other sought-after la Croisette hotels include the Noga Hilton (£100 to £400) and the Gray d'Albion, favoured by the Germans (from £110 upwards).

The other favourite base for MIPIM sophisticates is the Vieux Port. Hiring a boat is seriously cool – and seriously expensive. Gin palaces cost between £50,000 and £100,000 for the whole festival, but have all been snapped up already. There are rumours of bribes changing hands this year to secure a berth in the marina. "When a boat pulls up at MIPIM, there will be an exchange of money to get moorings," said one seasoned MIPIM-goer.

Rotch Property Group, whose yacht parties on the Bellissima are a treasured MIPIM institution, could not secure a mooring this year. Instead it has been forced to anchor opposite the Carlton hotel, ferrying guests out 10 at a time by speedboat.

If you can't get a berth at la Croisette or the marina, where else is there to stay? MIPIM-goers on a shoestring budget will be taking whatever they can get. Members of the Broadway Malyan contingent not fortunate enough to be checking into the Carlton will instead be taking digs in Nice, a 30-minute taxi-ride away.

Where to hang out
MIPIM officially kicks off with a tacky gala evening at the Martinez on Wednesday. The action then moves to the bunker-like Palais des Festivals, which is crammed with thousands of stands representing everything from tiny real-estate firms to entire cities or regions.

Every single one of these will be hosting a champagne reception at some stage or another, usually accompanied by offerings of local dishes. It is therefore entirely possible to get through the whole event without spending any money on food or drink. Refer to the Tough Guide – the official list of events – for details of these bashes.

However, MIPIM has grown a huge fringe of related events outside the Palais, with organisations vying to hire the swankiest roof terrace, beach bar, gin palace or hilltop villa for their bash. Although your employer will judge you by the amount of work you manage to bring in while at MIPIM, your colleagues will be far more impressed by the number of glamorous parties you attend. Since most of these are invitation-only, much of your time will be spent attempting to secure a precious ticket. Some people steer clear of the gloomy Palais entirely, saving the £600 registration fee and blagging their way into events around town.

Once again this year, a hot ticket will be property consultant King Sturge's party at a luxury villa in the hills behind Cannes. Why is it so desirable? "It was the pool, the hazy sunshine, the views," says one person lucky enough to be invited last year. This year's promises to be even better: "We've got a new villa and a live band," says a source.

Other desirable joints include the Carlton Club, a members' club founded last year by PR firm Wordsearch Communications as an alternative to the crush of the Martinez. Firms that have already stumped up £600 for membership plus 24 single-entry tickets include architect Gensler, and developers Derwent Valley and Spitalfields Development Group.

Where to eat
At lunchtime and in the evening, the Palais des Festivals empties as 16,000 people head off in search of a sit-down meal. If you're keen to impress, this can involve some serious planning; many firms will be scouring the town this year in order to make bookings for 2002.

Bad luck if you haven't secured a table at Neat, the sensational, Michelin-starred British restaurant on Place Mérimée: it was booked up a year ago. Those with coveted block-bookings include surveyor Hillier Parker and developer Stanhope.

Fortunately, Cannes is stuffed with dozens of other excellent restaurants, notably along la Croisette beach (pricey), the area surrounding the harbour and Rue St Antoine in the old town (cheaper).

And finally …
A whole host of weird events have been planned as firms try to stand out from the crowd. Architect Benoy, guessing (correctly) that some people will be thoroughly sick of alcohol by the second day, is organising a Teas of the World reception on its stand.

The city of Manchester, meanwhile, will attempt to woo potential investors with cans of local brew at its Boddington's bash.

But surveyor Chesterton wins hands-down in the oddity stakes. It is splashing out £30,000 to put on a play about property outsourcing. It will be staged on the Ile de Lérins out in the bay, and the firm will ferry out clients 100 at a time to each of four performances.

"Rather than bore everyone stiff with a half-hour talk, this is a sensationally more interesting way of doing it," says Graham Downey at Chesterton. Sceptics should note that last year's drama about property partnering and PFI was described by the Financial Times as "hysterical … a mould-breaking idea". Not that the journalist was drunk, of course.

Where to sleep in Cannes – or stay up all night

Majestic, 14 Boulevard de la Croisette
Noga Hilton, 50 Boulevard de la Croisette
Carlton, 58 Boulevard de la Croisette
Martinez, 73 Boulevard de la Croisette Nightclubs
Caberet of Angels, 7 Rue Rougiere
Le Jane’s Club, 38 Rue des Serbes
Le Loft, 13 Rue Dr Monod
Whisky a Gogo, 115 Rue de Lerins

Cannes I quote you on that?

The best place to make new contacts and do business at MIPIM is the Palais des Festivals. Restaurants are best for people you’ve already targeted and want to impress and, while you can do lots of late-night networking in bars such as the Martinez, you may find you wake up with a clutch of business cards but have forgotten what it was that you talked about
Barry McKeogh, chief executive of Pipers (organiser of the London and Birmingham stands at MIPIM 2001) Meeting people on the stand or at cocktail parties is great for networking, which often results in business back home. But in my experience la Croisette itself – where there seems to be more suits per square foot than in Mayfair – is a great place for bumping into people you haven’t seen for a while or being introduced to interesting new contacts
Chris Tollast of property agent Insignia Richard Ellis There are three of us going from Argent. We will be staying with Peter Freeman, one of our non-executive board directors, who has a house close to Cannes. We have also booked a room in the Holiday Inn, just in case he gets fed up of us
Roger Madelin, chief executive of developer Argent The Martinez is a shed of a place and like a scrum. The Carlton is quieter and a bit more civilised. Get somebody else to pay for the drinks in any of these places
Neil Johnston, European director at Miller Developments Avoid lingering on the sticky carpet at the Martinez late at night. Hang around the harbour when the boat parties are going on and you will meet more people than you could in a year
Lee Mallett, assistant managing director at Wordsearch Communications Be quite structured about it. There are eight of us going, but rather than all of us attending for all of the time, we are each doing two days. Otherwise, you are in danger of burning out from going from event to event
Nikki Greenleaf, business development manager at architect Sheppard Robson