The French Riviera (French: Côte d'Azur, Occitan: Còsta Azzura) is part of France's southeastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, reaching from Cassis to Menton, at the border with Italy. Cannes is host to the annual presentation of the Palme d'Or, which attracts movie stars from around the world.
One of the most famous resort areas in the world, the French Riviera continues west from the Italian Riviera and Menton through Monaco, Nice, Antibes and Cannes, along the Mediterranean coast of the Alpes-Maritimes département. After Cannes, there is some dispute regarding its extent, with some authorities (including the official tourist bodies for the Alpes-Maritimes) arguing that it stops at the border with the département of the Var, after Théoule-sur-Mer. Others suggest it extends further along the Var coastline, at least as far as Saint-Tropez but possibly to Hyères or even the border with the Bouches-du-Rhône département.
Beneficent. Temperate winters are what started the Riviera craze in the 1830's; dry, hot summers; spring and fall usually perfect traveling weather. Enough rain to keep all that greenery in bloom, usually in November and February, but it rarely lasts long. (Average of about 300 days sun yearly)
EVENTS & FESTIVALS:
Monaco: Circus Festival in January - Nice: Carnival in February - Menton: Lemon Festival in February - Tourrettes-sur-Loup: Violet Festival - Monaco: Grand Prix Formula 1 Race in May - Grasse: Rose Festival in May - Cannes: International Film Festival in May -Nice: Jazz Festival in July - Juan-les-Pins: Jazz Festival End of July - Grasse: Jasmine Festival in August.
A Health Resort for the British Upper Classes
The history of the French Riviera began when the French Riviera became a fashionable health resort for the British upper classes in the late eighteenth century. The first British traveller to describe the Riviera was the novelist Tobias Smollett, who visited Nice in 1763, when it was still an Italian city within the Kingdom of Sardinia. Like many British travelers, he found fault with the inhabitants, the food, the architecture, the religion and culture, but he brought Nice and its warm winter temperatures to the attention of the British artistocracy through his book Travels in France and Italy, written in 1765. At about the same time, a Scottish doctor, Dr. John Brown, became famous by prescribing what he called climato-therapy, a change to a warm climate, to cure a wide variety of diseases, including tuberculosis, known then as consumption. The French historian Paul Gonnet wrote that as a result, Nice was filled with "a colony of pale and listless English women and listless sons of nobility near death." (1)
In 1834, a British nobleman and politician named Henry Peter Brougham, First Baron Brougham and Vaux, who had played an important part in the abolition of the slave trade, travelled with an ill sister to south of France, intending to go to Italy. A cholera epidemic in Italy forced him to stop at Cannes, where he enjoyed the climate and scenery so much that he bought land and built a villa. He began to spend his winters there, and because of his fame, others followed, and Cannes soon had a small British colony.
Robert Louis Stevenson was another early British visitor who came to Riviera for his health. In 1882 he rented a villa called La Solitude at Hyeres, where he wrote much of A Child's Garden of Verses.
Railroads, Gambling and Royalty
In 1864, five years after Nice became part of France, the first railroad arrived there, making Nice and the rest of the Riviera accessible to visitors from all over Europe. One hundred thousand vistors arrived in 1865. By 1874 the foreign colony in Nice, mostly British, had grown to 25,000.
In the mid-nineteenth century, with the arrival of railroads, British and French entrepreneurs began to see the potential of tourism in the South of France. At the time, gambling was illegal in both France and Italy. In 1856, the Prince of Monaco, Charles III, began constructing a casino in Monaco, which, to avoid criticism by the church, was formally called a health spa. The first casino was a failure. Then, in 1863, the Prince signed an agreement with an enterprising French businessman, Francois Blanc, to built a resort and new casino. Blanc arranged for steamships and carriages to take visitors from Nice to Monaco, built hotels, and created gardens and a new casino in a brand-new city, which he called Monte Carlo, after Prince Charles. When the railroad finally reached Monte Carlo in 1870, hundreds of thousands of visitors began to arrive, and the population of the principality of Monaco doubled.
In the second part of the nineteenth century, thanks to the railroad, the Riviera became a popular destination for European royalty. Just days after the railroad line opened to Nice in 1864, Czar Alexander II of Russia visited on a private train, followed soon afterwards by Napoleon III and Leopold II, the King of the Belgians.
Queen Victoria of England was a frequent visitor to the Riviera. In 1882, she stayed in Menton, near the Italian border, which had become the largest British colony in the Riviera. In 1891, she spent several weeks at the Grand Hotel Grasse. In 1892, she stayed at the Hotel Cost-belle in Hyeres. From 1895 to 1899, she stayed at the Hotel Regina at Cimiez, in the hills above Nice. (the Hotel Regina later became the home of painter Henri Matisse.) She traveled with party of between sixty and a hundred persons, including her chef, ladies in waiting, dentist, and Indian servants, her own bed and her own food.
The son of Victoria and Prince Albert, The Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, was also a regular visitor to Cannes, beginning in 1872. He frequented the Club Nautique, a private club on La Croisette, the fashionable seafront boulevard of Cannes. He visited each spring for three weeks, took part in yacht races (he watched from shore, while the royal yacht, Britannia, was sailed by a professional crew), and he had affairs with actresses, courtesans, and the wives of artistocrats in the more relaxed moral climate of the Riviera. After he became King in 1891, he never again visited the Riviera.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the Riviera also began to attract painters, who appreciated the climate, the clear light, and the bright colors. Auguste Renoir settled in Cagnes-sur-Mer, and Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso made their homes on the Riviera.
American Visitors, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sun Bathing
The First World War brought down many of the royal houses of Europe, and altered the calendar social structure of the visitors to the Riviera. After the war larger numbers of Americans began to come to the Riviera, business people and celebrities began to outnumber aristocrats, and the season gradually shifted from the winter months to the summer.
Americans had begun coming to the South of France in the nineteenth century. Henry James set part of his novel, The Ambassadors, on the Riviera. James Gordon Bennett, the son and heir of the founder of the New York Herald, had a villa in Beaulieu. Industrialist John Pierpont Morgan gambled at Monte Carlo and bought eighteenth-century paintings by Fragonardin Grasse and shipped them to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
An important feature of the Riviera in the nineteen-twenties and thirties was the le Train Bleu, the all first-class sleeping train which brought wealthy passengers from Calais to the Riviera. It made its first trip in 1922, and carried such passengers as Winston Churchill, Somerset Maugham and the future King Edward VIII to the Riviera.
After World War I, when Europe was recovering from the war and the American dollar was strong, more Americans, including writers and artists, begam coming to the Riviera. Edith Wharton wrote The Age of Innocence (1920) at a villa near Hyeres; she won the Pulitzer Prize for the novel, the first woman to win the prize. Dancer Isadora Duncan frequented Cannes and Nice; she died in a freak auto accident in 1927, when her scarf caught in the wheel of the car in which she was a passenger and strangled her. The writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda first visited the Riviera in 1924, stopping at Hyeres, Cannes and Monte Carlo, eventually staying at St. Raphael, where he wrote much of The Great Gatsby and began Tender is the Night.
While American visitors were largely responsible for making summer the high season on the Riviera, a French fashion designer, Coco Chanel, was responsible for making sunbathing fashionable. She acquired a striking tan during the summer of 1923, and tans immediately became the fashion in Paris.
During the crisis of the British Monarchy in 1936, Wallis Simpson, the intended bride of King Edward VIII, was at the Villa Lou Vieie in Cannes, talking with the king by telephone each day. After his abdication, the Duke of Windsor, as he became, and his wife stayed at the Villa La Croe near Antibes.
The British novelist Somerset Maugham also became a resident of the Riviera in 1926, buying the Villa Mauresque, near the end of Cap Ferrat, near Nice.
World War II, the 1950s, and Brigitte Bardot
When Nazi Germany invaded France in June 1940, the remaining British colony on the Riviera was evacuated to Gibraltar and eventually to Britain. American Jewish groups helped some of the Jewish artists living in the south of France, such as Marc Chagall, to escape to the United States. In August 1942, six hundred Jews from Nice were rounded up by the French police and sent to Drancy, and eventually to Nazi death camps. In all about five thousand French Jews from Nice perished during the war.
On August 15, 1944, American parachute troops landed near Frejus, and a fleet landed sixty thousand troops of the American Seventh Army and French First Army between Cavalaire and Agay, east of St. Raphael. German resistance crumbled in a few days.
St. Tropez was badly damaged by German mines at the time of the liberation. The novelist Colette organized an effort to assure that the town was rebuilt in its orginal style.
When the war ended, artists Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso returned to the Riviera to live and work.
The Cannes Film Festival was launched in September 1946, marking the return of French cinema to world screens. The Festival Palace was built in 1949 on the site of the old Cercle Nautique, where the Prince Of Wales had met his mistresses. .
The release of the French film Et Dieu Crea La Femme (And God Created Women) in November 1956 was a major event for the Riviera, making an international star out of Brigitte Bardot, and making an international tourist destination out of St. Tropez. particularly for the new class of wealthy international travellers called 'The Jet Set.'
The marriage of American film actress Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier of Monaco on April 18, 1958, attracted world attention once again to the Riviera. it was viewed on television by some thirty million people.
From the 1960s to the 21st Century
On May 13, 1971, Mick Jagger, the lead singer of the rock group the Rolling Stones, married Nicaraguan model Bianca Perez de Macias in St. Tropez, which maintained the image of the Riviera as a haven for the rich and famous.
During the 1960s, the Mayor of Nice, Jacques Medecin, decided to reduce the dependence of the Riviera on ordinary tourism, and to make it a destination for international congresses and conventions. He built the palais des congres at Akropolis, and founded both a Chagall Museum and a Matisse Museum at Cimiez. High-rise apartment buildings and real estate developments began to spread along the Riviera.
At the end of August, 1997, Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed spent their last days together on his father's yacht anchored off Pampelonne Beach near St. Tropez, shortly before they were killed in a traffic accident in the Alma Tunnel in Paris.
Places on the French Riviera include, from west to east:
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sir Elton John
David Beckham and Victoria Beckham
Dame Shirley Bassey
Juan Pablo Montoya