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The French Riviera – a historic playground for the rich and famous

It is no secret that the French Riviera has a reputation for glitz, glamour, and international prestige. Over time, this little corner of France has…

It is no secret that the French Riviera has a reputation for glitz, glamour, and international prestige. Over time, this little corner of France has earned favour with royals and celebrities alike. The arrival of the railway in the 19th century made travelling to the South of France a breeze. Consequently, British, European and Russian aristocracy flocked to the area to enjoy the balmy summers and extravagant lifestyle. The 20th century saw a new group of visitors emerge; namely, artists and writers, both European and American.

And today, much of these visitors’ legacy can still be seen in the architecture of the Riviera. We explore some of the region’s most historic and fascinating sites, which are well worth a visit or further reading.

A château fit for a wartime Prime Minister

The Château de l’Horizon was constructed in 1932 by the American architect, Barry Dierks, for the enchanting actress Maxine Elliott. Hailed as a ‘White Palace’ on the sea, this was Elliott’s dream villa for entertaining her distinguished guests. For instance, Winston Churchill was a regular visitor between 1934 and 1940. At the Art Deco château, Churchill wrote books and painted pictures of English socialite, Doris Delevingne. In addition, Noël Coward, the Duke of Windsor, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor were frequent visitors. Following the purchase of the villa in 1948, Prince Aly Khan celebrated his marriage to Rita Hayworth at the château in 1949. Today, the Château de l’Horizon belongs to the Saudi royal family. However, you can read about the history in The Riviera Set, by Mary S. Lovell.

A writer’s muse, Hôtel Belles Rives

Located on the edge of the Cap d’Antibes peninsula, the Hôtel Belles Rives (meaning beautiful shores) aptly sums up the Riviera’s Golden Age. The Art Deco mansion, then known as Villa Saint-Louis, was built by the architect Charles Dalmas in 1925. He also designed the Carlton Hotel in Cannes and the Palais de la Méditerranée in Nice. Further, the mansion was the former home of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. The renowned writer stayed at Villa Saint-Louis before it was transformed into the Belles Rives in 1929. Here, the Fitzgeralds led an extravagant life, receiving such friends as Rudolf Valentino and Ernest Hemingway. Moreover, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s time spent on the Riviera later provided the inspiration for the novel, The Great Gatsby.

The jewel in the crown, Hôtel Le Provençal

In its heyday, the Art Deco hotel, Le Provençal, was a magnet for the rich and famous. That is to say, the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Coco Chanel and the Kennedys to name a few! Le Provençal fast became the place-to-be in Juan-les-Pins. It was built in 1926 by American millionaire, Frank Jay Gould, the son of financier Jay Gould. Drawn to the Riviera, these international celebrities filled the beaches of Antibes with youth, wealth and glamour. At various times Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway could be spotted at the hotel’s bar. Subsequently, the hotel was an inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. The American writer based the story on the wealthy ex-pat guests of the hotel (particularly Gerald and Sara Murphy).

A rose on the Riviera

Another captivating story comes from that of the Villa and Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild. The rose-pink painted villa was constructed by Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild between 1905 and 1912. Also known as Villa Île-de-France, the architecture was reminiscent of the great houses of the Italian Renaissance. Perched at the top of the Cap Ferrat peninsula, the villa boasts nine unique gardens. Each garden is themed: Florentine, Spanish, French, exotic, a stone garden, Japanese, rose, Provençal, and a garden de Sèvres. Designed by landscape architect Achille Duchêne, the shape given to the main garden depicts the deck of a ship. With its view of the ocean, the baroness required each of her gardeners to wear a navy beret. This was so that she could imagine herself on a ship travelling the world! She was so inspired by her voyage on board the liner, Île de France, she named the villa after it. The property is now a museum and is one of the most popular attractions in the region.

To sum up, the South of France is bejewelled with stunning buildings, full of charm and fascinating stories. Over many years, the French Riviera has enticed many influential figures whose chateaux have stood the test of time. Today, many of them are open to the public as hotels or museums. As a Parc du Cap resident, the concierge would be happy to provide further information or make a booking.




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