The French Rivera has been a symbol of elegance and riches for over a century, and because of this, it oozes luxury appeal. From its scenic beachscapes and crystalline waters to its chic resorts and lavish lifestyle, Tia Byer traces the cultural history of one of the Mediterranean’s most iconic coastal regions.
It is the holiday destination that legends are made of. The French Riveria, and particularly the Côte d’Azur, has a charm that has captivated some of the most glamorous and notable visitors in history.
Whether it be European royalty, artists, writers, or famous cinematic stars, the glitterati has been flocking to its glamorous shores since the 20th century. Among the most iconic names to immortalise the region include Princess Grace Kelly, Alain Delon, Brigitte Bardot, and Serge Gainsbourg.
The cult of celebrity and the fascination it exudes has become near impossible to extricate from the beauty of the area. Be it the dazzling shores of Cannes and the sophistication of its film festival, the decadent Casinos of Montecarlo, or the tranquil resorts of St Tropez, there is no denying the allure that the French Riveria radiates.
But where did it all begin? And how did the French Riveria become cemented in our cultural history as the most exclusive retreat of the rich and famous?
Located on the southeast corner of France, the French Rivera extends from Cassis, east of Marseille, to the French-Italian border near Saint-Tropez. The Mediterranean coastline is situated within the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France and partially enclaves the Principality of Monaco.
This region of France has long been seen as a pleasure ground for travellers seeking sea, sun, and style. The Liguarians, Greeks, and Romans had all, once upon a time, called this stretch of land home.
It is no surprise that their influence can still be felt today in the indulgent cuisine, architecture, and culture associated with the area. Just look at the Roman baths and amphitheatres that remain towns of Cimiez and Frejus.
A Royal Retreat
Interestingly, it wasn’t until as late as 1860 that the French Rivera actually became French. In fact, Nice and its surrounding area belonged to the Italian House of Savoy. But Napoleon III annexed the city, it eventually voted to become part of France.
Thereafter, the communes of Menton and Roquebrune also became French when the Prince of Monaco sold his rights to Napoleon III, adding to the expansion of his Second Empire. Following the completion of a railway, the Rivera soon became popularised by European royalty. Tsar Alexander II of Russia, Leopold II, the King of the Belgians, and Queen Victoria of England were all frequent visitors.
The Cult of Celebrity
Come the mid-19th Century the Côte d’Azur gained cult status as a haven for celebrity jet setters. But where did this reputation for being the epicentre of cool come from? And to what do we owe this legacy? The answer: French Cinema — and the stars it produced.
French Cinema’s most seductive leading male, Alain Delon has been hailed as the Prince of the French Riveria. With films such as La Piscine and Borsalino set in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Marseille respectively, ‘the great seducer’ was often photographed relaxing on the local beaches, where he was always accompanied by beautiful women.
La Piscine immortalised the stunning scenery of the area. Directed by Jacques Deray and co-starring Romy Schneider, Maurice Ronet, and Jane Birkin, this thriller is exclusively set within the confines of a luxury villa and its swimming pool. With its depiction of wealth, sexual possessiveness, and jealousy, the film helped establish the French Rivera as a playground for the rich and beautiful.
The most famous name in French film, Brigitte Bardot was no stranger to the shores of the region. In particular, her 1956 And God Created Woman film was set in the local fisherman’s village of St-Tropez, making the area a popular destination for tourists. Bardo’s sex appeal in this story of seduction and passion is legendary and placed the screen siren right at the centre of the French Sexual Revolution.
A Symbol of Timeless Charm
The Côte d’Azur remains a magnet for creatives and cinematic legends; their influence throughout the region continues to this day. And the natural beauty of the French Rivera will no doubt inspire the next generation of artistic pioneers and their audiences.
Feature image credit: “Beach at the Baie des Fourmis, photographed between Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Cote d’Azur France, in August 2021”. By Ianholton. Licensed by: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.