The French Riviera

Côte d' Azur!



As a child it was my dream and when I grew up, I had the opportunity of getting to know it. Cap-Martin, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Cap-d'Antibes: these three peninsulas leaned towards the sea, consist one of the most beautiful landscapes of the Mediterranean. They are dotted with exotic gardens and villas and marked by the legendary stories of the eccentric travelers who have visited them. I refer, for example, to two elderly empresses who used to walk among the flower beds at the Grand Hotel of Cap-Martin, at the end of the nineteenth century: Elizabeth of Austria, the tireless traveler, melancholic in the soul, with her slender figure, and Eugenie, widow of Napoleon III. At one time they had competed in beauty, but now they exchanged confidences about the past which was obviously not confined to politics. What bound them was the sweet winter on the Riviera.

Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cap-d'Antibes, French Riviera

Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cap-d'Antibes, French Riviera

In the third peninsula, Cap-d'Antibes, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived their fragile happiness consuming alcohol in quantity. Scott wrote "Tender Is the Night" admiring the sea through the open window on the gulf. Zelda, a prey to intoxication and illuminated by the light of the moon, called to invite him to dive with her for the ten-meter high cliffs. The leap into the void, already dangerous in the daytime, in the evening was tantamount to suicide.

At the center is Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, the most chic angle of the Mediterranean. Here there are the most beautiful villas in the world, hidden dreamy gardens that still share a discreet tone because the display of wealth is considered a bad taste. This is the fiefdom of a handful of billionaires who live in superb isolation, is the Switzerland of the French Riviera. Here we leave behind the movie stars that line up on the Croisette in Cannes, as well the close by Monte Carlo, considered the symbol of ostentation.

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, French Riviera

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, French Riviera

If there is a place in the world where discretion, tranquility and beauty come together in an exquisite elegance of all, I'd say this is it. Here everything is in the right place, honed to perfection, however, the substance is not absent, as it is the element that combines ease with charm. Here we see the glistening rocks, the classic Mediterranean pine trees, palm trees and sidewalks decorated with flowerbeds, the duty of an army of gardeners who care not to make the petals wilt.

Towering over is the flagship of the peninsula, the pink villa of Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild where I never fail to go when I visit the French Riviera, in the spring. The baroness - patron of the art, as well as a refined collector, was also quite hard to please, so during the five years that it took her to build the villa, she changed twelve architects! According to me, she knew exactly what she wanted since she was very eccentric, as she wanted the gardens to resemble the prow of a ship (left and right there is the sea), and so ordered her gardeners to wear a blue cap with the red pompom.

The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, French Riviera

The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, French Riviera

As a true worshiper of the eighteenth century, she received her guests dressed as Marie Antoinette and I wonder if in that way she greeted her neighbor, Theodore Reinach, owner of the Villa Kerylos in Beaulieu, an archaeologist who worshiped the ancient Greeks and received his guests wearing a chiton. It was an extraordinary époque. I am referring to the early twentieth century when the French Riviera, with no defined aesthetic, embraced the most diverse architectural styles: the neo-Gothic, Italian Renaissance and the Belle Époque, the Venetian, the Arab-Hispanic, but also the typical Russian dacha since the subjects of the Tsar were accustomed to spend the winter on the Riviera to enjoy the charm of the climate.
The Cȏte d' Azur continues to be a legendary place. Her legend, however, has not been created by the great history, but the stories of those early, eccentric fans who fell in love with the nature, the sea and the sun of this area transforming the steep cliffs into small earthly paradises overlooking a magnificent view. These early lovers of the Riviera were the ones to make it what is still today: one of the most beautiful holiday destinations in the world.

Barbara Athanassiadis