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Historic Guide to the French Riviera

French Riviera History | Bruce International

Sandy beaches, designer boutiques, crystal clear waters, fine dining and luxury yachts, the French Riviera is anyone’s dream location. Known for celeb spotting, the largest boats and living the ultimate high life, the French Riviera is so much more when you look deeper into the history of the Cote d’Azur.

In actual fact, the Riviera was once lined with humble fishing ports – quite different from a buzzing tourist hub! This luxurious location was once a long picturesque stretch of land, in this blog, we will take you through how the Cote d’Azur got to how it is today.

In The Beginning

Inhibited since the prehistoric times, primitive tools that date back one million years have been discovered in the Grotte du Vallonnet, including stones and bones of animals – like rhinoceros and bison. Monuments from the Bronze Age can be found near Draguignan. In Draguignan, you can find a number of museums, ranging from military, arts and even a children’s museum!

Settled initially by Greek sailors, Antibes and Nice were discovered. Soon after the Romans developed communities throughout Provence in 1st, 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. With the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th Century, Germanic barbarians invaded, along with the Saracens and Normans in the 9th Century.

French Riviera History | Bruce International

13th Century

In the 13th Century, The House of Grimaldi arrived, today ruling the principality of Monaco. Francesco the Spiteful was said to have taken over Monaco by disguising as a monk seeking refuge, before going on to lord over Monaco, Antibes and Nice. The surrounding regions were under protection of the House of Savoy (consisting of the kings of Sicily and Italy) from 1388 to 1860, which was distinctly different from Provence. The Provence retained its formal independence until 1480 when Rene I of Naples died and left all to his Nephew, Charles du Maine, who left it to Louis XI of France, and in 1486, Provence formally became part of France.

19th Century

The British arrived in the late 18th Century, at first visiting the poor and rustic fishing and farming villages, known for olive groves and production of flowers for perfume (Grasse Perfumeries), which the intention that the Riviera climate would improve their health. British politician Henry Peter Brougham took a fancy to Cannes, renting a villa in the South of France for the season. Before long, his friends, family and admirers followed him and the French Riviera became a popular holiday location for wealthy English citizens.

French Riviera History 19th Century | Bruce International

Railway lines were built in the late 19th century, which joined the Riviera to the rest of Europe. By 1865, one hundred thousand visitors had arrived and Nice had 25,000 British residents. Large hotels and casinos began to arise, and the more affluent began to flood in. Queen Victoria, Tsar Alexander II, Napoleon III, Leopold II, and the Prince of Wales all visited the Cote d’Azur, along with artists, authors and cultural figures – including Pablo Picasso, who lived on the Riviera in his later life.  You can visit the Picasso museum in Antibes.

As hard as it is to believe, the French Riviera was once a winter destination. However, between the first and second world war, wealthy Irish American couple Gerald and Sara Murphy hosted many famous and wealthy figures, and soon managed to convince owners of the Hotel du Cap Eden-Roc to keep the hotel open during the summer, along with clearing out the La Garoupe beach, which is now one of the busiest beaches across the Mediterranean.

French Riviera History 19th Century | Bruce International

20th Century

Whilst Americans were mostly responsible for making summer on the French Riviera fashionable, French fashion designer Coco Chanel made sunbathing fashionable, gaining a bronze colour in 1923, making tans the fashion back in Paris.

Once an Art Deco villa, Chateau l’Horizon was owned by Maxine Elliott, one of the world’s wealthiest woman who held soirees in the summer months. However, after World War Two, it was purchased by Prince Aly Khan. At his wedding to actress, Rita Hayworth, guests drank 600 bottles of champagne and ate 500 pounds of caviar. This wedding marked the union of royalty and the ‘Hollywood’ kind, in the coming year’s this became a common site. Cary Grant and Grace Kelly come to mind! Today you’ll find a Saudi Arabian royal family, long gone are the artists and authors, and replaced with the extraordinarily wealthy and their private jets.

French Riviera History 20th Century | Bruce International

In 1946,  Cannes Film Festival was launched and in 1949 the Festival Palace was built, putting French cinema on the world map. In 1956, French film, Et Dieu… Crea la femma (now called And Woman… Was Created) was released, it was a major event and made St Tropez an international holiday destination. In the same year, Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier was televised, and watched by over 30 million people worldwide. 1960’s the Mayor of Nice build the Palais des Congres in Nice, which made the destination for international congresses and conventions, he also foundered Chagall Museum and Matisse Museum.

21st Century

As tourist attractions rose, so did high rise apartments, real estate, tourism and popularity. Today you’ll find the most expensive and luxurious villas, hotels, restaurants, yachts and boutiques, you can rub shoulders with celebrities all year round. When you buy property on the French Riveria, you can have the best of both worlds, subtropical, Mediterranean climate in the summer months and a crisp, cool winters, protected by the Alps. The Cote d’Azur is now one of the most affluent areas in Europe – you’ll be sure to find the best wines, fine dining and perfume here.

Bruce International

If you enjoy your stay so much you don’t want to come home, you don’t have to! Bruce International are a Cote d’Azur property specialist based in Roquefort-les-Pins in the South of France. We offer a range of services, including property viewings, purchase assistance and even project and event management. Whether you’re looking for a holiday home or a forever home, for further information about Bruce International and their wealth of experience in the property sector, please click here.


Historic Guide to the French Riviera

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