Looking at one of the most glamorous tourist spots in the world, Julian Hale shows how this rugged, inaccessible coastline influenced by both Italian and French cultures was transformed into a byword for luxury and hedonism.
We all have our image of the French Riviera: the azure blue of the sea and the swimming pools; the dark green of the pines and the swaying palms; the yachts and the sports cars on the Corniche roads; the hovering croupiers raking in the chips in the Monte Carlo casino. And all these are true. But there is another Riviera. Above Monaco towers a ruined reminder of Roman power, the Emperor Augustus’ Trophy of the Alps. Monuments to Napoleon and Maginot Line forts testify to turbulent times, while statues and gravestones recall the years from the belle époque to the 1930s when the British, then the Russians and Americans swept in with their money, and their weak lungs, for relaxation and rest cures. The Cote d’Azur is now French. But for centuries, until 1860, the land from Nice eastwards to Menton and the Italian border, were part of the Kingdoms of Savoy and Sardinia. Local dialects still remind us of the Ligurian past. Churches and chapels all along the coast and in the inland, hilltop villages and towns contain pictorial and architectural treasures from the Brea family during the Renaissance to Picasso and Matisse in the twentieth century. Grand hotels and villas, gardens both historic and showy (and often both), the film festival at Cannes all place the Riviera at the centre of showbusiness and artistic enterprise. If the Riviera has had its critics Somerset Maugham famously used the phrase ‘a sunny place for shady people’ it remains the epitome of glamour. Julian Hale reveals how a piece of rugged, inaccessible coastline was transformed into a byword for luxury and hedonism but always with a special beauty of its own. CONFLICT AND POWER: From Roman legions to American liberators; fortresses and bunkers; the Grimaldi dynasty and Monaco; disputed sovereignty and corruption. FOREIGNERS AND EXPATRIATES: the British ‘discovery’ of the Riviera; Russian millionaires and American bohemians; grand villas and hotels; the lure of the Casino; Riviera gardens. ARTISTS, ARCHITECTS AND WRITERS: Renoir, Chagall and Bonnard; Baroque churches and belle epoque hotels; Somerset Maugham and Cyril Connolly; Scott Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton; Chekhov and Diaghilev.
Julian Hale is a writer and broadcaster who divides his time between London and Menton.
Landscapes of the Imagination Series
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