French Riviera
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The Fabulous French Riviera Nice and Eze Monaco Fast Lane Grace Kelly Cote d'Azur

The Fabulous French Riviera

Story written by Rick Archer
April 2011

Our 2009 Barcelona Cruise group descended on the French Riviera on our fifth day of the trip.

The French call this sun-kissed area on their southern border Le Cote D'Azur  which translates into "The Blue Coast".

The French Riviera really does have it all.  The tropical climate keeps the area warm year round, but the breezes coming in off the Mediterranean keep the area cool as well. 

It doesn't rain very much, but there is an abundance of fresh water thanks to all the rivers from mid-France that empty into the Mediterranean Sea.

For natural beauty, there are the blues skies, beaches, blue waters and the rugged rolling foothills from the French Alps that line the coast.

For man-made beauty, there are the ubiquitous yachts and luxury boats, the magnificent mansions resting atop tall hills along the coast, plus the expensive casinos.

The French Riviera is called home by supermodels and billionaires, actresses and superstar athletes.  Many of the people we gawk at in People Magazine come to this place to relax and be seen. 

For the lucky guys who pay attention, they just might get a glimpse of some of the most stunningly attractive women in the world. 

The French Riviera is said to be home to "The Beautiful People".  That may be true, but I didn't see any of these types during my day long visit to Nice, Eze, and Monaco

Too bad!  I cannot begin to tell you how disappointed I was.  Trust me, I had my camera charged and ready just in case some stunning beauty or important celebrity crossed my path.

Alas, it was not meant to be.  If I were to guess, over the years the Beautiful People have learned how to hide from cruise riffraff and tourists like me that dot their shores on a daily basis.

The complete coastline of southern France stretches 300 miles from the Spanish border to the Italian border.  However, the Riviera occupies only perhaps a quarter of the easternmost coastline.

The French Riviera consists of a dozen or so cities and towns that dot the 70 mile coastline stretching from Hyeres at the most southern point up to Monaco and Menton near the Italian border.

Although Monaco is probably the most famous destination along the Riviera, Nice is the largest city with close to a half million inhabitants.

This coastline was one of the first modern resort areas.  It began as a winter health resort for the British upper class at the end of the 18th century, but it was very hard to get to.

With the arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century, the Riviera became the playground and vacation spot of British, Russian, and other aristocrats, such as Queen Victoria and King Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales.   In the summer, the Riviera played home to many members of the Rothschild family.

Besides the Rich and the Royals, the French Riviera became the "In-Destination" for some of the world's most famous artists and writers.

In the first half of the 20th century it was frequented by artists and writers, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Edith Wharton, Somerset Maugham and Aldous Huxley, as well as wealthy Americans and Europeans.

After World War II, the Riviera became a popular tourist destination.  It was also a place where the Rich and Famous purchased weekend getaway homes.  Today many celebrities have second homes in the region. 

And what homes they are!  As our bus drove through the area, I saw impressive luxury homes carved right into the mountainside that left me shaking with envy.

The Riviera is very cruel in this way.  Wherever you turn, you are bound to see something you wished you could call your own... mansions, yachts, trophy wives, rich husbands, expensive cars, you name it. 

The French Riviera is where the Beautiful People go for lavish parties and destination weddings. 

The Riviera is home to 300 days of sunshine per year.  Since it never rains without permission in this part of the world, people can plan spectacular outdoor parties with little worry.  Their guests can dance and mingle under the stars till the wee hours of the morning. 

It must be nice. 

Monaco, of course, is famous for Grace Kelly and Gambling.  Who can forget screen images of Sean Connery as James Bond and Cary Grant holding their own at the gaming tables?

The two events that turned the Riviera into the paradise of wealth that it is today was the coming of the gambling in 1856 followed by the completion of the first major railway in 1864. 

In the mid-19th century British and French entrepreneurs began to see the potential of promoting tourism along the Côte d'Azur.

At the time, gambling was illegal in France and Italy. In 1856, the Prince of Monaco, Charles III, began constructing a casino in Monaco, which was called a health spa to avoid criticism by the church.  Unfortunately, thanks in part to the inability to promote the casino for what it really was, the first casino was a failure. 

However, in 1863 the Prince signed an agreement with François Blanc, a French businessman who operated a successful casino at Baden-Baden (southwest Germany), to build a resort and new casino. Blanc arranged for steamships and carriages to take visitors from Nice to Monaco, and built hotels, gardens and a casino in a place called 'Spélugues'. However, most people have never heard of that name for a good reason.  At the suggestion of his mother, Princess Caroline, Charles III renamed the place 'Monte Carlo' after himself.

At first, this new casino was only moderately successful.  It was the completion of the railway that turned the corner.  Finally the continent had easy access to an area that had previously been very difficult to reach.  This railway quickly turned the Monte Carlo resort into the major European attraction it is today.

Once the railway reached Monte Carlo, many thousands of visitors began to arrive and the population of the principality of Monaco doubled.  The French Riviera quickly became a popular destination for European royalty and rich.

Just days after the railway reached Nice in 1864, Tsar Alexander II of Russia visited on a private train, followed soon afterwards by Napoleon III and then Leopold II, the King of the Belgians.

Stunning by the natural beauty, the party was on!

Wherever you go along the French Riviera, you are bound to run across another yacht marina.  Marinas are everywhere for the simple reason that anyone who is wealthy enough to own a home on the Riviera is also wealthy enough to own a yacht or an expensive sailboat.

Sailing the Mediterranean is a major part of the Riviera lifestyle.  Do you have a party to attend in Rome?  Chances are it is faster to sail there than to drive.  Take some guests along for fun.

Is there a wild party on the island of Ibiza near the coast of Spain?  What better way to participate than to get in your yacht and sail over?

Each year the Riviera hosts 50% of the world's super-yacht fleet.  At some point, 90% of the world's super yachts will visit this region at least once in their lifetime.  After all, what better place to compare their floating palaces?

One of the most glamorous Riviera activities is the yearly Monaco Grand Prix.  This is a Formula One race held right in the middle of Monaco.  Powerful roaring race cars jet through the city streets of Monaco at death-defying speeds cheered on by huge crowds.

Held since 1929, it is widely considered to be one of the most important and prestigious automobile races in the world. It joins the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans to form the Triple Crown of Motorsport.  The twisting, winding circuit has been called "an exceptional display of daring and prestige."

Another famous and glamorous Riviera activity is the Cannes Film Festival.  Founded in 1946, this is one of the world's most prestigious film festivals.   It was at Cannes that Prince Rainier first met his future wife Grace Kelly.

The Cannes Film Festival is so exclusive that it requires an invitation to attend.  This private festival is  attended by many movie stars and receives massive media exposure.  People are so star-struck that they sometimes forget there is business going on here.  The film festival is a popular venue for film producers to launch their new films and attempt to sell their works to the distributors who come from all over the globe.

Trophy homes, trophy yachts, trophy women.   Celebrities, moguls, royalty, mega rich.  Perhaps no other spot on Earth sees a more conspicuous year-round accumulation of wealth concentrated in one location.

For the people with their champagne wishes and caviar dreams, the French Riviera is the true international playground of the rich and famous.

 Post-Trip 1: French Riviera Read Next: Post-Trip 2: Nice and Eze  Post-Trip 3: Monaco
Pre-Trip: History of the French Riviera  Pre-Trip: Grace Kelly Pre-Trip: Stories about the French Riviera


Barcelona 2009 Home Barcelona Day One Barcelona Day Two Isle of Capri Day Three Evil Map of Rome Day Four
Florence and Pisa Day Five Nice and Eze Day Six Marseilles Day Seven Who Went Formal Pictures
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The Fabulous French Riviera Nice and Eze Monaco Fast Lane Grace Kelly Cote d'Azur
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