It seems appropriate that I should write about our American friends on the Riviera in the run-up to their National Day. Well, not literally our personal US friends, but the legacy and influence of Americans on the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur) over the years.
We have the Americans to thank for creating the summer scene on the Côte d’Azur. Until the 1920s it was only fashionable to spend time here during the winter. The British put the French Riviera on the map in the Victorian era by promenading along the seafront between October and April but the Americans made it fun. Led by Cole Porter, they revolutionised the region by showing that the best time to visit was summer. They invented water skiing in Juan les Pins and actually spent time on the beaches, wearing scandalously little clothing which would have been unthinkable only years before.
There are plenty of places you can visit to follow in the footsteps of these pioneering Americans. Here are just a few:
Americans on The French Riviera: The Cap d’Antibes and Juan les Pins
Cole and Linda Porter stayed in the Château de la Garoupe above the beach of the same name on the Cap d’Antibes in 1921-22 inviting many friends to stay, including Gerald and Sara Murphy. The Murphys came back the following year and stayed in the Hotel du Cap, which is the setting for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. The Fitzgeralds themselves lived in what is now the Hotel Belles-Rives In Juan les Pins.
Americans on The French Riviera: Promenade des Anglais, Nice
Despite being invented by the British, the Prom has American history too. It was here, in 1927, that the dancer Isadora Duncan tragically died when her scarf got caught in the spokes of a back wheel in the car she was in, breaking her neck.
Another American, the writer Louisa May Alcott, stayed in Nice from 1865-1866 and described the Promenade des Anglais in Little Women (chapter 37). The orange orchards may have gone but the rest of her description could have been written about today :
At three o’clock in the afternoon, all the fashionable world
at Nice may be seen on the Promenade des Anglais–a charming place,
for the wide walk, bordered with palms, flowers, and tropical shrubs,
is bounded on one side by the sea, on the other by the grand drive,
lined with hotels and villas, while beyond lie orange orchards and
The building of the fabulous Art Deco Palais de la Méditerranée on the Prom (on the right in the above photo) was financed by philanthropist Frank Jay Gould in 1928. It was the biggest American investment on the Riviera at the time costing the equivalent of $54 million in today’s money. Gould also built the Provençal in Juan les Pins which sadly has had a chequered recent history, being an unfinished renovation site for as long as I’ve lived in the area (12 years), and longer. (As a little aside, it was in fact the reason we moved to the Côte d’Azur as JF was transferred from his Paris office to work on this particular project).
Further back in history, Thomas Jefferson stayed in the Old Town of Nice in 1787 when it was part of Piedmont, eighty-odd years before it became part of France. He came to study rice cultivation and commented “the wine of Nice is remarkably good. You may pass many days here very agreeably. It is in fact an English Colony”.
Americans on the French Riviera: Monaco
I can’t talk about Americans on the Riviera without mentioning Monaco. America has produced two princesses within Europe’s longest reigning monarchy. Alice, Duchess of Richelieu, was born Alice Heine in New Orleans. She married Prince Albert in 1889 and helped make Monaco an important cultural centre. But most famously of all, the beautiful film star Grace Kelly from Philadelphia married Prince Rainier in 1956. The publicity this brought to the tiny sovereign state was priceless and it transformed its tourist industry putting Monte Carlo firmly on the world stage of glamour.
For all my American friends and readers, Happy 4th of July! I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about some of your fellow citizens who’ve helped make the Riviera the great place it is today.
A walking tour of Monaco in pink!
Coast walk – the Cap d’Antibes
PIN this for later
Photo credits: Photo of the Palais de la Méditerranée from Wikimedia Commons Photo of Monaco from Pixabay
This post is an updated and revised version of one originally published in July 2013.
I’ve visited the French Riviera twice and didn’t know a lot of this stuff! Great post!
I wonder what Thomas Jefferson wold think of The Riviera if he were to come back now!! #AllAboutFrance
I just love how an area changes culturally thanks to the movement of people. Long may it continue #AllAboutFrance
This is such an interesting post. It’s great to see how people have impacted certain areas
I thank the Americans for bringing the fun!
What great insight into how tourism has impacted the South of France. It sounds like the Americans did a much better job of promoting it than the Brits 🙂 #ALLABOUTFRANCE
The Brits just walked, the Americans brought jazz, swimming, water skiing and fun! Definitely more appealing.
I love the description by Louisa May Alcott of the Promenade Des Anglais… As you say little has changed in many respects…. #allaboutfrance
It’s lovely isn’t it?
What a fascinating insight – I had no idea about all the American connections. I remember my mum telling me the story of Isadora Duncan: put me off wearing scarves for a while! I didn’t know about Louise May Alcott’s link to the area either – I need to read the book and not just watch the film. #allaboutfrance
I can imagine it put you off scarves. I didn’t know about it till I researched this post.
I really must visit the French Riviera one day! Still have yet to explore that part of France! I was offered a job in Antibes 30 years ago but chose Lake Geneva and the Alps instead. Hopefully won’t be another 30 years before I get there!
Oh I hope you get here before 30 years Tracy. I wonder how your life would have panned out if you’d taken that job? Sliding doors….
I enjoyed reading this post and learning about this great place. Must be a superb place to visit.
It’s really is a fabulous place to visit Delia, so much to do.
I went to France way back in 1981! I can well remember my time in Monaco and the beautiful beach. Thanks for the trip down memory lane 🙂
Delighted to have taken you down memory lane Tamsin. I imagine Monaco has changed enormously since 1981, it never seems to stop building on reclaimed land. But it’s still a spectacular place. You should come back for a visit!
Great post I live learning the history of places and the American influence on the French Rivera is really cool to learn about.
I’m glad you enjoyed it Akilah ?
I don’t know much about this area, but I enjoyed learning a little more. It would be fascinating to live in such a beautiful place.
It is a great place to live! Thanks for taking the time to comment Tracie, I appreciate it.
Another very interesting and informative blog. Thanks phoebe.
Thanks for your kind words Richard
It took me a while to get your site to load, but it’s fine now, five mins later. I love the pictures of the Riviera. I enjoyed learning about all the people who contributed to the way it is today.
Hi francene, sorry my site took a while to load, but thanks for persevering! I appreciate it.
I wonder, is the French Riviera this Riviera in your post too? I am not quite familiar with this part of the world but I have heard of course of the Riviera in my readings, in the movies and in watching TV. I know it’s a famous vacation spot in Europe. The pictures are beautiful. Do they have fireworks there for the 4th of July too?
Hi Judith, yes, I live on the French Riviera (also known as the Côte d’Azur) and blog about it’s wonderfulness as well as other aspects of France and French culture (and expat life, children and many other things!) We don’t have fireworks on the 4th of July but we do on the 14th which is France’s National Day. Thanks for commenting