The Riviera, a story

9 June 2021

The French Riviera has been the dream of the world for decades. When we go back to the origins of the region as we know it today and of all that has created its attractiveness, our first thought goes inevitably to the British aristocracy who was one of the first in Europe to make this region its favorite vacation spot.

It was Napoleon who decided in 1806 to create a road linking France to Italy along the seaside. This new convenience of access associated with the mild climate would explode the attractiveness of the region. Nice experienced an important boom at the beginning of the 19th century. The city soon became synonym of luxury, pleasures and continuous celebrations. And by dint of seeing the English elites coming and going along the seaside, we even gave the name to this stretch of road.
The Promenade des Anglais was born.

In the 1830s, Cannes and Monaco followed the same boom, then Menton in 1870 when the railway arrived in Nice. The architecture evolved, the small colored houses on two or three floors gradually gave way to the big luxury hotels, to these palaces which aligned themselves in the city center then very quickly on the seaside. The Regina was inaugurated in Cimiez in 1898. It will soon be followed by what today constitutes one of the most beautiful real estate and architectural heritage of the Côte d'Azur: the Negresco, the Westminster, the Carlton in Cannes, the Eden Roc in Antibes, the Grand Hotel in Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat, the Hôtel de Paris and the Hermitage in Monte-Carlo.

But talking about the origins of the Riviera cannot be done without mentioning its Russian roots. One would think that the Russian elites discovered the Riviera at the end of the USSR, which is entirely false. From the middle of the 19th century and the death of Tsar Nicolas I, his widow Alexandra Fedoronova moved to the French Riviera, officially for health reasons. Russia was actually looking for access to warm seas and planned to buy the bay of Villefranche and then lease it to the King of Sardinia who owned ... the county of Nice!

Many Russian oligarchs followed the former Tsarina and bought expensive properties on the Riviera. The handover of Nice to France in 1860 did not dampen the Russian enthusiasm for the Riviera, quite the contrary. On the eve of the First World War, 600 of the region's finest properties belonged to Russian families. And to convince yourself of the influence of the Russian community on the Côte d'Azur in its turn of the century years, all you have to do is visit the magnificent Orthodox Cathedral of Nice, inaugurated in 1914. The First World War and the crisis of 1929 put a brake on this movement. And the Riviera had to wait until the 1990s to see Russian tourism worthy of the name on its lands again.

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