Published on 26/10/17 in Reading
The Côte d'Azur!
As a child it was my dream and when I grew up, I had the opportunity to get to know it. Cap Martin, Cap Ferrat, Cap d' Antibes: these three peninsulas leaning towards the sea, comprise one of the most beautiful landscapes of the Mediterranean. They are dotted with exotic gardens and villas and marked by the legendary stories of the eccentric travellers who have visited them. I refer, for example, to two elderly empresses who used to walk among the flower beds at the Grand Hotel of Cap Martin at the end of the nineteenth century: Elizabeth of Austria, the tireless traveller, with her slender figure and of a melancholic nature, and Eugénie, widow of Napoleon III. At one time they had competed in beauty, but now they exchanged confidences about the past which was obviously not confined to politics. What bound them was the mild winter on the Riviera.
On the third peninsula, Cap d'Antibes, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived their fragile happiness, consuming alcohol in quantity. Scott wrote "Tender Is the Night", admiring the sea through the open window looking towards the gulf. Zelda, prey to intoxication and illuminated by the light of the moon, called to invite him to dive with her from the ten-meter-high cliffs. The leap into the void, already dangerous in the daytime, in the evening was tantamount to suicide.
In the centre is Cap Ferrat, the chicest place in the Mediterranean. The most beautiful villas in the world are located here, hiding dreamy gardens that still share a discreet tone because the display of wealth is considered in bad taste. This is the fiefdom of a handful of millionaires who live in superb isolation, it is the Switzerland of the French Riviera. Here we leave behind the movie stars that line up on the Croisette in Cannes, as well as close-by Monte Carlo, considered to be the symbol of ostentation. If there is a place in the world where discretion, tranquillity and beauty come together in exquisite elegance, I'd say this is it. Everything here is in the right place, honed to perfection, however, the substance is not missing, as it is the element that combines ease with charm. Here we see the glistening rocks, the classic Mediterranean pine trees, palm trees and sidewalks decorated with flowerbeds, the duty of an army of gardeners who take care not to let the petals wilt.
Towering over is the flagship of the peninsula, the pink villa of Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, which I never fail to visit when I visit the French Riviera. The baroness - patron of the art, as well as a refined collector, was also quite hard to please, so during the five years that it took her to build the villa, she changed twelve architects! I believe she knew exactly what she wanted since she was very eccentric, and she wanted the gardens to resemble the prow of a ship (to the left and right there is the sea), and she ordered her gardeners to wear a blue cap with a red pompom.
As a true worshiper of the eighteenth century, she received her guests dressed as Marie Antoinette and I wonder if she greeted her neighbour, Théodore Reinach, owner of the Villa Kerylos in Beaulieu, in that way. He was an archaeologist who worshipped the ancient Greeks and received his guests wearing a toga. It was an extraordinary époque. I am referring to the early twentieth century when the French Riviera, with no defined aesthetic, embraced the most diverse architectural styles: the neo-Gothic, Italian Renaissance and the Belle Époque, the Venetian, the Arab-Hispanic, but also the typical Russian dacha, since the subjects of the Tsar were accustomed to spending the winter on the Riviera to enjoy the charm of the climate.
The Côte d'Azur continues to be a legendary place. Its legend, however, has not been created by a great history, but by the stories of those early, eccentric fans who fell in love with nature, the sea and the sun of this area transforming the steep cliffs into small earthly paradises overlooking a magnificent view. These early lovers of the Riviera were the ones to make it what it is still today: one of the most beautiful holiday destinations in the world.
Images: The Villa Euphrussi Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France
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