A deserted pine forest. The shadows of the branches on the light sand. A sea so clear it looks painted. A beautiful and terribly French man and woman – she wears a red dress and sways, humming like an out-of-tune child, he woos her, disguising his feelings under that grand viveur air.
The scene ends with a panorama from the maritime pines to the azure blue sky-an unspecified place that seems more dream than reality.
This scene from Pierrot Le Fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965) is enough to sink us into the seductive and melancholy atmosphere that is the French Riviera of the 1960s, with its straw hats and white summer residences surrounded by palm groves.
An imagery that we all have well in mind and that some, many, dream of experiencing on their own skin, at least for a while.
But French riviera fever was born well before that magical decade.
In 1834, English politician Henry Peter Brougham happened to find himself “forced” to Cannes, a resort he appreciated to the point of buying a villa, launching the fashion for winter vacations on the French Riviera. Twenty years later, with the advent of the railroad, the French coastline is overrun with English tourists.
However, it was the Americans, a few years later, who turned it into a summer destination. Adding to the seasoning is Coco Chanel, dictating the fashion for beachwear and tanned skin. Ça va sans dire that the area’s prestige was further consolidated with the founding of the Cannes Film Festival in 1946.
A guide to the bien vivre of the magical Corniche.
If there were a synonym for vacation, understood as a momentary but absolute detachment from daily life, Côte d’Azur could be that synonym. We are on a stretch of coastline that stretches from the Italian border to Saint-Tropez for some and Cassis for others, where the magical Parc des Calanques begins.
One of Europe’s most beloved shorelines, for that inexplicable French spell that seems to creep into everything from a slice of bread sprinkled with butter to a sailor-striped T-shirt, via the blue sails of a boat or the faded shutters of a house overlooking the sea.
It is a breeze that blows a flavor of magic everywhere: in short, if Paris is the quintessential French city, the French Riviera is its perfect maritime counterpart.
And if nature gives its best here, the hand of man has been able to harmonize with it, creating as many corners of paradise. From the celebrated Cannes, where beyond theAllée des étoiles de cinéma, Le Suquet still offers authentic glimpses of city life, to lively Nice, with its old quarter, a perennial den of night owls, via gentle Antibes overlooking the sea or fragrant Grasse, with its maze of streets among stores and flowered windowsills.
No wonder the impressionist painters here went into a swoon. The vivid colors of this land are immortalized in oil painting by Matisse in Vence, Picasso in Antibes, Chagall in Saint Paul de Vence and Renoir in Cagnes-sur-mer.
Therefore, there is no shortage of gracious museums and art galleries to compensate for lazing around with a good dose of cultural activity.
I will sleep when I am dead
If the French Riviera is so buoyant that we think things like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” its accommodations stimulate calm, relaxation and sleep. And you really are spoiled for choice for a très français stay by the water, between the sea and spas.
In the western hinterland, an equal distance between sea and mountains, theHotel du Castellet can be summed up as a gentle mix of luxury, silence and freedom. Refined rooms overlooking the park, where an impeccable golf course stands out. Wellness here reaches its peak in the spa, with a full sensory journey from hammam to salt cave.
In the hills of Gassin, just a stone’s throw from Saint Tropez, Villa Belrose is a riot of majesty, which is easy to coordinate with one of the many beauty treatments offered by the hotel’s spa. “Villa” as a former aristocratic residence, dominating the surroundings and offering guests a privileged view of the bay of Saint-Tropez. A dream culminating in the dishes of a chef from our home.
For those who want sea and nightlife at their fingertips, however, theHotel de Paris offers a restaurant and pool overlooking the red tiles of the toits tropéziens, and an immaculate spa by Clarins, a pioneer of beauty that passes through plants.
Nestled between the Citadelle and Place des Lices, when it opened in ’67, theHotel Byblos hosted none other than the much-celebrated Brigitte Bardot. A private beach, with exclusively eco-friendly facilities inspired by the marine world, and a hotel in which getting lost is the best way to unearth the various ceramic artworks scattered throughout, of which the spa is certainly not exempt.
Just a few meters from the baie de Canebiers,Hotel Sezz is a true oasis for design lovers, with a focus on eco-sustainability. In his French-style spa, all treatments dispensed follow the famous 42-movement modeling massage.
A sanctuary consecrated to relaxation is the best way to define Cheval Blanc, with its tropézien-style rooms and direct access to the white Bouillabaisse beach.
Moving on to glittering Cannes, the historic Hotel Martinez is the must-see for those passing by the Croisette. Rooms that mix art deco with contemporary design, with unparalleled views of the golfe de la Napoule. The climb to paradise ends on the seventh floor, where the SPA looks like seductively a high-altitude retreat.
Facing the Vieux Port, suites at the mighty Radisson Blu almost all enjoy views as far as the Lérins Islands, while the spa takes full advantage of the powers of seaweed and sea salt.
And for those seeking just a few hours of relaxation, Les Issambres is a thalassotherapy center with a heated seawater pool worthy of an authentic Hungarian spa.
From old farmhouse to five-star hotel with ethereal atmosphere. North of the film capital, among the hills of Mougins, Le Mas Candille is an oasis of peace among cypress, pine and olive groves.
Divided among three facilities each enhancing its own côté historique, among jacuzzis and pools there is no shortage of water pleasures-and a spa equipped with a range of treatments by ESPA.
Moving toward the parts of Nice, in lovely Vence, theHotel Cantemerle, as the name implies, is an Eden in which to listen to birdsong. In fact, the facility is located in the heart of a 100-year-old pine forest, far from the hustle and bustle of the city. A true bucolic interlude, with a lovely spa, small but of quality-all in perfect Provençal style.
The moon rises with you
If not for anything particularly picturesque, it could have passed for any seaside village populated by fishermen. As chance would have it, a Parisian womanizer named Roger Vadim fell in love with the little village overlooking the sea and made it the setting for a film destined to go down in film history. It was 1956 when Et Dieu créa la femme (in Italian Piace a troppi) made Saint-Tropez the most fashionable seaside resort on the French Riviera, and perhaps in all of France.
And with her, the shameless young Brigitte Bardot becomes the universally desired BB, infusing her sensuality into every corner of the town-women want to be her, men want her, and everyone, universally, wants to go to Saint Tropez.
Two years ago, on the occasion of her 83rd birthday, BB saw herself immortalized à jamais with a bronze statue placed in Place Banqui.
Since then, Saint-Tropez seems to be home to yachts parked by the dozens in the marina and foreign tourists who invade Pampelonne beach chasing the French dream with a pair of sandals à la tropezienne on their feet and a dripping ice cream paid in gold in their hands.
Yet, a more authentic Saint Tropez still exists. He hides in the morning walks in the vieux port. In the cafés of Senequier, beloved by the writer Colette. In the narrow streets of La Ponche, the old fishing district. In light houses dotted with faded green shutters. In the maritime pines in the background, outlined by the perennial blue of the sky.
In the elderly playing pétanque in the shade of the plane trees in the multi-colored Place des Lices.
Although, after all, lying in the sun in bikinis, we all feel a little BB.