Drink at F. Scott Fitzgerald’s favorite bars and play on his favorite sands during a visit to Europe’s most glamorous destination
n the 1920s, newly married F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald called the French Riviera their second home. They rented villas along the Cap d’Antibes, sunbathing on private beaches by day and hosting lavish fetes by night. One of the places where they stayed, the Villa Saint-Louis, in the glittering town of Juan-les-Pins, just 20 minutes from Cannes, is where F. Scott Fitzgerald penned Tender Is the Night and where he and Zelda partied with the couple who reportedly inspired the book’s famous characters Nicole and Dick Diver. Today, this house—the site of the Ralph Lauren Purple Label Spring 2014 collection campaign shoot—is called L’Hôtel Belles Rives.
Transformed into a hotel in 1929, the Villa Saint-Louis’ Jazz Age spirit remains, transporting modern-day guests of L’Hôtel Belles Rives back to the golden age of the French Riviera. But, really, the Riviera’s golden age has had no end. Its glistening sea, powder-soft white sand and bright blue umbrellas drew rich, famous, bright young things way back when and continue to do so today. But it’s not only a hedonistic playground; thinkers and creative types are at the heart of the Riviera. Artists, performers and authors, from Pablo Picasso to Cole Porter to Ernest Hemingway through the present day’s barrage of stars and auteurs who take part in the annual Cannes International Film Festival, have long flocked to the region. And in his day, Fitzgerald was one of their greatest chroniclers.
“Noon dominated sea and sky—even the white lines of Cannes, five miles off, had faded to a mirage of what was fresh and cool…. It seemed that there was no life anywhere in all this expanse of coast except under the filtered sunlight of those umbrellas….”
—Tender Is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A stay at L’Hôtel Belles Rives is a step back into Fitzgerald’s world. It still has the private beach and laissez-faire glamour that it had then. The property’s décor, in keeping with the original Art Deco atmosphere, is replete with nautical stripes and marble accents, though modern amenities like Wi-Fi and flat-screen televisions keep the place current. Request a room with a view of the sea and you’ll see how the hotel so inspired the author’s writing. Stop for a drink at the Piano-Bar Fitzgerald—a member of the prestigious Cafés Historiques et Patrimoniaux d’Europe, which honors historic cafés and their places in European culture—where an old-world club vibe beckons you to stay for a while. Or linger on the terrace of La Passagère restaurant, which offers such classic French fare as foie gras and seasonal delicacies, such as freshly caught sea scallops, and take in the sweeping panoramic views.
f course, the Fitzgeralds were inspired not only by their perch in Juan-les-Pins; they also were fond of Monte Carlo’s opulent Hôtel de Paris. But it is another of the couple’s favorites, the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, that takes the grand prize for its well-heeled clientele, which has included Hemingway, socialites Gerald and Sara Murphy (the inspiration for the aforementioned Divers), actresses Elizabeth Taylor and Marlene Dietrich and artist Marc Chagall—the list goes on. Chagall, in fact, was such a fixture on the Riviera that there is a national museum dedicated to him in Nice that’s well worth a drive.
This rich and roaring history stretches all along the Côte d’Azur. The Hôtel de Ville, or town hall, in Menton, about an hour from Cap d’Antibes, showcases the work of painter Jean Cocteau in its Marriage Hall, which is now where civil marriage ceremonies are performed. Just outside the inland town of Vence, you’ll find La Chapelle du Rosaire (the Rosary Chapel), a beautiful if simple space designed entirely by artist Henri Matisse (he relocated to Nice in 1917).
La Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence, France, was designed entirely by Henri Matisse, who lived in nearby Nice for many years
But there’s more to do on the Côte d’Azur than follow in the footsteps of the greats of art and literature. Today’s jet set can be found lazing on the sands of Paloma Beach, on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and the legendary Plage de Tahiti, near Saint-Tropez. Spend a day spending euros on Cannes’ high-end oceanfront shopping thoroughfare, Boulevard de la Croisette. Dine at perennial favorite L’Affable, then take your nightcap with a spectacular view at Le 360, a bar on the roof of the Radisson Blu 1835 Hotel & Thalasso, in Cannes.
Modern décor and an outstanding view make Le 360, the rooftop bar at the Radisson Blu 1835 Hotel & Thalasso, the perfect spot for a nightcap in Cannes, France
You should make one last stop in the idyllic town of Grasse before you head home. The drive into town is itself a heady thrill, with scents of lavender and jasmine blowing in from nearby fields and offering clues of what lies ahead. Grasse’s streets are lined with quaint shops and cafés, and right in the city’s center, you’ll find its gem: Parfumerie Fragonard, a more than 200-year-old perfumery that offers fascinating tours.
F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife were not the first couple to “discover” the French Riviera, and they certainly won’t be the last. But Fitzgerald’s novels lent the region a magic and a mystery that have never been contested. The Riviera’s formula is simple: sun, sand and sea mixed with luxury and insouciance that anyone—jazz musicians, socialites and regular tourists—can enjoy. Fitzgerald’s scenes in Tender Is the Night did not stray far from reality. Read those words and you can picture the region’s glittering landscape. But, of course, nothing beats actually seeing it and soaking up the inspiration yourself.
A WEEKEND ON THE FRENCH RIVIERA
Where to Stay
Hotel: L’Hôtel Belles Rives
Why: Its beautiful Art Deco atmosphere has been preserved, so you can experience all the glamour that inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Learn More: bellesrives.com/en/index.html
Hotel: L’Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc
Where: Cap d’Antibes
Why: A celebrity magnet for nearly a century, this sanctuary on the coast, between Cannes and Nice, boasts luxurious amenities that are second to none.
Learn More: hotel-du-cap-eden-roc.com/fr/bienvenue/
Where to Eat & Drink
Why: Tucked away on a small side street off Rue d’Antibes, this elegant restaurant serves seriously good cuisine in a modern setting.
Learn More: restaurant-laffable.fr
Restaurant: Les Pêcheurs
Why: A Michelin-starred chef, coastal cuisine and impeccable service make this restaurant a go-to for special occasions.
Learn More: ca-beachhotel.com/uk/les-pecheurs.php
Restaurant: Colette, at Hotel Sezz Saint-Tropez
Why: Located in a grove of olive and palm trees behind Hotel Sezz, Colette serves meals in a setting as laid-back as it is luxurious.
Learn More: saint-tropez.hotelsezz.com/en/
Bar: Piano-Bar Fitzgerald, at L’Hôtel Belles Rives
Why: Named for its most famous patron, this bar remains a perfect time capsule of Roaring Twenties joie de vivre.
Learn More: bellesrives.com/fr/piano-bar-fitzgerald-10.html
Bar: Le 360, at the Radisson Blu 1835 Hotel & Thalasso
Why: With, yes, 360-degree views of the bay, historic downtown Cannes and the nearby Esterel hills, this bar is well worth the trip.
Learn More: radissonblu.com/hotel-cannes/dining
For guests at the Hotel Sezz Saint-Tropez, alfresco dining and evening entertainment at resident restaurant Collette are de rigueur
...Experience Great Art
La Chappelle du Rosaire
Why: This tiny chapel was designed by artist and longtime Riviera resident Henri Matisse.
Learn More: vence.fr/la-chapelle-du-rosaire-chef-d?lang=fr
Musée National Marc Chagall
Why: In addition to a sizeable collection of works by Marc Chagall—much of which was amassed with the artist’s guidance—this contemporary structure also regularly houses temporary exhibits.
Learn More: http://www.musees-nationaux-alpesmaritimes.fr/chagall/
The Marriage Hall, at the Hôtel de Ville
Why: More than just a gallery of Jean Cocteau’s work, the hotel’s most famous salon also performs civil marriage ceremonies.
Learn More: menton.fr/-Menton-ville-Jean-Cocteau-
...Find a New Scent
Why: A museum and guided tour of this storied perfumery’s factory will teach you everything you need to know about the craft of creating fragrances.
Learn More: fragonard.com/
- Courtesy of L’Hôtel Belles Rives
- All images courtesy of L’Hôtel Belles Rives
- Photograph by Stuart Black; courtesy of Robert Harding World Images/Corbis
- Courtesy of Gamma Rapho via Getty Images
- Photograph by Michel Baret; courtesy of Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
- Courtesy of Le 360
- Courtesy of Collette, at Hotel Sezz Saint-Tropez