The Cote d’Azur, until the start of the 19th Century, was quite an impoverished area and remote from the powers of the major cities in France. It was a provincial backwater, known mostly for fishing and agriculture in particular olive groves.
But that was soon to change as the whole coast was to become a fashionable resort for the rich British upper classes in the latter parts of the 18th Century. Tobias Smollett was a famous British writer and traveler who was the first celebrity to visit Nice in 1763.
Back then, Nice was still an Italian city and was part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Smollet wrote a journal called Travels through France and Italy which he wrote in 1765. The book alerted the British upper classes to the benefits of the Cote d’Azur and its warm winter climate.
The British Upper Classes
Around the same time of Smollet’s visit, a Scottish Doctor John Brown was prescribing climato-therapy which advocated that a change in the climate was good for a person. He went even further by saying that the warmer climate of the Cote d’Azur could alleviate the symptoms of consumption which was the name for tuberculosis at the time. In fact, a French historian named Paul Gonnet commented on Nice during this period, saying that it was a colony of pale and listless English women and listless sons of nobility near death.
Many famous people were starting to discover the Cote d’Azur during this period and it was becoming very fashionable for the upper classes of Britain to spend long periods of the winter enjoying life on the French Riviera. The famous book by Robert Louis Stevenson, A Child’s Garden of Verses was entirely written during a stay at Hyeres.
The Coming of the Railway
A momentous occasion came in 1864 when the railway was completed that linked the Cote d’Azur to people living all over Europe. And in 1865, over one hundred thousand visitors descended on the area, some from Britain decided to stay and a foreign enclave sprang up. It was not long before entrepreneurs saw the potential in the region and started to promote the Cote d’Azur as a tourist destination. Many of the upper classes loved to gamble but this activity was banned at the time in France. To combat this, the Prince of Monaco constructed a casino and the rest of the story is history as it became one of the most fashionable gambling places in the world.
The French Riviera also became associated with royalty from all over Europe. And the private royal trains of Alexander II, Leopold II and Napoleon started to arrive and bought the attention of kings and queens all over Europe to this new chic holiday destination.
The French Riviera today still attracts the rich and the famous, but instead of trains arriving many celebrities arrive in luxury yachts that adorn the harbors of the coast. And although many tourists arrive by budget airline, places such as Nice, Cannes, Antibes, and Eze still keep their aloof charm which dates back hundreds of years.