Who invented the French Riviera?


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Then he ran away from the heat. In summer the Atlantic was sought in Trouville or Biarritz. The coast between Cannes and the Italian border languished until, in autumn, the English arrived.

Throughout the nineteenth century the British idle class fled south when the rigors of the weather worsened. The activism of Dr. James Henry Bennett extolled the therapeutic benefits of the French Mediterranean during the winter months.

From 1869 the rail connection with Paris favored access to the area. Queen Victoria became a regular of the seasonal exodus and, between 1882 and 1899, took a donkey ride with her Indian assistant Abdul Karim, the Munshi, along the roads of Menton. He established his headquarters at the Excelsior Regina Hotel in Nice, where he spoke with his cousin Leopold II of Belgium and actress Sarah Bernhardt.

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Queen Victoria was also a regular of the seasonal exodus © Alamy

But health was just an excuse. A scandal or, simply, boredom were enough reasons to settle in a hotel overlooking the sea or get a coastal town.

Hippolyte de Villemessant, founder of the newspaper Le Figaro, built in 1869 Villa Soleil in Antibes to house writers seeking inspiration. Twenty years later, the property became the Hôtel du Cap which, as usual, closed its doors in May.

So it was until, in 1923, the Murphy arrived. The comfortable fortune of American marriage financed a dilettante life. Gerald was an esthete who began in avant-garde painting during his stay in Paris with Natalia Goncharova.

Sara, heterodox, cheerful and intellectually restless, soon became popular in the artistic circles of the city. On the occasion of the premiere of the ballet Les Noces, Stravinsky, the Murphy held a party on a barge on the Seine that lasted until dawn.

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La Garoupe, the beach that conquered them © Alamy

Cole Porter, Gerald's partner at Yale, had told them about the benefits of Antibes. They arrived there in spring, when the Hôtel du Cap was about to end the season. But the Murphy were fascinated by the Eden-Roc pavilion, which had been built in 1914 on a promontory above the sea, and convinced the director to rent the hotel during the summer.

Why not discover the skin? Why not immerse yourself in warm water? Once cleared of fishing equipment and seaweed, the beach of La Garoupe became its daytime park.

They soon reformed the neighboring Villa America where, together with Pablo Picasso, Dorothy Parker, Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds they set the pace at which any summer resort aspires: beach, lunch, nap, beach, dinner and soiree.

In the sequence, beach was replaceable by ship: the Picaflor sailboat and later the Weatherbird were ready to sail on the cape of the cape.

Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald had responded to the Murphy's call with enthusiasm. They settled in Villa Saint-Louis, today converted into the Hôtel Belles Rives, where the author concluded The Great Gatsby.

Although Hemingway was the most respected writer in the circle, the Murphy established a relationship of great intimacy with the couple. It was not easy. The Fitzgeralds drank excessively and their behavior was often erratic.

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The once Villa Saint-Louis, now converted into Hôtel Belles Rives © Alamy

Zelda had a habit of jumping into the sea in an evening dress from a ten meter escarpment. When Sara rebuked her, she replied that her priority was not survival. For his part, Scott did not seem to enjoy the hedonistic tone of Villa America. He fled from the sun and bathed in the sea very rarely.

The style of the Murphy was not based on ostentation, but on the pleasure marked by the aesthetics of the moment. They were sensitive, resourceful and their cultural concern was sincere. But Fitzgerald's admiration was based primarily on the freedom his money provided.

His fortune was not comparable to that of Americans like Winnaretta Singer, princess of Polignac who presided over the party of the Murphy in Paris as a benefactor of Stravinsky, but the truth is that the income of the writer depended on his publications and, despite the favorable exchange rate of the dollar, this fact placed him in a position of conscious economic inferiority.

The vital imbalance of the couple, fueled by alcohol, manifested itself in bizarre night episodes.

Zelda dropping down the stairs at Scott's attention to Isadora Duncan or lying under the wheels of the car while her husband was about to start; the fig thrown by Scott to the princess of Caraman-Chimay at a party of the Murphy, a punch to one of the guests, Murano pieces propelled on the wall.

In these cases, the tolerance of their hosts remitted in distancing phases that were never definitive. But it was the author who changed the terms of the relationship when he decided to include marriage in the novel he had started working on.

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Antibes © Alamy

Nicole and Dick Diver, the characters of Suave is the night, combine Fitzgerald's autobiographical drive with obvious references to the Murphy.

The hotel where they reside is a version of the Hôtel du Cap, which later becomes a villa that resembles Villa Saint-Louis, on the edge of a large pine forest. Like Sara, Nicole wears a large pearl necklace over the beach swimsuit . They give big parties. They drink incessantly.

But Nicole, like Zelda, is unfaithful to Dick. Zelda was with a French pilot, Edouard Jozan. Her infatuation made her think about divorce until Jozan disappeared. Nicole's literary adventure marks her psychiatric recovery; Zelda's began its slide towards madness .

When the novel was published in 1934, the world he described had disappeared. The Cote d'Azur had been banalized and the Great Crisis had broken the lightness.

Fitzgerald reflected his own fall in the decline of Dick Diver. He had spent his moment. Soft is the night was a commercial failure. Today he draws the fragile and sophisticated refuge created by the Murphy in Antibes.