Notable People of the French Riviera
For the past century, the French Riviera has been a favorite refuge among artists, actors, celebrities and the wealthy elite from all around the world. The Riviera's reputation as the Mediterranean jewel isn't new, however. Many have long flocked to this region: from kings, queens and aristocrats of 19th century Europe to the most celebrated writers, painters and philosophers of the 20th century. And still today, as enchanting as ever, the Côte d'Azur ought to occupy a place on everyone's bucket list.
Royalty and Historical Figures:
Queen Victoria of the United Kindgdom / Alexandrina Victoria (1819-1901)
Queen Victoria was queen of the United Kingdom and Empress of India for 63 years, during which the UK enjoyed an unprecedented period of peace, as well as military, economic and industrial expansion. The Queen spent numerous periods of time in the French Riviera, first in Menton, and in following years in Cannes, Grasse, Hyères and Nice, where she spent consecutive winters between the years 1895 and 1899. It is said that Queen Victoria paved the road for travelers and tourists to come to the French Riviera.
King Leopold of Belgium (1865-1909)
King Leopold of Belgium was the second king of Belgium and owner of the Congo Free State, for which he is famed for having ruthlessly exploited. Using revenues obtained in the Congo, he oversaw the construction of many buildings and monuments in Belgium. Leopold's rule was the longest of the Belgian kings. A regular visitor of the French Riviera, he acquired the Villa des Cédres in St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Villa Leopolda in Villefranche-Sur-Mer.
Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
Winston Churchill was a British politician, military officer, and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. During World War II, he led the UK against the Axis Powers. Churchill spent several periods of his life on the French Riviera, and his wife and he particularly enjoyed the Villa La Pausa in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. The Villa was built by Coco Chanel and the Duke of Westminster and sold to multimillionaire Emery Reves, who was a friend of Churchill's. La Pausa was frequented by so many elites that they often coincided and spent time together. These included the Prince of Monaco and Grace Kelly, the Dukes of Windsor, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Wendy Russell and Somerset Maugham, among others.
Tsar Alexander II of Russia (1818-1881)
Tsar Alexander II of the Russian Empire is known for having implemented important reforms including the abolition of serfdom in 1861 and the construction of a major railroad network. The Tsar also encouraged Finland’s autonomy by re-implementing the Finnish language and the Finnish legislative assembly, the Diet of Finland. He also famously sold the territory of Alaska to the United States due to its remote location and difficulty to defend. Tsar Alexander II inaugurated the construction of the Russian Cathedral in Nice, which was dedicated to his son, the successor of the Russian Empire, who died in Nice at the age of 21. The cathedral was conceived for the growing Russian community in Nice and its surrounding areas in the XIX century after a railroad connecting the French Riviera and the Russian Empire was built.
Prínce of Mónaco Rainier III (1923-2005)
Prince Rainier III was appointed Prince of Monaco in 1950 at the age of 26 by abdication of his mother, Princess Carlota of Monaco. He modernized Monaco’s economy, which was largely dependent on income from casinos and gambling, and converted it into a tourism-based economy with a great appeal to large companies and the wealthy. He was also responsible for Monaco’s new constitution (1962), which transferred power from the monarchy to the public. He is perhaps most well known for having married the famous American actress Grace Kelly. After 55 years on the throne, he died in 2005.
Baroness Béatrice of Rothschild (1864-1934)
Baroness Beatrice of Rothschild was a member of the renowned Rothschild banking dynasty. She owned two large villas on the Riviera, which she elaborately decorated with art and exotic gardens. Her passion for art was represented in her motto “Ars Patriae Decus” ("art is the honor of the fatherland"). Her Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa in St. Jean Cap Ferrat, designed by architect Jacques-Marcel Auburtin, was built after the baroness inherited her father's immense fortune. She greatly expanded her art collection in the villa following her divorce from Maurice Ephrussi, to whom she was unhappily married for 21 years. The villa's collection boasted a table that belonged to Marie Antoinette of Austria and a rug that belonged to Louis XIV of France. Before her death she donated the villa and its great art collection to the French Academy of Fine Arts.
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military leader, First Consul and Emperor of France. At its peak, his empire was comprised of nearly all Europe, with the exception of some Eastern European countries, Portugal and the United Kingdom. After losing the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium, he was exiled by troops of the British, Dutch and German armies. When Napoleon escaped the Italian island of Elba on March 1st, 1815, he disembarked in Golfe-Juan, northwest of Antibes, where he prepared to retake power. Napoleon also spent some time in Nice when he was a general in the Italian army and he was even imprisoned for a few days in Fort Carré, Antibes. Bonaparte's history can be viewed more thoroughly at the Napoleon Museum in Cap d’Antibes.
Catarina Ségurana (1506-1543)
Catarina Ségurana was a heroin of Nice due to her role in the expulsion of the French and Otoman troops during the siege of the city in 1543. Legend tells that she exposed her bare bottom to the enemy troops, offending them and causing them to retreat. According to the more realistic version of the story, she helped organize the city's defense tactics. Nice commemorates this popular historical figure on Caterina Segurana’s day every 25th day of November.
Writers and Philosophers:
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher, philologist, poet and writer of the XIX century. His theories of eternal recurrence, morality, existentialism, postmodernism, and post-structuralism have influenced many modern philosophers. His most well-known books are Beyond Good and Evil, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and The Antichrist. It is said that Nietzsche wrote three-fourths of Thus Spoke Zarathustra in the French and Italian Rivieras. Though the majority was written in Rapallo, Italy, part was written while Nietzsche was in Eze, France. Eze commemorates Nietzsche's presence with a path named after him and a plaque with a fragment of Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo about his time in Eze. Another plaque in Nice marks where he spent his stay.
James Joyce (1882-1941)
James Joyce was an Irish novelist, short story writer and poet. He is considered one of the most notable XX-century writers. His masterpiece was Ulysses, but others including A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and Finnegans Wake are also well-known. The Suisse Hotel in Nice exhibits a commemorative plaque of his stay, where he began writing Finnegans Wake in October of 1922.
W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
W. Somerset Maugham was a British actor, novelist, short story writer and play writer, and even worked for the British Secret Service during the First World War. Of the most famous actors of the 1930s, Somerset Maugham was also the most well-paid. He was a frequent host and visitor of La Pausa in St. Jean Cap Ferrat, where he met Winston Churchill and other celebrities. He also bought the La Mauresque villa in the same area. He died in Nice at the age of 91.
Vicente Blasco Ibañez (1867-1928)
Vicente Blasco Ibañez was a reknowned Spanish writer, politician and journalist. He was the author of the best-selling The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Mare Nostrum, and The Enemies of the Woman. He also led the Republican movement in Valencia, Spain as a strong opponent of the Spanish dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. His property in Menton, La Fontana Rosa, on Avenue Blasco-Ibanez was built as a tribute to his favorite writers. He died there in 1928. The refurbished property now belongs to the city, and its exotic garden is one of Menton's landmarks.
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)
F. Scott Fitzgerald was an American short story writer and novelist. He worked for several famous magazines including Esquire, Collier’s Weekly and The Saturday Evening Post. His works are known for their themes based on the Jazz Age of the 1920s in the United States. In 1925, he wrote The Great Gatsby, his most famous novel, after staying in St. Raphael on the French Riviera. His wife Zelda Fitzgerald and he were regular clients of the Monte-Carlo Casino and several hotels and villas in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Cannes, Nice and Juan-les-Pins, where he began his final novel, Tender is the Night.