Cinema and the French Riviera: Behind the Scenes
The French Riviera is known for sun, sand and celebrities. But behind the scenes, there's a cultural vibrancy of cinematic proportions.
We'll take a tour of some of the locations you might recognize from the silver screen and that have inspired some of the greatest creative minds of our time.
Cannes is probably best known for its annual Film Festival, an internationally renowned celebration of cinema. Every year, over a hundred of the world's top films are screened in the Palais des Festivals and the elite of the film industry descend on the area in droves. The red carpet is quite a scene with all the celebrities and the paparazzi, but the Villa Domergue is where the most exclusive parties are held.
The painter Jean-Gabriel Domergue gave the villa to the city under the condition that it only be used for exceptional events, and the Film Festival certainly falls under that category. This is where the jury for the festival (presided over this year by Steven Speilberg) deliberates to decide who will win the prestigious Palme d'Or. (It's also a favorite landing pad of Sharon Stone.) Later in the summer, Cannes puts on Jazz in Domergue, where the public can enjoy both the music and the villa's gardens.
The Intercontinental Hotel Carlton is another celebrity favorite, but it is also a star in its own right. It was here that Grace Kelly watched onscreen fireworks with Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief, and where offscreen fireworks sparked between her and Prince Rainier III of Monaco. They met in the ballroom, and her eventual tranformation into Pricess Grace is a fairytale we're all familar with. The Hotel's cultural role doesn't end there: it hosted the League of Nations in 1922 (inspiring President Obama to choose the hotel for his visit to the area in 2011).
The Cannes Film Festival comes around once a year, but the city's appreciation of film is year-round. Go for a walk around town, and you'll find murals depicting iconic scenes and characters from classic movies - Marylin Monroe, Jessica Rabbit, even Charlie Chaplin—see how many you can recognize!
Movie inspiration can be found even away from the mainland: try visiting the Isles Lérins, twin islands off the coast of Cannes. St. Honorat houses a community of Cistercian monks famous for their honey and wine, and St. Marguerite is the site of Fort Royal, former home to one of the most famous prisoners of all time: the Man in the Iron Mask. Today, you can visit his real-life cell and learn more about the island's history at the Musée de la Mer.
When you're ready to see the rest of the Riviera, take a drive along the Grand Corniche. In To Catch a Thief, Grace Kelly takes Cary Grant on the ride of his life on this winding road, zooming through the villages of Eze and La Turbie as she evades a tailing car, eventually coming to a stop at one of the lookout points to enjoy the gorgeous vista.
The port of Antibes has played a strategic military role since the time of the Greeks, but it's also played a role in several movies.
Fort Carré was built by Henry II in 1503. 480 years later, James Bond went flying through on a horse in Never Say Never Again. His first visit to Antibes was actually in 1971, when he stops at a villa on the Cap d'Antibes in search of a villain in Diamonds are Forever.
The summer vacation trend on the Côte d'Azur began much earlier than James Bond, however. In the 1920s, Ella and Scott Fitzgerald decided to spend the summer on the Mediterranean at the Villa St. Louis - now the glamorous Hotel Belles Rives. The hotel is excellently preserved and still open for business—you can sit in what is now the Bar Fitzgerald, imagining the fabulous parties they used to throw, with guests like Ernest Hemingway, Rudolph Valentino and Pablo Picasso. If only the walls could talk!
Speaking of Picasso, the Picasso Museum is nearby, housed in the Chateau Grimaldi. Picasso spent time living and painting there, and in 1966 it became the first museum dedicated entirely to the artist.
Further inland on the St. Jean Cap Ferrat, another residence frequented by Picasso was the Villa Santo Sospir. It originally belonged to a wealthy Parisian, Francine Weisweiller, who invited Jean Cocteau down to stay with her. He eventually obtained permission to begin painting in the living room, and under the encouragement of Picasso, covered all of the villa walls (and some ceilings!) in freehand artwork.
This quiet town has actually been the scene of several high-speed car chases: Ronin, James Bond, Killers... to name a few.
Jean Cocteau picked the covered passageways, the Rue Obscure, as the backdrop for his art film Orpheus.
Off-camera, check out the guestbook (and of course the food) a local restaurant, Mère Germaine. The good food and warm welcome have made it a hotspot for stars staying on the coast.
Villefranche had a strong hold on James Bond as well: Sean Connery's granddaughter now calls Villefranche home.
Saint-Paul de Vence
Tucked up in the hillside, this quaint village has been an artists' hideaway since the 20s, but it's no stranger to celebrites. Stars often come here for a retreat from the hubbub of the coast, and Gene Wilder even chose the town hall for his wedding.
Not only is it the capital of the Riviera, it also housed the Victorine movie production studios in the 50s and 60s. Its proximity to a wide range of landscapes made it an ideal location for films. Snow-covered mountains, sandy beaches, quiet towns and bustling cities were all nearby.
Film producers weren't the only ones inspired by the landscapes: Matisse also called Nice home. The house where he stayed is insoncpicuously located at one end of the Cours Saleya, and there is a Matisse Museum located in the Cimiez Gardens where visitors can admire his work.
As you stroll along the Promenade des Anglais, see if you can recognize it from scenes in The Transporter, where Jason Statham made a quick getaway by car. While you're there, stop in at the posh Hotel Negresco for a dose of Baroque art mixed with Old Hollywood glamour. The Rotunda displays pieces from both the permanent collection and traveling exhibits, curated by the hotel's owner herself. In the bar, still a popular meeting place for the rich and famous, you'll find the photographs and signatures of some of the celebrity guests discretely displayed.