Window to the world: Beaulieu-Sur-Mer
Nestled along the Cote D’Azure, this untouched French village sits among dusty, rocky foothills. Based midway between Nice and Monaco, a beautiful Mediterranean-blue sea stretches out before Beaulieu-Sur-Mer, which was once a popular destination for old Hollywood icons and royalty alike before St.Tropez became en vogue. Now it’s a quiet and unassuming destination, ideal for those looking for an authentic experience filled with culture, food and Belle Époque architecture.
Beaulieu-Sur-Mer is a town very much off the beaten track, but with its idyllic assortment of boutique shops, wine bars, florists, galleries, cafes, markets and bistros it’s an ideal place to visit. The village offers a very refined and authentic French culture that can only be found in quieter, non-developed locations – however, the element that truly makes Beaulieu-Sur-Mer such a unique place is its past. Many years ago, this fishing port became the holiday destination of choice for glamorous movie stars, glitzy politicians and even royalty who came in their droves, seeking a romantic place by the coast to bathe in the sun.
Queen Victoria called it ‘a paradise of nature’ when she visited in 1899. The Belgian King Leopold II brought land overlooking the bay of Villefranche, and the British Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, built a 10-bedroom holiday home amongst the olive groves which is now a block of private terrace apartments. As the years went on, Beaulieu-Sur-Mer was graced by a glamorous line up, with Liz Taylor, Gregory Peck, Rita Hayworth, Paul Newman, Charlie Chaplain and Greta Garbo strolling along the streets and frolicking on the beach.
Towards the East of the village is La Petite Afrique, a small neighbourhood and beach with its own magical microclimate, making it a few degrees warmer than anywhere else along the coast. The beach inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose characters go skinny-dipping there in his book, Tender Is The Night.
Le Petite Afrique was the home of Beaulieu-Sur-Mer’s notorious rogue of a benefactor, James Gordon Bennett, the American who founded the Paris Herald. Bennett owned yachts and a seaside villa in the village, complete with Pekingese dogs and a pet monkey. Yes, you’ve guessed it, the expletive term ‘Gordon Bennett!’ derives from his outrageous antics and grand dinner parties, but despite the scandals, his legacy is a positive one. He donated to numerous local charities, paved roads and established a mail-coach service in the town, all from his own funds.
Despite its bygone era of fashionable elegance and high society, this little village offers a fascinating cultural legacy for modern day visitors to explore. The lower part of the town has shops, shady citrus tree-lined pavements, beaches and yacht marinas. For food, head to The Restaurant des Rois at La Réserve hotel. There’s plenty of things to do, with a Saturday morning market to explore, along with parks, a casino and tennis court. There are two large festivals every year, the Nuits Guitares Festival and Beaulieu Classic Festival, which are held in olive groves just outside the village.
Casino De Beaulieu was designed by Gustav Eiffel, the famed architectural engineer who made Beaulieu his winter home. It’s an inviting venue with traditional table games but the reception room is also used for themed evenings, shows and events. For a spot of quirky culture, visit the Villa Kérylos – an Ancient Greek museum based on the designs of the noble houses on the Island of Delos in the 2nd century BC. Everything, from the arrangements of the rooms to the refined décor, has been designed to recreate the atmosphere of a luxurious Greek villa. Built in the style of Mediterranean houses, Villa Kérylos is arranged around the peristyle, a large central courtyard surrounded by twelve monolithic columns in white Carrara marble.
Whether you come here to unwind in its natural beauty or to indulge in the finer things in life, Beaulieu is an unsung destination where you can rekindle your love of the Riviera whilst walking in the footsteps of some of the greatest icons of our time.