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Map showing the extent of the Côte d'Azur.

The Côte d'Azur, often known in English as the French Riviera, is the Mediterraneanmarker coastline of the south eastern corner of Francemarker, extending from Mentonmarker near the Italianmarker border in the east to either Hyèresmarker or Cassis in the west.

This coastline was one of the first modern resort areas. It began as a winter health resort for the British upper class at the end of the 18th century. With the arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century, it became the playground and vacation spot of British, Russian, and other aristocrats, such as Queen Victoria and King Edward VII, when he was Prince of Wales. In the first half of the 20th century it was frequented by artists and writers, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Edith Wharton, Somerset Maugham and Aldous Huxley, as well as wealthy Americans and Europeans. After World War II it became a popular tourist destination and convention site. Many celebrities, such as Elton John and Brigitte Bardot, have homes in the region. Officially, the Côte d'Azur is home to 163 nationalities with 83,962 foreign residents, although estimates of the number of non-French nationals living in the area are often much higher.

Its largest city is Nicemarker, which has a population of 347,060 (2006). The city is the center of a communauté urbaine - Nice-Côte d'Azur - bringing together 24 communes and over 500,000 inhabitants.

Nice is home to Nice Côte d'Azur Airportmarker, France's second-busiest airport (after Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airportmarker), which is on an area of partially reclaimed coastal land at the western end of the Promenade des Anglaismarker. A second airport at Mandelieumarker was once the region's commercial airport, but is now mainly used by private and business aircraft. The A8 autoroute runs through the region, as does the old main road generally known as the Route nationale 7 (officially now the D N7 in the Varmarker and the D6007 in the Alpes-Maritimesmarker). Trains serve the coastal region and inland to Grassemarker, with the TGV Sud Est service reaching Nice-Ville stationmarker in six hours from Paris.

The French Riviera also contains the seaside resorts of Cannesmarker, Antibesmarker, Juan-les-Pinsmarker, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferratmarker, Beaulieu-sur-Mermarker, Cap-d'Ailmarker, Fréjusmarker, Saint-Raphaëlmarker, and Saint-Tropezmarker, and surrounds the principality of Monacomarker, with a total population of over two million. It is also home to a high-tech/science park or technopole at Sophia-Antipolismarker and a research and technology center at the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis - the region has 35,000 students, of whom 25% are working towards a doctorate.

The French Riviera is a major yachting centre, with marinas along its coast. According to the Côte d'Azur Economic Development Agency, each year the Riviera hosts 50% of the world's superyacht fleet, with 90% of all superyachts visiting the region's coast at least once in their lifetime.

As a tourist centre it benefits from 300 days of sunshine per year, 115 km of coastline and beaches, 18 golf courses, 14 ski resorts and 3,000 restaurants.


Origins of the name Côte d'Azur

View of Port Hercule, Monaco
The name was given to the coast by the writer Stéphen Liégeard in his book, La Côte d’azur, published in December 1887. Liégeard was born in Dijonmarker, in the French department of Côte-d'Ormarker, and adapted that name by substituting the azure blue colour of the Mediterranean for the gold of Côte-d'Or.

Origins of the name French Riviera

The French Riviera took its name from the Italian Riviera, which extends to the east of the French border as far as La Speziamarker. As early as the 19th century, the British referred to the region as the Riviera or the French Riviera, usually referring to the eastern part of the coast, between Monaco and the Italian border. Riviera is an Italian term - the Occitan (Niçard and Provençal) word is Ribiera. In French, the term Rivière de Gênes was used to refer to the Italian Riviera around Genoa.

The Old Town district of Menton, which is the last
town on the Côte d'Azur before the Italian frontier.

Disputes over the extent of the Riviera and the Côte d'Azur

The unofficial boundaries of the Côte d'Azur and French Riviera have changed over time, and the western boundary has been variously described as the edge of the Alpes-Maritimes département, Hyères in the Var département, or Cassis in the Bouches-du-Rhônemarker département.


From prehistory to the Bronze Age

The Côte d'Azur has been inhabited since prehistoric times. A palaeolithic site of a nomadic people dating to 950,000 BCE was discovered in the cave of Vallonet, near Roquebrune-Cap-Martinmarker, with stones and bones of animals, including bovines, rhinoceros, and hippopotamus. At Terra Amata (400,000 BCE), near the Nice Port, a fireplace was discovered that is one of the oldest found in Europe.

Stone dolmens, monuments from the Bronze Age, can be found near Draguignanmarker, while the Valley of Marvels (Vallée des Merveilles) near Mount Bégomarker, at 2000m altitude, is presumed to have been an outdoor religious sanctuary, having over 40,000 drawings of people and animals.

Greek influence

Beginning in the 7th century BCE, Greek sailors from Asia Minormarker began to visit and then build trading posts (emporia) along the Côte d'Azur. Emporia were started at Olbia (Saint-Pierre-de-l'Almanarre, near Hyèresmarker); Antipolis (Antibesmarker) and Nicoea (Nice). These settlements, which traded with the inhabitants of the interior, became rivals of the Etruscansmarker and Phoeniciansmarker, who also visited the Côte d'Azur.

Roman colonization

In 8 BCE the Emperor Augustus built an imposing trophy monument at La Turbiemarker (the Trophy of the Alpsmarker or Trophy of Augustus) to mark the pacification of the region.

Roman towns, monuments and amphitheatres were built along the Côte d'Azur and many still survive, such as the amphitheatre and baths at Cimiezmarker, above Nice, and the amphitheatre, Roman walls and other remains at Fréjusmarker.
The 5th C. baptistery of Fréjus Cathedral, which is still in use.

Barbarians and Christians

Roman Provence reached the height of its power and prosperity during the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. In the mid-3rd century, Germanic peoples began to invade the region, and Roman power weakened.

In the same period, Christianity started to become a powerful force in the region. The first cathedrals were built in the 4th century, and bishoprics were established: in Fréjus at the end of the 4th century, Cimiez and Vencemarker in 439, and Antibes in 442. The oldest Christian structure still in existence on the Côte d'Azur is the baptistery of Fréjus Cathedralmarker, built at the end of the 5th century, which also saw the founding of the first monastery in the region, Lerins Monasterymarker on an island off the coast at Cannes.

The fall of the Western Roman Empire in the first half of the 5th century was followed by invasions of Provence by the Visigoths, the Burgundians and the Ostrogoths. There was then a long period of wars and dynastic quarrels, which in turn led to further invasions by the Saracens and the Normans in the 9th century.

The Counts of Provence and the House of Grimaldi

Some peace was restored to the coast by the establishment in 879 of a new kingdom of Provence, ruled first by the Bosonide dynasty (879-1112), then by the Catalans (1112-1246), and finally by the Angevins (1246-1483).

The ruins of the Grimaldi castle at Grimaud, near Saint-Tropez.
the 13th century, another powerful political force appeared, the House of Grimaldi. Descended from a Genoese nobleman expelled from Genoa by his rivals in 1271, members of the different branches of the Grimaldis took power in Monacomarker, Antibes and Nice, and built castles at Grimaud, Cagnes-sur-Mermarker and Antibesmarker. Albert II, the current Prince of Monaco is a descendant of the Grimaldis.

In 1388, the city of Nice and its surrounding territory, from the mouth of the Var to the Italian border, were separated from Provence and came under the protection of the House of Savoy. The territory was called the Comté de Nice after 1526, and thereafter its language, history and culture were separate from those of Provence until 1860, when it was re-attached to France under Napoleon III.

Provence retained its formal independence until 1480, when the last Comte de Provence, René I of Naples, died and left the Comté to his nephew, Charles du Maine, who in turn left it to Louis XI of France. In 1486, Provence formally became part of France.

Popularity with the British upper class in 18th and 19th centuries

Seafront at Nice, capital of the Alpes-Maritimes département.
Until the end of the 18th century, the area later known as the Côte d'Azur was a remote and impoverished region, known mostly for fishing, olive groves and the production of flowers for perfume (manufactured in Grassemarker).

A new phase began when the coast became a fashionable health resort for the British upper class in the late 18th century. The first British traveller to describe its benefits was the novelist Tobias Smollett, who visited Nicemarker in 1763, when it was still an Italian city within the Kingdom of Sardinia. Smollett brought Nice and its warm winter climate to the attention of the British aristocracy with Travels through France and Italy, written in 1765. At about the same time, a Scottish doctor, John Brown, became famous for prescribing what he called climato-therapy, a change in climate, to cure a variety of diseases including tuberculosis, known then as consumption. The French historian Paul Gonnet wrote that, as a result, Nice was filled with "a colony of pale and listless English women and listless sons of nobility near death".

In 1834, a British nobleman and politician named Henry Peter Brougham, First Baron Brougham and Vaux, who had played an important part in the abolition of the slave trade, travelled with an unwell sister to the south of France, intending to go to Italy. A cholera epidemic in Italy forced him to stop at Cannesmarker, where he enjoyed the climate and scenery so much that he bought land and built a villa. He began to spend his winters there and, owing to his fame, others followed: Cannes soon had a small British enclave.

Robert Louis Stevenson was a later British visitor who came for his health. In 1882 he rented a villa called La Solitude at Hyèresmarker, where he wrote much of A Child's Garden of Verses.

Railway, gambling, and royalty

The casino of Monte Carlo.
In 1864, five years after Nice became part of France following the Second Italian War of Independence the first railway was completed, making Nice and the Riviera accessible to visitors from all over Europe. One hundred thousand visitors arrived in 1865. By 1874, residents of foreign enclaves in Nice, most of whom were British, numbered 25,000.

In the mid-19th century British and French entrepreneurs began to see the potential of promoting tourism along the Côte d'Azur. At the time, gambling was illegal in France and Italy. In 1856, the Prince of Monacomarker, Charles III, began constructing a casino in Monaco, which was called a health spa to avoid criticism by the church. The casino was a failure, but in 1863 the Prince signed an agreement with François Blanc, a French businessman already operating a successful casino at Baden-Badenmarker (southwestern Germanymarker), to build a resort and new casino. Blanc arranged for steamships and carriages to take visitors from Nice to Monaco, and built hotels, gardens and a casino in a place called Spélugues. At the suggestion of his mother, Princess Caroline, Charles III renamed the place Monte Carlomarker after himself. When the railway reached Monte Carlo in 1870, many thousands of visitors began to arrive and the population of the principality of Monaco doubled.

The French Riviera soon became a popular destination for European royalty. Just days after the railway reached Nice in 1864, Tsar Alexander II of Russia visited on a private train, followed soon afterwards by Napoleon III and then Leopold II, the King of the Belgians.

Queen Victoria in 1887.
Queen Victoria was a frequent visitor. In 1882 she stayed in Mentonmarker, and in 1891 spent several weeks at the Grand Hotel at Grassemarker. In 1892 she stayed at the Hotel Cost-belle in Hyèresmarker. In successive years from 1895 to 1899 she stayed in Cimiezmarker in the hills above Nice. First, in 1895 and 1896, she patronised the Grand Hôtel, while in later years she and her staff took over the entire west wing of the Excelsior Hôtel Régina, which had been designed with her needs specifically in mind (part of which later became the home and studio of the renowned artist Henri Matisse). She travelled with an entourage of between sixty and a hundred, including chef, ladies in waiting, dentist, Indian servants, her own bed and her own food.

The Prince of Wales was a regular visitor to Cannes, starting in 1872. He frequented the Club Nautique, a private club on the Croisettemarker, the fashionable seafront boulevard of Cannes. He visited there each spring for a three-week period, observing yacht races from shore while the royal yacht, Britannia, was sailed by professional crewmen. After he became King in 1901, he never again visited the French Riviera.

By the end of the 19th century the Côte d'Azur began to attract artistic painters, who appreciated the climate, the bright colours and clear light. Among them were Auguste Renoir, who settled in Cagnes-sur-Mermarker, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.

Inter-war period, American visitors and decline of the aristocracy

The First World War brought down many of the royal houses of Europe and altered the nature and the calendar of the French Riviera. Following the war, greater numbers of Americans began arriving, with business moguls and celebrities eventually outnumbering aristocrats. The 'High Society' scene moved from a winter season to a summer season.

Americans had begun coming to the south of France in the 19th century. Henry James set part of his novel, The Ambassadors, on the Riviera. James Gordon Bennett, the son and heir of the founder of the New York Herald, had a villa in Beaulieu. Industrialist John Pierpont Morgan gambled at Monte Carlo and bought 18th century paintings by Fragonard in Grasse - shipping them to the Metropolitan Museummarker in New York.

A feature of the French Riviera in the inter-war years was the Train Bleu, an all first-class sleeper train which brought wealthy passengers down from Calaismarker. It made its first trip in 1922, and carried Winston Churchill, Somerset Maugham, and the future King Edward VIII over the years.

While Europe was still recovering from the war and the American dollar was strong, American writers and artists started arriving on the Côte d'Azur. Edith Wharton wrote The Age of Innocence (1920) at a villa near Hyèresmarker, winning the Pulitzer Prize for the novel (the first woman to do so). Dancer Isadora Duncan frequented Cannes and Nice, but died in 1927 when her scarf caught in a wheel of the Amilcar motor car in which she was a passenger and strangled her. The writer F. Scott Fitzgerald first visited with his wife Zelda in 1924, stopping at Hyères, Cannesmarker and Monte Carlomarker - eventually staying at Saint-Raphaël, where he wrote much of The Great Gatsby and began Tender is the Night.

While Americans were largely responsible for making summer the high season, a French fashion designer, Coco Chanel, made sunbathing fashionable. She acquired a striking tan during the summer of 1923, and tans then became the fashion in Parismarker.

During the abdication crisis of the British Monarchy in 1936, Wallis Simpson, the intended bride of King Edward VIII, was staying at the Villa Lou Vieie in Cannes, talking with the King by telephone each day. After his abdication, the Duke of Windsor (as he became) and his new wife stayed at the Villa La Croe near Antibesmarker.

The English playwright and novelist Somerset Maugham also became a resident in 1926, buying the Villa Mauresque toward the tip of Cap Ferratmarker, near Nice.

The Second World War

When Germany invaded France in June 1940, the remaining British colony was evacuated to Gibraltarmarker and eventually to Britain. American Jewish groups helped some of the Jewish artists living in the south of France, such as Marc Chagall, to escape to the United States. In August 1942, 600 Jews from Nice were rounded up by French police and sent to Drancymarker, and eventually to death camps. In all about 5,000 French Jews from Nice perished during the war.

On August 15, 1944, American parachute troops landed near Fréjus, and a fleet landed 60,000 troops of the American Seventh Army and French First Army between Cavalairemarker and Agay, east of Saint-Raphaël. German resistance crumbled in days.

Saint-Tropez was badly damaged by German mines at the time of the liberation. The novelist Colette organized an effort to assure the town was rebuilt in its original style.

When the war ended, artists Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso returned to live and work.

Post-war period and late 20th century

The Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, home of the Cannes Film Festival.
The Cannes Film Festivalmarker was launched in September 1946, marking the return of French cinema to world screens. The Festival Palacemarker was built in 1949 on the site of the old Cercle Nautique, where the Prince of Wales had met his mistresses in the late 19th century. The release of the French film Et Dieu… créa la femme (And God Created Woman) in November 1956 was a major event for the Riviera, making an international star of Brigitte Bardot, and making an international tourist destination of Saint-Tropez, particularly for the new class of wealthy international travellers called the 'jet set.'

The marriage of American film actress Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier of Monaco on April 18, 1956, attracted world attention once again. It was viewed on television by 30 million people.

During the 1960s, the Mayor of Nice, Jacques Médecin, decided to reduce the dependence of the Riviera on ordinary tourism, and to make it a destination for international congresses and conventions. He built the Palais des Congrèsmarker at the Acropolis in Nice, and founded a Chagall Museum and a Matisse Museum at Cimiezmarker. High-rise apartment buildings and real estate developments began to spread.

At the end of August, 1997, Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed spent their last days together on his father's yacht off Pampelonne Beach near Saint-Tropez, shortly before they were killed in a traffic accident in the Alma Tunnel in Paris.


Cap Ferrat; Plage la Paloma, a beach on the Côte d'Azur.
Courtade's Beach on Porquerolles.


Places on the Côte d'Azur (following the broadest definition), following the coast from south-west to north-east, include:


The Côte d'Azur has a Mediterranean climate, with sunny, hot, dry summers and mild winters. Winter temperatures are moderated by the Mediterranean; days of frost are rare, and in summer the maximum rarely exceeds 30º. Micro-climates exist in these coastal regions, and there can be great differences in the weather between various locations. Strong winds such as the Mistral, a cold dry wind from the northwest or from the east, are another characteristic, particularly in the winter.

Nice and the Alpes-Maritimes

Nice and the Alpes-Maritimes département are sheltered by the Alps, and are the most protected part of the Mediterranean coast. The winds are usually gentle, from the sea to the land, though sometimes the Mistral blows strongly from the north-west, or, turned by the mountains, from the east. In 1956 a Mistral from the north-west reached 180kmh at Nice airport. Sometimes, in summer, the Sirocco brings high temperatures and reddish desert sand from Africa. (See Winds of Provence.)

Rain is rare but can be torrential, particularly in September when storms and rain are caused by the difference between the colder air inland and the warm Mediterranean water temperature (20°C-24°C). The average annual rainfall in Nice is 767mm, more than in Paris, though it rains an average of just 63 days a year.

Snow is rare, falling once every ten years. 1956 was exceptional, when 20 cm blanketed the coast. In January 1985 the coast between Cannes and Menton received 30 to 40 cm. In the mountains, snow is present from November to May.

Nice has an average of 2694 hours of sunshine, about 61% of the annual possible sunshine. The average maximum daily temperature in Nice in August is 28°C, while the average minimum daily temperature in January is 6°C.

The Var

The département of the Var (which includes Saint-Tropezmarker and Hyèresmarker) has a climate slightly warmer, drier and sunnier than Nice and the Alpes-Maritimes, but less sheltered from the wind.

The Mistral wind, which brings cold and dry air down from the upper Alpine regions via the Rhône Valley and extends with diminishing intensity along the Côte d'Azur, blows frequently during the winter. Strong winds blow for about seventy-five days a year in Fréjus.

Events and festivals

Several major events take place:


The climate and vivid colours of the Mediterranean attracted many famous artists during the 19th and 20th centuries. They included:

See also



  • Aldo Bastié, Histoire de la Provence, Éditions Ouest-France, 2001.
  • Mary Blume, Côte d'Azur: Inventing the French Riviera, Thames and Hudson, London, 1992.
  • Patrick Howarth, When the Riviera was Ours, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1977.
  • Jim Ring, Riviera, the Rise and Fall of the Côte d'Azur, John Murray Publishers, London, 1988.


  • La Méditerranée de Courbet à Matisse, catalog of the exhibit at the Grand Palais, Paris from September 2000 to January 2001. Published by the Réunion des musées nationaux, 2000.


  1. INSEE 1999 census
  2. e.g. Comité Régional du Tourisme Riviera Côte d'Azur
  3. INSEE, 2009 -
  4. Official site:
  5. Official site:
  6. National 7 website:
  7. Jim Ring, Riviera, The Rise and Rise of the Cote d'Azur, John Murray Publishers, London, 2004.
  9. Côte d'Azur Economic Development Agency - p.31
  10. Côte d'Azur Economic Development Agency, op.cit. p.66
  12. Marc Boyer, L'Invention de la Côte d'Azur : l'hiver dans le Midi, préface de Maurice Agulhon, 378 pages, Édition de l'Aube, 2002, ISBN 2-87678-643-5.
  13. 'Riviera' is defined as "the coastal strip along the Mediterranean from La Spezia, Italy, to west of Cannes, France." Webster's New World Dictionary of American English, Third College Edition, 1988.
  14. For example, J. Henry Bennett, Mentone, the Riviera, Corsica and Biarritz as Winter Climates (1862)
  15. Harrap's Standard French and English Dictionary, 1948.
  16. "Côte d'Azur, côte méditerranéenne française entre Cassis et Menton" ("Côte d'Azur, French Mediterranean coast between Cassis and Toulon") in Dictionnaire Hachette encyclopédique (2000), p. 448.
  17. "Côte d'Azur, Partie orientale du littoral français, sur la Méditerranée, de Cassis à Menton" ("Côte d'Azur, Eastern part of the French coast, on the Mediterranean, from Cassis to Menton"), in Le Petit Larousse illustré (2005), p. 1297.
  18. Aldo Bastié, Histoire de la Provence, Edition Ouest-France, 2001.
  19. Michael Nelson, Queen Victoria and the Discovery of the Riviera, Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2007.
  20. Internet site of Meteo-France, describing the climate of different French regions.
  21. Météo-France site.
  22. Meteo-France site

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