“We were going to the Old World to find a new rhythm to our lives.” This was the dream F Scott Fitzgerald was pursuing when he, his wife Zelda and their young daughter Scottie left their home on Long Island in 1924 and moved to the South of France. They certainly found a refreshed pace of life and never-ending, vibrant source of inspiration during their years here.
Fitzgerald was already a literary sensation and hero of the Jazz Age at the time for penning This Side of Paradise. It was on the French Riviera that Fitzgerald completed The Great Gatsby and later met a glamorous couple – the Murphys – who would go on to be the inspiration for his fourth and final novel, Tender Is The Night. Also written on the Côte d’Azur, in the story Fitzgerald skilfully captured the French Riviera in the 1920s when sophisticated Americans came to holiday here, fall madly in love and live in a temporary Eden.
First published 85 years ago in 1934, times may have changed since F Scott Fitzgerald wrote Tender Is The Night, however the soul of the French Riviera lives on. Fitzgerald’s presence is intrinsically linked to the region, still felt in the “fairy blue sea” as he described it and along the sumptuous stretch of coastline he coined “a playground for the world”. Here we show you how to follow in Fitzgerald’s South of France footsteps, all those years ago.
In the aftermath of his success with The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald rented a villa with a private beach in Juan-les-Pins called Villa Saint-Louis, which was quoted as one of the happiest moments in his life. The Art Deco villa – situated a stone’s throw from Parc du Cap – was transformed into the family-run Hotel Belles Rives when the Fitzgeralds departed in the late 20s. Today, the period furnishings and frescoes of the former literary home have been meticulously preserved, and black and white portraits of Scott and Zelda hang in the hotel foyer. There is a large framed quote from a 1926 letter Fitzgerald sent to Hemingway, which says: “With our being back in a nice villa on my beloved Riviera…I’m happier than I’ve been for years. It’s one of those strange, precious and all too transitory moments when everything in one’s life seems to be going well.”
The majestic Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc has played host to anybody who is anybody since it was immortalised in Tender Is The Night as the Hotel des Étrangers. Fitzgerald’s friends Sara and Gerald Murphy – models for the main couple in his novel – once rented the hotel for an entire summer, regularly entertaining the Fitzgeralds, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso. It is reported that The Murphys single-handedly reinvented the French Riviera, turning it from a restorative winter getaway to a thrilling summer destination. Fast forward nearly 100 years and the hotel is buzzing during the summer, with crowds drawn in by the Michelin starred food, unbeatable sea views and retro pool carved into the rocks.
Scott and Zelda were regular disciples of this hotel’s restaurant, supposedly spending many a raucous evening at the traditional French establishment. It was here after one such night that a jealous Zelda threw herself down a flight of stone steps as a result of an intoxicated flirtation between Fitzgerald and a dancer. Today La Colombe D’Or is one of the world’s most highly recognised art hotels and a time capsule of works from the likes of Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Miro, and Calder – many of which were gifted in exchange for lodgings at the time.
During the years the Fitzgeralds spent in the South of France, the Monte Carlo Casino was one of the couple’s favourite haunts. Regularly documented in their letters and writings, Scott and Zelda loved the ornate, opulent surroundings as well as the possibility of winning big. In one of his letters Fitzgerald wrote: “Once in the middle twenties, I was driving along the High Corniche Road through the twilight with the whole French Riviera twinkling on the sea below. As far ahead as I could see was Monte Carlo…when life was literally a dream.”
Whether the South of France represents a summer escape or somewhere you’d like to call home, Fitzgerald’s Riviera is a special today as it was then.