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Destinations: EuropeApril 16, 2010 By: Mary Winston Nicklin Travel Agent
Music and Culture on the Côte d’Azur
The stylish Piano Bar Fitzgerald at Hotel Belles Rives
This is the summer to hit the French Riviera. As if a sun-splashed coastline, sizzling nightlife and glamorous hotels weren’t a potent enough mix for a thrilling vacation on the Mediterranean, Jazz à Juan —one of the longest-running jazz festivals in the world—is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a stellar lineup of music greats. In anticipation of the famous festival, Travel Agent recently traveled with Atout France to the Côte d’Azur. What we found: a vibrant arts and cultural scene that conjures up the spirit of the Roaring Twenties when Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald partied all night at their villa by the sea. For assistance when planning a getaway to the French Riviera, contact Sandrine Carsalade (011-33-493-377-878, [email protected]), marketing manager at the French Riviera Tourist Board (www.frenchriviera-tourism.com) or check out the website.
The jazz festival kicks off on Bastille Day (July 14) and runs through July 25. Set in a grove of towering pines, the Pinède Gould is one of the most scenic stages on earth, seeming to float over the Mediterranean, with sweeping azure views as the musicians’ backdrop. Legends like Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie have graced the stage, and Ella Fitzgerald famously sang a duet with a cricket there. Visitors can check out the sidewalk, reminiscent of the stars on the “Hollywood Walk of Fame,” where musicians have stamped their handprints in the pavement. This year’s lineup includes guitarist George Benson, sax players David Sanborn and Joshua Redman, bassist Marcus Miller (who will play with the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra) and pianist Keith Jarrett, regularly invited since 1966.
There are excellent accommodations within walking distance of the stage in Juan-les-Pins. We checked into the four-star Garden Beach Hotel next to the Pinède Gould. Much of the clientele was on business for the MIPIM world’s property market in Cannes, a real estate trade show. The 175 guest rooms and suites are comfortable and well-equipped. Our room (#111) had delicious sunset views over the sea. Your clients will appreciate the big buffet breakfast served at La Fregate restaurant overlooking the Med. Note that entrance to the fitness area and small pool is not included in the room rates.
Newly awarded a fifth star, the Hotel Belles Rives is an Art Deco palace directly on the sea. Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Lee Hooker number among the famous guests who bunked down at the Belles Rives while playing at the jazz festival. In a previous incarnation, the hotel was the Villa Saint-Louis where the famed Fitzgeralds used to stay in the 1920s. In fact, this is where the author wrote Tender Is the Night and found inspiration for Gatsby’s green light—flashing just offshore. (Staff joke about the ghost “Scottino” who lingers around the elegant piano bar.)
When the Hotel Belles Rives opened in 1929, it was the first seaside resort on the French Riviera. Present-day restorations have stayed true to the historical Art Deco details, channeling a nautical theme. The 42 guest rooms, each with its own personality, have Carrara marble baths, and balconies opening onto the Med or Cap d’Antibes. For incomparable sea views, book Deluxe Room, #79, or Deluxe Suite, #62/#63. Generations of families have flocked to the hotel’s terra cotta terrace for the panoramas of the Esterel mountains and Lérins Islands. The exclusive Belles Rives Ski Nautique Club is another big draw; guests can go water-skiing from the hotel pier where the sport was invented. After a $135 million renovation this winter, the beach scene promises to be as happening as ever.
Noteworthy: There’s a new chef at La Passagère, the gourmet restaurant. Guillaume Anor had previous stints with star chefs Yannick Alléno at Le Meurice and Jean-Francois Piège at the Crillon in Paris.
Côte d’Azur's Jazz à Juan festival celebrates its 50th anniversary this year
While the Hotel Belles Rives has a decidedly retro feel, the Hotel Juana —its sister hotel up the street—has a more contemporary aesthetic. It was acquired in 2006 by the family-owned Groupe Belles Rives, which renewed the interiors, exchanging the previous Rococo style for a chic, masculine feel. Located 50 meters from the beach, the Hotel Juana has 40 rooms outfitted with designer furniture, Art Deco lamps in leather or crystal, and bathrooms in white Biancone or red Verona marble with multi-jet whirlpools. The best suite is #502 on the top floor with expansive sea views. Like the Hotel Belles Rives, the Juana has a history of attracting the “Roaring Twenties elite.” For assistance with VIP bookings for either the Hotel Belles Rives or Hotel Juana, contact Director of Sales and Marketing Stéphane Trabet (011-33-493-610-870, [email protected]).
Tip: Café Marianne—Hotel Juana’s new restaurant—aims to make quality affordable. Casually chic, the eatery serves refined cuisine based on what’s available in the Provençal markets. A three-course gourmet meal costs around $40. Highlight: The sweets by celebrated dessert chef Jean-Michel Llorca are exhibited behind glass in a vinotheque, so guests can choose from the beautiful creations while also selecting a bottle in the wine library. The hotel used to house the gastronomic restaurant called La Terrasse, where Alain Ducasse famously got his start, earning two Michelin stars as head chef in 1984.
Magical Monte Carlo
Clients who are music fans may also want to hit the coastal road for Monte Carlo, as the music director of Jazz à Juan (Jean-René Palacio) is also the man behind the Sporting Monte Carlo Summer Festival. For transportation in the region, we recommend the French Riviera Executive Transport Service, helmed by the very professional and informative director, Piero Bruni (011-33-492-980-629; [email protected]). Just as the French Côte d’Azur hosts a slew of exciting cultural events, so too does the principality of Monaco. The Riviera hot spot famous for its casinos and luxury yachts is also sizzling with a year-round arts calendar of opera, ballet, art exhibitions and rock concerts. Your clients can catch a performance in the gilded opera house that’s been witness to numerous world premieres, and now hosts the Monte Carlo Jazz Festival. What’s more, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo will be celebrating the centenary of the Ballets Russes until mid-July.
We checked into the sumptuous Hotel Hermitage and received an SBM “Carte d’Or” (gold card) allowing complimentary access to the casino, hotel-to-hotel shuttle, spa, fitness center and Monte Carlo Beach Club. A true retreat, our spacious room (#494) had Bulgari bath amenities and a balcony overlooking the Grand Prix racetrack and the yacht-filled harbor. The hotel is a registered historical monument with a glass-domed Winter Garden designed by Gustave Eiffel. Managed by Jean-Pierre Siri, the Hermitage has 280 rooms, including eight exclusive suites. “Le Roof” is the top accommodation, with a staircase leading to a private teak terrace with Jacuzzi.
Not to be missed: Spa lounging at Les Thermes Marins, the luxurious complex operated by Monte Carlo SBM. From La Prairie facials to hydromassage baths in seawater to Bastien Gonzalez-inspired pedicures, the spa has it all. Book dinner reservations at the Hotel de Paris, which has two Michelin-starred restaurants under one roof: the three-star Louis XV by Alain Ducasse and the one-star Le Grill, perched on the top floor with jaw-dropping views. Underneath the hotel, the largest wine cellar in the world boasts 600,000 bottles stacked along 1.5 kilometers of wine racks. Tip: For after-dinner entertainment, reserve a table at Moods Music Bar.
Of course, the Côte d’Azur is celebrated as much for its artists as for its musicians. Painters like Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Chagall and Matisse found inspiration in the Riviera’s dazzling light and landscapes. Clients itching to follow in the footsteps of the great masters shouldn’t miss the Painters’ Trail in Antibes, along with the recently renovated Picasso Museum by the sea. In nearby Vallauris, famous for its ceramics, Picasso started an artistic collaboration between potters and painters that continues to this day. Recommend checking out the Galerie Sassi-Malici where renowned contemporary artists exhibit their work. Other musts: Stop in the beautiful Provençal town of Vence— home to the chapel painted by Matisse, and Saint-Paul de Vence—an artists’ haven where Chagall lived for many years. Note: Vence hosts a world music festival in the summer called Nuits du Sud, which brings together diverse talents from all over the world (including Suzanne Vega, Youssou N’Dour, George Clinton and Axelle Red).
While exploring the area, bed down at Le Mas de Pierre, a five-star paradise that embodies l’art de vivre. Just 15 minutes from the Nice airport at the foot of Saint-Paul de Vence, the hotel is nestled in enchanting gardens designed by renowned landscape architect Jean Mus. The “garden of scents” provides herbs for the kitchen, while the greenhouse nurtures 150 different orchids that decorate the public areas of the hotel. Decorated in Provençal style with copious antiques, the guest rooms are spread out in different country houses throughout the property. Each has a private terrace or garden if on the ground floor. Closed in the winter months, the hotel has daily complimentary activities in the spring and summer, including Rolls-Royce tours of the countryside. Access to the Payot Spa and its beautiful hammam is also free for guests. Beyond the pool (with underwater music), the exclusive Villa is available for weekly rentals. Contact Reservations Manager Carla Kikkert (011-33-493-590-010, [email protected]) for assistance with bookings.
Sidebar: Agent Advice
Liliane Merrill with Island Travel, an independent member of Travel Dynamics Group, a Virtuoso Agency, describes the many allures of the French Riviera, especially this year with a weakening euro. “What’s always fun is the Jazz à Juan Festival from July 14 to July 25, featuring jazz musicians such as David Sanborn, George Benson, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Maceo Parker and many more,” she says.
“One of the best ways to visit is with a French Riviera pass. It's an electronic ticket for the Nice le Grand Tour bus that provides free entrance to many attractions. You can get on and off as often as you like to visit the main sights and museums in Nice, Antibes Juans-les-Pins, Biot, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Eze or Monaco.
Merrill adds, “One of my favorite hotels is the Chateau Saint-Martin in Vence, perched on a hilltop between Cannes and Nice. Very intimate and private, the hotel is appointed with beautiful tapestries and Louis XV furnishings. They serve wine from Provence and homemade pastries in their three wonderful restaurants. There’s a pool and a spa...even a helicopter pad!”
|Hotel Belles Rives was the first seaside resort to come up on the French Riviera|