In the 1920s hedonistic young Americans flocked to the South of France for the sandy beaches, sunshine and jazz. This was the Roaring Twenties, a decadent moment in time between the Great War and the Great Depression and the Côte d’Azur was the summer playground for the expatriate artists living in Paris. The parties were riotous and cocktails and cigarettes were consumed in great quantities. Sunbathing was becoming popular and bathing suits were getting skimpier.
The Hôtel Belles Rives in Juan-les-Pins opened in 1929 and was the first seaside resort on the Riviera. The hotel was previously called Villa St Louis and is famous as being the place where F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his last novel Tender is the Night in 1925.
The hotel is a small waterfront palace and the restored interior is decked out in pure Nautical Style, a branch of Art Deco. This can be seen in the ocean liner murals covering the walls of the lobby and restaurant, the Streamline Moderne style beachside bar and the sailing ship floor mosaic in the lobby. The upper floors of the hotel have wood paneled corridors with handrails like those on a cruise ship and the marine patterned blue Jules Flippo carpet was inspired by the French ocean liner the Normandie (which also inspired the amazing Streamline Moderne Normandie Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico).
The hotel has the original Art Deco furniture which has been updated with modern fabrics in bright colours and animal prints. The contemporary fabrics work marvelously well in a Schiaparelli kind of way and stop the hotel feeling like a museum.
Every one of the 43 rooms has a balcony and the outdoor space is designed to maximize the stunning views. The hotel pioneered the idea of having terraces that lead directly down to the water and also has a private beach and sprawling deck. Guests can still water ski from the hotel jetty where the sport was reputedly invented.
The hotel’s gourmet restaurant, La Passagère, has beautiful sea views and guests can dine outside on the bougainvillea soaked terrace under the shade of olive trees. Candlelit at night, it is impossibly romantic.
For an informal but elegant lunch guests can eat at the Plage Belles Rives waterfront restaurant where the striped nautical theme continues. Lunch can be followed with a swim in the Med and a lazy afternoon sunbathing on a striped lounger with a cocktail in hand from the airplane wing beachside bar.
The Belles Rives isn’t perfect. The service is atrocious (naturally, it’s in France). It explicably took an hour for someone to bring us a drinks menu. The food is extortionate (around 170 Euros for a two course steak lunch with wine) and you could feed a family of four for a week for the cost of hiring a sun lounger for the afternoon (fortunately for me I was travelling on expenses). And yet none of this seems to matter as much as it should because the chance to play a little 1930s make believe in this beautiful, still-glamorous hotel is irresistible.