If you’ve visited the North as well as the South of France, you’ve probably seen a marked contrast in the architecture, of say, Paris as opposed to Nice or Cannes – not to mention the contrast in climate or attitude towards life.
In the French Riviera, la vie est belle. The South is sunny, dry and has inherited the laid-back lifestyle typical of the Mediterranean. Renowned for its no-stress, take-it-as-it-comes attitude, the Côte d’Azur’s buildings reflect the spirit of the coast, with bold-coloured doors and shutters contrasted with crisp whites and of course, an emphasis on striking that perfect view.
In the 20th century, great artists flocked to the Côte d’Azur, taking in its bright colours and pleasant climate as a source of inspiration for their work. Artists like Renoir, Bonnard, Matisse, Picasso and Chagall as well as many of their successors looked to France’s stunning south eastern coast in order to recreate its effortless beauty.
In the nineteen-twenties and thirties, the Riviera became a hotbed for modernist architectural experimentation. If you’re a fan of the modern movement, the Côte d’Azur has some unusual, stunning seaside residences that are an absolute must-see. After visiting the area’s art museums such as the Musée Matisse and Musée Marc Chagall in Nice, stop by a few seaside villas where modern art converges with everyday life.
Let’s begin with the villas of Le Corbusier, one of the modern era’s most prominent architects and designers. Throughout the twenties and thirties, Le Corbusier carried out a remarkable ensemble of housing projects throughout France, with a focus on improvements to the growing squalor of the Parisian slums. However, it is in the Riviera that you will find his own vacation home, where he spent his last days taking daily swims in the Mediterranean.
The modest bungalow sits on a hillside of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, a scenic peninsula just west of Menton. Enclosed in pine planks with only one bedroom and enough living space for him and his wife, the tiny home is inspired by the minimalism of an ocean liner cabin. Surrounded by bougainvillea, cypress and palm trees, the cabanon lies against a stunning view of the Mediterranean.
Along the Bay of Monaco lies another landmark piece of modernist architecture, Eileen Gray’s E1027. This ship-like villa is also a product of nautical inspiration, and sits among the numerous crisp white yachts that dot the coast’s turquoise waters. Gray, an Irish architect renowned for her innovative furniture design, built this amazing structure as a vacation home for her and her lover. Its cryptic name is actually code for their intertwined initials.
One of France’s first truly modern constructions, Villa Noailles sits on a hill above the city of Hyères, just east of Toulon. The work of Robert Mallet-Stevens, it was built in 1923 for viscount Charles de Noailles and his wife Marie-Laure, who sought a home that was “infiniment simple et pratique”. The couple were celebrated art patrons who supported experimental works including the film projects of various surrealist artists, Salvador Dali being one of them.
As you can see, a few stops down the coast of the French Riviera and you will have seen the architectural remnants of the burgeoning avant-garde in the early twentieth century. These unique villas are just a few of the spectacular properties that line the coast of the sparkling Côte d’Azur.
Blending the beauty of the coast with modern functionality, there is an abundance of beautiful contemporary villas that have followed in the footsteps of modern architects such as Le Corbusier, Gray and Mallet-Stevens. These French Riviera villa rentals can be spotted from the public beaches and are eye candy to the passers by who come to the coast for the same sunshine that attracted the world’s great modern artists.
Roxanne Bichard is a Montreal-born university student and travel blogger for Luxury Retreats. Currently finishing up her degree in Avignon, France, she has spent the past few months living in and exploring the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur regions.
By Roxanne Bichard