F Scott Fitzgerald’s Love Affair with the French Riviera

American author F. Scott Fitzgerald fell in love with the French Riviera a century ago when he first sailed over from the US in 1924, with wife Zelda and their daughter Scottie.

In fact, there’s a beautiful quote he penned 98 years ago today (15 March 1926) which still resonates with modern visitors to the Côte d’Azur. The quote is engraved in marble in the lobby of the Hotel Belles Rives in Juan les Pins. It reads:

“With our being back in a nice villa on my beloved Riviera (between Cannes and Nice) 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.”

It was here at the Belles Rives, then called Villa Saint-Louis, that the best-selling author began ‘Tender is the Night‘.

A few years later, in 1929, the private villa was transformed into the now famous Hotel Belles Rives, and to this day it still pays homage to the legendary writer. (If you’re on the Riviera, a cocktail in Bar Fitzgerald is a must.)

Hotel Belles Rives
Photo: Seonaid Davidson, Riviera Traveller

Riviera lifestyle

The Fitzgeralds had escaped to the “Old World to find a new rhythm to our lives” in order for Fitzgerald to complete ‘The Great Gatsby’. It’s the same laid back rhythm that still attracts foreigners to the “hot, sweet South of France” today.

Hotel Belles Rives
Photo: Seonaid Davidson, Riviera Traveller

Scott and Zelda first rented a villa in Saint-Raphaël (which they adored, although – probably bored whilst her husband was holed up writing – she had a brief affair which broke his heart).

The following year they headed instead to Cap d’Antibes where their good friends Sara and Gerald Murphy lived in Villa America. (The Murphys had fallen for Antibes in 1922 after being guests of Cole Porter at his holiday rental, Château de la Garoupe, a sprawling mansion which was recently sold to the co-founder of WhatsApp).

The Allure of the French Riviera

Fitzgerald declared in a 1924 article: “When your eyes first fall upon the Mediterranean you know at once why it was here that man first stood erect and stretched out his arms toward the sun.”

Hotel Belles Rives
Photos by Riviera Traveller of the marble engraving and a poster in Bar Fitzgerald, at the Belles Rives hotel, showing F Scott Fitzgerald relaxing at Villa Saint-Louis (which then became Belles Rives).

He raved about the intensely blue sea, and the “green belt of land (that) runs along the coast for a hundred miles and makes a playground for the world.”

Zelda later wrote that the French Riviera is “a seductive place” and that things were accentuated by “the blare of the beaten blue and those white palaces shimmering under the heat” (from ‘Save Me the Waltz’, 1932).

Château des Juan Les Pins, Cap d'Antibes, South of France. Photo: Riviera Traveller
Château de Juan Les Pins where Valentino holidayed and partied in the same circle as the Fitzgeralds, Cap d’Antibes, South of France. Photo: Riviera Traveller

Hollywood star Rudolf Valentino, who was in their social circle, stayed in one of those ‘white palaces’, now called Château de Juan les Pins. Others in the glittering Antibes circle included author Ernest Hemingway, artists Pablo Picasso and Man Ray, writers Dorothy Parker and Gertrude Stein, amongst others, according to an article in France Today.

It was the golden age of the Riviera, and much of it made its way into Fitzgerald’s novel – the glamorous main characters in ‘Tender is the Night’ (Nicole and Dick Diver) were loosely based on the Murphys (and the book is dedicated to them). The novel begins on the beach at La Garoupe, and Hôtel des Étrangers was inspired by Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, where the Fitzgeralds partied as guests of the Murphys who were staying there while their villa was under construction.

Today, tourists from around the world still flock to the Riviera to experience a little of that dazzling lifestyle – balmy days basking in the sun and diving into the Med, followed by soirées of partying under the twinkling lights of the Riviera.

Hotel Belles Rives
Belles Rives terrace. Photo: Riviera Traveller

The beautiful Belles Rives has just opened again for the 2024 season – see you on the terrace for sundowners!

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Jenni Baxter
Jenni Baxter
Jenni is a co-founder and editor of Riviera Traveller. She has been based in Antibes for over 10 years, and has been visiting the Côte d’Azur since she was a student. As a celebrity journalist for international magazines, she has watched hundreds of movies at the Cannes Film Festival, interviewed stars at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc and watched the Monaco Grand Prix from all the key angles. Jenni has also lived in South Africa, London and Australia... and co-wrote The Expat Confessions. She is happiest paddle boarding on the Med with her 3 daughters, or sipping rooibos in the African bush. Contact

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