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Credit Hotel Belles Rives An elaborate, stunning chandelier hangs over the table de commandant/ captain’s table. Before one consults the menu, art is the main course here: substantial Leger-inspired sculptures frame the room, Egyptian sculptures, ceramique flamé in primary colors, la terre rouge, hand-painted Bernardaud porcelain plates with white background, la terre blanche, hand-blown glass from the skilled verriers of nearby Biot. Fun and relaxation are found in equal measure on the sandy private beach, small as it is, and along the private jetty. Swimming, sunbathing plus a variety of water sports are all indulged. And here we find another story, the Belles Rives Ski Nautique: one of the most prestigious waterskiing clubs in the world. Just as the Fitzgerald legacy takes us back to a nostalgic time, so does this story of Léo Roman. In 1931, the off-duty ski instructor was inspired by the calm waters of Golfe-Juan to test a dynamic new sport. Visitors and locals were excited by the thrill of gliding across the bay. Today the club remains very active and open to all. In the lobby, the artwork of ships on the wall and subtle furniture create the illusion of preparing for a voyage. There is a sense of being on an ocean liner during the grand days of transatlantic crossings. One enters the Michelin-starred dining room, La Passagère. The cuisine focuses on local seafood and superior desserts under the direction of some of the finest chefs in France. Bold Temple of Luxor-style columns covered in marble mosaic create a dramatic sense of structure. The geometric frescos on the walls were discovered when wall paper, applied after WW2, was stripped in 2001 to install air conditioning. They offer an effective backdrop to the stunning exhibit of ceramic and glass art created by local artisans that compliments the collection of 1930’s art.
Of all the narratives that make up the foundation of the Hôtel Belles Rives, possibly the best is that of Madame Marianne Estène-Chauvin. Her memories begin with cherished childhood holidays at this resort owned by her Russian emigré grandfather and French grandmother. The original villa was expanded with two upper floors and a west wing. Lovingly restored, the hotel played a major role throughout her life as each generation of the Estène family carried on their dedication to being hoteliers of distinction. When she first expressed interest in becoming the owner, she was not taken seriously. “After all, I am a woman. And there are many other roles within the business it was thought would be more suitable. I became involved with decoration and public relations… women’s work.” Perseverance paid off. Ironically, the week she was to take charge, the uncle who would help ease her into her new role, suffered a major heart attack. Suddenly she was immersed in the business. Soon she had a plan. She changed the seasonal schedule to being open year round, fixed the beach, and began her dream to establish fine dining. The name, La Passagère, evokes not only a passenger on a ship but also a philosophy that we are passengers in time. I’ve left the Library, originally the Music Room, to the last. Here Madame Estène- Chauvin brought to life intimate stories of the Fitzgerald’s time at Villa Saint-Louis. In this room, Cole Porter played the piano. Fitzgerald’s wealthy American friend, Gerald Murphy (who along with his wife, Sarah, had first of this group discovered the Riviera) had brought a portable phonograph from the United States, the first one on the coast. Madame Chauvin The music of the Jazz Age frequently filled this room. Other musicians would filter in at times. Raucous parties were the norm. Today the room also displays portraits and trophies of the winners of the literary Prix Fitzgerald. Begun by Madame Chauvin in 2010, the submissions are juried by a distinguished panel of writers and critics. The recipient is an author working in a style or addressing themes that interested Fitzgerald. The prestigious prize is awarded in early June. On the 50th anniversary of Zelda’s 1948 death, the two Fitzgerald granddaughters were guests at the hotel, when the plaque was mounted in the lobby. They recalled memories their family had passed along through the years. There is an excellent recounting of that visit in this New York Times article.
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