A tourist trail

The Belle Epoque Route

The Belle Époque began in 1860, when the County of Nice and Menton became part of France, and lasted until World War I. It was one of the most dazzling and extravagant periods in the history of the French Riviera and Côte d’Azur.

Aristocrats from all over the world flocked here to enjoy its sun-kissed climate and beautiful scenery, worlds away from the cold and pollution of the Industrial Revolution. They were soon joined by industrialists, intellectuals and artists who came to spend their winters here every year.

Whether they were English, Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian or Swedish, here for treatment or entertainment, they brought their luxury lifestyles with them. They brought in the best architects at the time to build stylish villas and leafy gardens; they built tennis clubs, golf courses, casinos and operas that still stand today; they attracted the biggest artists, dancers, authors, painters and musicians; last but not least, they reinvented luxury tourism, the Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée railway and palaces to make the Côte d’Azur one of the world’s leading tourist destinations.

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La Turbie

La Turbie towers above Monaco at an altitude of nearly 500m on the Grande Corniche. The town is the proud home of the Trophy of Augustus and its old village. Winter holidaymakers fell in love with the breathtaking views which they would feast their eyes on from the Côte, on the droveways crossing terraced farms then, from 1894, on the rack railway from Monte Carlo. The train was shut down in 1932 after a serious accident but the view is still just as spectacular from the Rondo, as La Turbie’s mayor and tourist guide author Philippe Casimir wrote in the 1900s: “This panorama, unveiling one of the biggest and most diverse landscapes in the world, is an attraction that makes a big impression.”

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The Rondo

This stone balcony dates back to 1824. The Trophy of Augustus watches over it as visitors drink in views of Monaco below, headlands, Italy in the distance and, if the skies are clear, Corsica. The last stop on the rack railway was nearby.

Free

Panoramic views

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The Tête de Chien

This headland is a landmark in the Riviera. Aside from its incredible views of Nice and Italy, it’s a reminder that the Belle Époque may have been a unique and carefree time of peace, but it was also a time for building defensive structures for the military, just like the Tête de Chien fort that was finished in 1884.

Free

Panoramic views

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Beausoleil

Beausoleil and its history are intrinsically linked to Monaco beneath it. Beausoleil began life as a La Turbie district where Italian immigrants lived whilst working on major building sites in Monte Carlo (the casino, opera, railway, hotels, villas, residences and entertainment venues) before it officially became a town in 1904. Aside from being a company town, Beausoleil became a winter holiday resort with its crown jewel, the majestic Riviera Palace that still towers over it. The world’s biggest names stayed at the luxury 150-room hotel which had a tram line straight to Monte Carlo Casino.

The hilly town is worth a visit for its Belle Époque buildings and villas. You may not be able to take the rack railway up the slopes anymore but there are lots of lifts to save your calves.

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Riviera Palace

The Riviera Palace was built by the Newrest Wagons-Lits company in 1899. The luxury hotel stands out for its incredible 200m2 winter garden with a 27m high glass roof designed by Gustave Eiffel’s studio. It has now been turned into apartments so you can’t go inside, but you can get up close to the stylish building. Venture up its sweeping staircase and drink in views of the sea and Monte-Carlo.

Private entry

Guided tours

Panoramic views

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The Tonkin district

Many of the Italian immigrants who spent 50 years building Monte Carlo lived in this neighbourhood. It’s still home to a maze of lanes, little houses and gardens that you can see on your way up to the Riviera Palace or on the steps running through it.

Free

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Roquebrune-Cap-Martin

The medieval village of Roquebrune became Roquebrune-Cap-Martin during the Belle Époque after the Cap and seaside were turned into a holiday resort. The incredible scenery naturally meant that equally incredible buildings sprang up, including the Grand Hôtel du Cap-Martin, which historians described as: “the perfect blend of decorative beauty, function and technology of the period”. Incredible villas also appeared including Cyrnos, designed and built for Empress Eugénie, Napoleon III’s widow.

You can only get close to the Cap Martin villa from the sea. We recommend you take a boat trip or take a leaf out of Sissi of Austria’s book and walk the coastal path from Monaco to Menton to catch a glimpse of these beautiful villas’ gardens.

If you’re in the mood for nature, escape to the countryside on the “old path from Roquebrune to Menton” in the old village. Go past the ancient olive tree and dive into the countryside, which probably hasn’t changed much since the Belle Époque.

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