The once upon a time world The dark and sparkling story of the French Riviera

Jonathan Miles, 1952-

Book - 2023

"Chronicling two-hundred years of glamour, intrigue, and hedonism, this rich and vivid history of the French Riviera features a vast cast of characters, from Pablo Picasso and Coco Chanel to Andre Matisse and James Baldwin. 1835, Lord Brougham founded Cannes, introducing bathing and the manicured lawn to the wilds of the Mediterranean coast. Today, much of that shore has become a concrete mass from which escape is an exclusive dream. In the 185 years between, the stretch of seaboard from the red mountains of the Esterel to the Italian border hosted a cultural phenomenon well in excess of its tiny size. A mere handful of towns and resorts created by foreign visitors - notably English, Russian and American - attracted the talented, rich ...and famous as well as those who wanted to be. For nearly two centuries of creativity, luxury, excess, scandal, war and corruption, the dark and sparkling world of the Riviera was a temptation for everybody who was anybody. Often frivolous, it was also a potent cultural matrix that inspired the likes of Picasso, Matisse, Coco Chanel, Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, James Baldwin, Catherine Mansfield, Sartre and Stravinsky. In Once Upon a Time World, Jonathan Miles presents the remarkable story of the small strip of French coast that lured the world to its shores. It is a wild and unforgettable tale that follows the Riviera's transformation from paradise and wilderness to a pollution imperiled concrete jungle."--Publisher's website.

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Informational works
New York, NY : Pegasus Books, Ltd 2023.
Main Author
Jonathan Miles, 1952- (author)
First Pegasus Books cloth edition
Physical Description
455 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), map ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • The Voices of Paradise
  • 1. Jagged, Tormented and Tiny
  • 2. This 'Wild and Tremendous Region of the Globe'
  • 3. 'Bathing in Sunshine', 1835-60
  • 4. A Welcome to the World, 1860-90
  • 5. The Belle Époque, 1890-1914
  • 6. Painting the Warmth of the Sun
  • 7. The First World War, 1914-18
  • 8. 'The British-American Riviera Colony', 1922-9
  • 9. Losing Paradise, 1930-9
  • 10. Refugees and Resistance, 1939-45
  • 11. Glitz, 1945-60
  • 12. Sunny But Shady, 1960-90
  • 13. White, Concrete Coast, 1990-2023
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Acknowledgements
  • Illustrations
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

This lively history of the French Riviera (Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo) is filled with enchanting morsels, like the real story of the man in the iron mask, and colored with recollections penned by the many famous artists, nobles, academics, financiers, botanists, and others who visited. A patron recalls the maître d' at the Grand Hôtel in Monte Carlo cutting up a duck "in the twinkling of an eye." Claude Monet writes of his admiration for "the sweeping lines of the mountains." Miles (St. Petersburg, 2019) seeks to explain the coastal region's allure and portray the visitors from Britain, Russia, Germany and elsewhere who helped transform it from a culturally barren home to thieves and middling craftsmen into a retreat for convalescents and then a seductive and luxurious vacation destination for the wealthy. The history of these visitors--who brought their native languages, architecture, religions, manners, and customs--reflects a broader history of European political jostling and industrial development. Occasional black-and-white illustrations help readers visualize the storied region and the art it inspired.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

"For two centuries of opulence, scandal, war and corruption, the Riviera was a temptation," writes historian Miles (The Wreck of the Medusa) in this comprehensive chronicle, which tracks the ups and downs of France's southern coastline across the 19th and 20th centuries. During the Victorian era, the rich and carefree, including Queen Victoria herself, visited the Riviera, shaping places like Nice, Marseilles, and Cannes into indulgent playgrounds. During WWII, it was a strategic location for Axis troops, and many of its art deco landmarks were destroyed by bombings. Following the war, Hollywood discovered the Riviera. From the founding of the Cannes film festival in 1939 to the 1956 marriage of Grace Kelly to the prince of Monaco, Miles traces how the Riviera became the place for movie stars to see and be seen. This period also marked the rise of the mafia in the casinos of Nice and Monaco, a "sunny but shady" criminal underworld. Throughout, Miles focuses on artists (Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso) and writers (Katherine Mansfield, James Baldwin), tracing the impact of the gorgeous seaside on their work and on their personal lives. Stuffed with entrancing details, it's a charming if somewhat dense look at a storied region. (Sept.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

Using the same format as he did in St. Petersburg, Paris-based author Miles chronologically surveys the French Riviera in this second volume of what he calls an informal trilogy about "phenomenal places created by strangers." The snowy Alps to the north juxtaposed with the warm Mediterranean of the southeast coast of France formed a secluded paradise, also known as the Côte d'Azur, with a temperate and supposedly healing climate. In 1835, Lord Brougham built a villa in Cannes, and wealthy Englishmen, Russians, and Americans were drawn to the coastline and its diversions: alcohol, casinos, horse and car racing, and film festivals. Nearly 400 pages, this book includes stories about the area's residents and famous celebrity guests--Queen Victoria, Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Baldwin, and Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, to name a few--which sometimes reads like an extended society gossip column. Some readers may feel overwhelmed by the details, but many will find there's much to learn. VERDICT This sweeping history traces the French Riviera from its geological formation through the Belle Époque, the Roaring Twenties, and both world wars to the present day. Given Miles's writing style and geographical detail, Simon Winchester is a good read-alike author.--Denise Miller

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

For a small slice of geography, the French Riviera has cast a long shadow, and it is one of wealth, style, and decadence. Miles, the author of a string of well-received books, describes The Once Upon a Time World as "the second volume of an informal trilogy dedicated to phenomenal places created by strangers"; the first was St Petersburg: Three Centuries of Murderous Desire. The Riviera is a strip of land, including the microstate of Monaco, nestled between the azure waters of the Mediterranean and the stunning foothills of the Alps. It was Englishman Lord Brougham who started the show in 1835, with the idea of building a health resort for the well-to-do. The plan was successful, and over time the guest list extended to artists and writers, many of whom liked the sexual freedom available. Picasso, Coco Chanel, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, and Stravinsky spent considerable time there. Even Karl Marx, and later Harpo Marx, put in an appearance. The lush casinos attracted high rollers, and American money and celebrities poured in. The Riviera fared badly during World War II, but there was a resurgence in the 1950s and 1960s, with Hollywood stars leading the way. Grace Kelly married into Monaco royalty, sealing the bond. But the good times could not last. Eventually, overdevelopment turned much of the scenery into concrete, and the area became increasingly known for crime, corruption, and money laundering. Tourism is the main business of the area, but it runs mainly on nostalgia and pleasant weather. Miles suggests that a recovery is possible, but he sounds more hopeful than convincing. Looking back, the long heyday of the Riviera seems like a fantasy story, replete with colorful and unlikely characters. And it's a story that, perhaps, starts with "once upon a time, there was a beautiful beach…." Miles obviously has a great time recounting the history of the Riviera, making the book an enjoyable, absorbing read. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.