Belles Rives is one of France’s most beloved hotels. This temple to easy living and opulent Art Deco design offers guests a slice of the Riviera high life.
Words Patrick Hamilton Courtney
Hotel Belles Rives – which translates to “beautiful shores” – is a resplendent cream-coloured villa in the quaint Cap d’Antibes town of Juan-les-Pins. Sitting proudly by the water’s edge, with the Mediterranean lapping at its feet, Belles Rives is a Riviera icon.
Most famously, the building was once briefly inhabited by the era-defining American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is rumoured that while living in the villa, he was inspired to write the now classic tome Tender is the Night. Fitzgerald is best known for his tragic depiction of the American Dream The Great Gatsby, a tale of fortune, glamour, love and heartbreak. That same Roaring Twenties glamour lives on in the author’s former home, now a sumptuous five-star hotel, where sophisticated couples and smart families retreat for indulgent Riviera escapes.
The hotel has been in current owner Marianne Estène-Chauvin’s family since 1929. Once a Casablanca-based art dealer, Marianne has lovingly overseen the maintenance of the building and its exquisite Art Deco interiors. Original early 20th century furniture abounds, as does striking modern art and endless period features. There are few rooms in the world that could pull off a mix of bright red and green walls, dark wood furniture, and leopard print upholstery – the hotel’s piano bar is one of them, and it does it effortlessly.
Boasting a private beach, overwater sunbathing jetty, bar and outdoor drinks terrace, jet ski school, and two restaurants – one of which has a Michelin star – Belles Rives is among the finest addresses in the South of France.
The hotel is intimate with just over 40 bedrooms. The most affordable, Superior Cap Rooms, are decently-sized by French Riviera standards and tastefully decorated in neutral tones. However, the real magic is found in the Panoramic Sea View Rooms and Sea View Suites. They’re equipped with king sized beds, enormous paintings, Art Deco furniture, standing balconies, and near life-changing views over the Mediterranean Sea. Bathrooms are a riot of marble, all spotlessly clean and stocked with Penhaligon toiletries.
Belles Rives occupies a prime slice of coastal real estate and makes the very most of it. There’s a private beach that offers both soft sand and pebbles, but the star attraction is the iconic sunbathing jetty that protrudes out some 50 metres into the sea. Lined with rows of plush white sun loungers, guests can gaze directly out over the water while soaking up the rays. Beach attendees in white shorts and polos are never far away, ready to serve cocktails, wine and snacks from an extensive menu. The hotel can also arrange boat trips, jet ski lessons and beach front massages.
Michelin-starred La Passagere is the hotel’s main restaurant, serving sophisticated haute cuisine with an emphasis on the sea. The dining room is an elegant space finished in classically French shades of alabaster and pale grey, enlivened with bursts of Picasso-influenced artwork. In summer months the restaurant spills out onto an ante-terrace allowing guests to enjoy the spectacular views over the bay.
We dined on a seafood tasting menu that included oysters, Amberjack (a kind of white fish), Brittany lobster, courgette flower, red mullet and wild French strawberries. These elements were masterfully fashioned by head chef Aurélien Véquaud into feather light, but full-flavoured dishes. Selected wine pairings were quaffable easy drinkers – nothing else will do in the South of France.
Beach restaurant La Plage offers a bistro menu of simple international cuisine. Think Salad Nicoise with fresh tuna steak, club sandwich, tagliatelle Bolognese, roasted octopus, and a truly superb steak tartare. Diners sit at tables on a covered concrete pontoon built out from the beach onto the water. Open until 4pm, La Plage is a popular lunch spot for both hotel guests and outside patrons.
The hotel’s lounge space Piano Bar Fitzgerald is an Antibes institution. The Art Deco interior was meticulously researched, and features an original leather bar, leopard print club chairs, parquet flooring and a fresco depicting the Riviera coastline. Bartenders are handsome, capable, and very French. Describe your perfect cocktail in three words and they’ll mix something up, taking away the hassle of choosing. In the evenings live pianists tinkle away, playing a mixture of classical jazz and adapted popular music. A magical spot to spend an evening.
The piano bar spills down onto an outdoor terrace, again benefitting from the setting’s stunning views. Guests not dining at La Passagere can eat from a bar snack menu, featuring various dishes from La Plage’s menu.