F. Scott Fitzgerald described the Riviera as a “playground” with a “fairy blue” sea, where the whole world goes to “to forget or rejoice, to hide its face or have its fling”.
Famous for its resort cities such as Nice, Cannes, and Saint Tropez, which instantly bring to mind images of palm trees, beaches filled with topless sunbathers, and Leonardo DiCaprio on a yacht, it’s no wonder that foreigners are drawn to the leisurely lifestyle of the south of France.
The Riviera has been frequented over the years, not only by Fitzgerald, but by writers and artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Aldous Huxley. Many expats have chosen to call the Mediterranean coast home, joining the likes of singers Elton John and Bono in having second homes there.
We couldn’t get hold of Elton John, but we talked to a variety of anglophones living on the Riviera to see how the Cote d’Azur has changed their lifestyles and habits.
Here’s what they had to say.
An adjustment in working hours
Lane Nieset, an American freelance journalist and blogger, told The Local that the difference in working hours when she moved to Nice was a bit of a shock.
“The hardest adjustment is getting used to shops and offices closing for lunch, since that's the time I'm usually out running errands,” she said.
American writer and blogger Kim Defforge also found it tough to get used to “pre-planning (for things like shopping) and not doing much on Sundays, whereas in the US everything is open 24/7.”
Endless opportunities for outdoor activities
Photo: Jean-Baptiste Bellet/Flickr
France’s southern coast, with its expansive seafronts and rugged coastal trails and beaches will encourage you to be your most outdoorsy self.
“The region offers the best of every kind of outdoor activity, from rock climbing and hiking to kite surfing and paddle boarding,” said Nieset.
“Last autumn, I got certified to scuba dive in the bay of Villefranche and this winter I've been exploring more of the area on hiking and cycling trips.”
(Fancy a dip in the sea at lunch time? Photo: AFP)
The lunchtime break from work is far more respected all over France than in Anglo countries but on the Riviera, they take it to a new level. And it's not just about taking time to sit and have a meal (rather than eating at your desk), but taking the time to have a dip in the sea.
Canadian Nancy Heslin, Editor in Chief of the Riviera Reporter, told The Local that it’s not uncommon to see people swimming in the sea at lunchtime, then putting on their work clothes and going back to the office.
No more hibernating through winters
Perhaps unsurprisingly, blogger Margo Lestz finds the weather on the Cote d’Azur to be far superior to England’s.
“The weather is really an important factor for me since I hate the cold,” said Lestz, an American by birth who divides her time between London and Nice.
“The mild temperatures on the Riviera mean that I can go for walks along the sea even in winter – instead of hibernating like I do in the UK.”
Greg, an American in Nice, loves life on the Riviera for similar reasons. He told The Local that being able to run and do his outdoor activities every day of the year makes him feel like a healthier, happier person.
Sunbathers on the beach in Nice, the Riviera's largest city. Photo: AFP
Becoming a Riviera woman
Heslin of the Riviera Reporter also told The Local that that Riviera women particularly in the chic resorts take particular pride in taking care of their bodies. She says there’s a lot of pressure for women to have sculpted bodies and tanned skin, and many foreigners do try to blend in.
She notes that Riviera women embody a strange paradox in that they’re independent, but also sometimes act like damsels in distress.
“It's like going back to a traditionally macho world, which is hard for a North American, but the women here like that balance,” said Heslin.
(The Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Photo: Bob Hal/Flickr)
Expats on the Riviera tend to drive less, thanks to the public transportation, pedestrian-friendly cities, and no doubt in part because of the 300 plus days of sunshine. Why get in a car when you can stroll outside under blue skies and palm trees?
“I walk more because the city centre of Nice is so pedestrian friendly, whereas in the US, I had to drive everywhere (living in the suburbs),” said US blogger Defforge.
When she’s not walking, she takes advantage of the expansive public transportation network from Cannes to Monaco to Italy.
Experiencing food differently
“Shopping and eating are completely different here,” said Allison Coe, an American blogger at Best of Nice blog.
“I don't go to big grocery stores or eat processed food, but instead take my time shopping at open-air markets or the little food boutiques in Old Nice for fresh food for the day.”
Defforge says it’s impossible to forget to have a decent lunch, “especially with the daily cannon reminder at noon in Nice, and the fact that restaurants only serve lunch within a designated time limit.”
Joseph Yacino, an American personal chef says: “I have found a butcher, a fishmonger, and make my own breads – I can't call what I make baguettes because my oven is too short. I make batard, and crusty rolls with the same recipe that is required by law in France.”
Even when he’s back in the US, his “joie de vivre” is alive and thriving. I teach my clients that wasting food is considered rude, and thus smaller portions are the way to go.”
Slowing down, embracing the simple life
(Former president Jacques Chirac enjoying the simple life on the French Riviera. Photo: AFP)
It seems most anglophones who’ve made the move to the French Riviera can agree that life on the Cote d’Azur is all about being slower and simpler, in the best way possible.
“The pace of living is much more relaxed here, with very little pressure to go-go-go like in the US,” said Coe, from the Best of Nice blog. “I love it… Nothing is as efficient as in the US, but everything is much more pleasurable…”
She also says she’s learned to “embrace the simple life” and live in a completely different way than she lived in the U.S.
“I don’t have a car and live in a walk-up seventeenth-century apartment,” she said. “There are not many elevators in the medieval buildings in the Old Town!”
Nieset added that she loves Paris, “but the city can feel like a grind since it's so fast-paced. Here, if you're walking too quickly or feeling stressed, passers-by will remind you with a smile to slow down and ‘profitez’”.
Be prepared to be more aggressive
The Riviera Reporter's Heslin says the mixture of French living with foreigners from numerous countries means people tend to be more aggressive towards each other.
“Because people are from all different countries, there's no notion of common courtesy,” she said. “Everyone just acts in their own way.”
So be prepared to be more abrasive, swim at lunchtime, stop walking so fast and eat fresh ingredients, if you're thinking of making the move to the French Riviera.
By Katie Warren