Creative Architecture 10 Must-See Buildings on the Côte d’Azur
Since 1860, Côte d’Azur is the coastline running from Cassis (although some suggest Toulon) to the Italian border. This famous coast passes through famous cities such as Saint Tropez, Cannes, Nice, Monaco and finally Menton. The Côte d’Azur has long held the imagination of travellers wishing to escape the cold months of the year. La Belle Èpoque (1871-1914) on the French Riviera generate the impression of a whimsical golden era brimming with pleasurable pursuits and indulgences.
Architects such as Barry Dierks, Le Corbusier, José Luis Sert, Eileen Gray and many others left their mark on the French Riviera with enduring creative architecture. Here are 10 magnificent examples.
1.Villa E-1027 (Roquebrune-Cap-Martin)
At first sight of Villa E-1027, you’ll see a white rectangular building perched upon the Cap-Martin cliff face. The exterior has floor-to-ceiling concertina windows that open to the Mediterranean Sea. Allowing a dramatic play of light inside and offering a stunning view. Rolling shutters and two strips of canvas block harsh sunlight from damaging the interior while also providing privacy.
Although the house’s interior isn’t strictly an open plan, the villa is meticulously efficient with space. You’ll find a living room sofa that turns into a bed. Several wardrobes open up to become walls. So, it’s no surprise why architects and designers view the building as one of the world’s most significant modern interiors.
Architect: Eileen Gray
Restoration Project: Having fallen into appalling ruin and decay in the late 20th century, Villa E-1027 has recently undergone a major renovation spearheaded by the non-profit, Association Cap Moderne. The completed restoration of the villa was due to be unveiled in June 2020 but, due to winter storms and Covid-19, work has been delayed and fundraising is needed more than ever. Cap Moderne is now hoping to raise the final €275,000 to complete everything by early Spring 2021, and anyone wishing to donate can visit this website.
2. Cabanon du Corbusier (Roquebrune-Cap-Martin)
Also, on the coast of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, just a short walk from E-1027, you’ll come across the Cabanon du Corbusier. A 13 square-metre log cabin. One of Le Corbusier’s smallest architectural projects. Only fitted with necessities but adorned with Le Corbusier’s distinctive murals on the walls and the shutters.
Architect: Le Corbusier
3. Foundation Maeght (St-Paul-de-Vence)
The Maeght Foundation’s architecture is what most artists aspire to achieve. It has a sculptured garden as the entrance and a chapel in the bell tower. The structure may appear highly uniform, but in fact, is not. There are intertwined rooms and passages from inside to outside, buildings wrapped around patios, and openings of various sizes. What’s more? This masterpiece is surrounded by nature, with the sea on one side and the forest and mountains.
Architect: José Luis Sert
Additional Read: Why visit St Paul de Vence.
Where to Eat? La Colombe d’Or is legendary.
4. Marina Baie-des-Anges (Villeneuve-Loubet)
On a relatively flat, 16-hectare site, located between Antibes and Nice, you’ll find a unique urban piece – a gigantic amphitheatre. The project includes 1300 housing units surrounded by a marina. There are four (4) enormous pyramids that push the beach further back to provide a car park. The Marina Baie-des-Anges demonstrates how vision and determination can turn fallow coastal land into a towering marvel. This innovative architecture winds around itself evoking a sense of white waves peaking.
Architect: André Minangoy
5. Maison Bernard (Théoule-sur-Mer)
Maison Bernard looks nothing like a house, from the outside at least. Architect Antti Lovag built the villa as a contrast to the strict uniformity many designers favoured. The organ-shaped structure is the result of a steel rod sprayed with layers of concrete. This design creates large bubbles that serve as rooms and merge into each other. Visitors are often surprised by the built-in storage spaces, winding staircases, and spacious seating areas.
Architect: Antti Lovag
6. Cocteau-Severin Wunderman Museum (Menton)
In the lovely seaside town of Menton on the French Riviera lies the Cocteau-Severin Wunderman Museum. An insular triangular-like structure with a uniform exterior on all sides. This museum, set apart from the surrounding streets, is in stark contrast to the neighbourhood’s urban context. The building’s facade is not only voluntarily multiple but also fragmented and, at times, elusive.
Architect: Rudy Ricciotti
7. Villa Kérylos (Beaulieu-sur-Mer)
The Villa Kérylos is one of Cote d’Azur’s greatest tribute to Greek architecture. The design combines old-world luxury and modern comforts typically found in houses of the Belle Époque. The attention to detail is meticulous, from the mosaic floors to the painted ceiling of interlocking wooden beams. There is also an enormous bathtub balanced on two lion’s paws. The purpose of the decorations becomes quite clear- to recreate the atmosphere of a luxurious antique villa.
Architect: Emmanuel Pontremoli
8. Augustus Trophy (La Turbie)
Around seven (7) kilometres from the village of Eze in La Turbie and overlooking the Principality of Monaco, you’ll find the Tropaeum Alpium. Or, as the French call it, Trophée des Alpes. The building originally consisted of 24 columns that support a stepped conical roof. At 49 meters in height and a circumference of 33 meters, the structure is visible from several La Turbie and Monaco locations.
Architect: Unknown – circa 6 BC
9. Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild (Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat)
Madame Béatrice Ephrussi commissioned the construction of an extravagant, Italian Renaissance-style villa bearing both of her names. The project, which includes magnificent gardens, took seven years (1905 to 1912) to complete. And, a succession of 10 architects attempted to deliver her vision.
Italian Renaissance architecture inspired the design of Villa Ephrussi de Rothchild. Pink columns support the Verona marble arches, and metal columns support the entire structure of the patio. Le Grand Salon, the largest room, looks out onto the Baie des Fourmis at Beaulieu-sur-Mer. The Villa Ephrussi is genuinely a magnificent sight to behold in the barren and rocky land of Cap Ferrat.
Pink was Madame Ephrussi’s favourite colour and the hue chosen for the exterior (and much of the interior) of Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. This regal structure commands a strategic location on “The Cap” with views of the Mediterranean from almost every direction. She was a collector of fine china and exquisite art, much of which is on display at the Villa today.
Managed by Culturespaces, the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is open to visitors. Do not miss the magnificent gardens.
10. Observatoire de Nice
The astronomical observatory in Nice (Observatoire de Nice) stands on top of Mount Gros at an altitude of 370 metres. Designed to house a telescope, the Observatoire de Nice includes a 24-meter rotating dome that opens up to the sky. Ionic columns flank the four facades, and the base structure resembles that of ancient Egyptian pyramids. A stargazing experience at the Nice Observatory is exhilarating.
Architects: Charles Garnier (the main building) and Gustave Eiffel (the dome)
French Riviera Books to Read
To order a copy, please click on the book titles. As an Amazon Associate, the site earns from qualifying purchases. Note: if you purchase a book via these links, we receive a small commission and there is no impact on the price that you pay.
Maureen Emerson and her husband spent in the South of France for 22 years. She remains enthralled by the stories of those who lived on the Riviera in the 1920s and 1930s and how WWII affected their lives. Maureen has published two books on influential residents of the French Riviera during that era. Her first book, Escape to Provence, published in 2008, is the true story of Lady Winifred Fortescue (author) and Elisabeth Parrish Star (Great War heroine).
Riviera Dreaming, Love and War on the Côte d’Azur Maureen Emerson’s second book is the biography of American architect Barry Dierks. You have probably never heard of Dierks despite the significant residential design work he completed on the Riviera. The story of this young American architect and his partner, Colonel Eric Sawyer, begins in 1925 on the French Riviera. Once WWI traumas faded, French Riviera residents began rebuilding their lives and luxury homes along the coast.
The Riviera Set: Glitz, Glamour, and the Hidden World of High Society is the latest book by author Mary S. Lovell, a biography about the rich, or famous, who spent time on the French Riviera from the 1920s to 1960. Many of these people gathered at the art deco home of Maxine Elliot Château de l’Horizon near Cannes. An American actress Elliot has an interesting backstory that Lovell covers in Part One of the book. Elliot’s acting career launched in 1893, with a lead role in The Prodigal Daughter on Broadway. International stage successes, rocky marriages and financial stability followed. Eventually, she arrived on the French Riviera with her Rolodex in the late 1920s.
Renata Haidle is based in Montana, but she is smitten with Provence and the Côte d’Azur like many of us. French Riviera is her first book contains 92 impossibly beautiful images of the towns in the region.
Virginia Johnson is a Canadian textile designer and artist. After challenging her artistic skills in New York City for seven years, she returned to Toronto, Ontario. Whether you have been to the French Riviera countless times or have always dreamed of the place, Virginia Johnson’s Travels Through the French Riviera is an insider’s guide from an artist’s perspective. Johnson is a Canadian designer and illustrator. Her book is a compilation of years of exploration along the Côte d’Azur with her sketchbook and paintbrushes.