Guide To The Most Attractive ‘Belle Epoque’ (Beautiful Era) Cities in France
The era known as Belle Époque occurred after the French-German war in 1870/71, when Europe enjoyed a period of interior peace for more than forty years until the start of the First World War in 1914. During this period, many important developments took place especially in those countries with a considerable influence such as England, France, Austria and Germany.
This period is called The Belle Époque (beautiful era) where optimism, economic prosperity, and technological and cultural innovations took place. In this period, Art Nouveau (New Art) emerged as an art movement and characterized the design of buildings and public spaces, especially in France where the art flourished. Paris Metro stations are a clear example.
France is brimming with beautiful buildings that date from the golden age of the Belle Epoque, and most of them are in small towns, often ignored by foreign visitors. Here’s a short list of beautiful towns that every tourist should visit when travelling across the country. Paris is a diamond, but it’s not the only magic gem in France.
Nice is one of the most popular places on the French Riviera. Not only thanks to its beaches and wonderful weather, but also as a touristic hot spot since the beginning of the Belle Epoque, and as a stylish and accessible winter destination. It was finally ceded to the French state in 1860, following many years of division between the country and pre-Italian states. With its political future more secure, Nice could look forward to a period of stability and growth. The influence of Belle Époque architecture is ubiquitous in Nice, particularly in the Cimiez district, along the Promenade des Anglais and in Le Quartier des Musiciens. Indeed, if you allow your eyes to be drawn upwards, it is hard to avoid seeing the Belle Époque influence. Today, you can enjoy a walk in the footsteps of the Belle Époque’s winter visitors, “les hivernants”, and admire the flamboyance of their houses.
Annecy is an old alpine town, in the Haute-Savoie department. It is surrounded by the mountains and it lies on the tip of Lake Annecy. Historically, the commune was the court of the counts of Geneva first, and it passed to the counts of Savoy in 1401. During the Belle Epoque era, Annecy lived the process of tourism development, thanks to its spa establishments, such as the Thermes Nationaux, built in 1864. Annecy has also one of the most beautiful casinos in the world, the Annecy Imperial Palace Casino, opened in 1913, and it is considered an emblematic building of the Belle Epoque.
Biarritz is probably one of the hottest spot for surfing in Europe. It’s called “the pearl of the Atlantic” and here history and culture can perfectly cohabit with the surf-based culture, where young surfers love to enjoy the nightlife. Biarritz took off as a resort in the mid-19th century when Napoléon III and his Spanish-born wife, Eugénie, visited regularly, but it hasn’t lost all her gentility and you’ll still find along its rocky coastline, architectural hallmarks of this golden age in the graceful decor of many cafes, restaurants and hotels. From the beautiful Grand Plage, the town’s largest beach, you can look back at a predominantly belle époque town, with its public and private buildings redolent of an age of wealth and good taste.
Deauville and Trouville
Just over an hour by train from Paris, chic Deauville and its neighbour Trouville are often referred to as the ‘Parisian Riviera’. Also it has become interesting for British visitors, thanks to the increased number of low cost flights and the proximity to Calais. These two close but different towns, have several Belle Epoque villas, in a quiet and refined environment. Deauville was thrown up quickly in the middle of the 19th century, to capitalise on the railway link from Paris. It soon became a fashionable seaside resort, attracting not just Parisians but the international upper classes. Just five minutes’ walk across the River Touques from Deauville is the ancient Viking port of Trouville. By contrast, Trouville is both a veteran beach resort, and a working fishing port. The fishing boats still go out every day and it’s worth visiting the large covered fish market to sample plates of seafood with a glass of wine. Popular with middle-class French families, the town was frequented by painters and writers during the 19th century. Belle Époque villas, in all architectural styles, climb up the hill in front of the sea and the boardwalk, built in 1867 and the first in Normandy is still going strong.
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