Riviera - Such an Evocative Word

Having lived some of my formative years in Torquay, I grew up with a general sense of what the English Riviera is. I knew it was a term spun off from the French Riviera but I didn't give it much more thought than that. If anything, I assumed that it was a French word linked to riviere, though that still seemed a little confusing as a riviere is a river, not a coast.

The origin of the word is in fact Italian: riviera is simply a coast or coastline in Italian. As soon as you really think about it that becomes obvious, as the word looks far more Italian than French. So it would seem that the original riviera was the Italian Riviera.Italian RivieraToday the Italian Riviera means the Ligurian Coast, the crescent-shaped strip of Mediterranean coastline between France and Tuscany. It is characterised by a rocky coast with high cliffs plunging down into the sea, frequently interrupted small coves, picturesque villages and beaches of fine golden sand.

Strictly speaking, the French Riviera is the short section of the French coast taking in Nice, Monaco (not strictly France at all) and Menton, stopping at the border with Italy. This is quite logical as it then becomes an extension of the Italian Riviera. It would be the area popularised in the late 19th and early 20th century as THE place for wealthy travellers to go for sunny summers and mild winters. French RivieraNo wonder it quickly became a by-word for glamour and sophistication. As the 20th century progressed, the French Riviera stretched, so today most people would recognise it as any part of the coast east of Marseille, including Hyeres, St Tropez, Juan-les-Pins and Cannes.

In England, Torquay was already an upmarket resort by the turn of the 20th century, sharing many of the characteristics of the other rivieras: sandy beaches, interesting rocky coves, warm sunny summers, a mild winter climate that encouraged sub-tropical gardens and a certain elegant je-ne-sais-quoi. There is even a type of palm tree called the Torbay Palm, so it is little wonder that Torbay became the third riviera, the English Riviera.English RivieraIn the face of cheap flights and package holidays, the English Riviera has successfully re-invented itself as a go-to destination for discerning visitors. It's even home to the best B&B in the world.

11 Sep 2019, 11:41