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Hemingway’s Garden of Eden: The French Riviera

“Imagination is the one thing beside honesty that a good writer must have. The more he learns from experience the more he can imagine” – Ernest Hemingway

Much has been written about the writer Ernest Hemingway and of the time he spent in France with three of his four wives, at different stages in his life: Hadley Richardson, the first wife; Pauline Pfeiffer, the second; and Mary Welsh the fourth. One of his favourite parts of France was the French Riviera which features in several of his works.

 The Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden, posthumously published in 1986, is one of Hemingway’s four unfinished novels.  The locale is the 1920s relatively unspoiled Côte d’Azur, a time before it was discovered by hordes of tourists. Using fictional characterizations of himself, Hadley and Pauline, Hemingway explored the unique and intertwining elements of a love triangle much like he experienced with the two women. Pauline initially entered Hemingway and Hadley’s lives as a volunteer sitter for their seriously ill son Bumby, then became Hemingway’s lover while still married to Hadley, and a year later his second wife.

In The Garden of Eden, David Bourne is a young American writer with a beautiful young wife who is jealous of his literary successes. The Bournes live near the Golf of Napoule, in a small private pine grove. An exclusive section on the Riviera southwest of Cannes, noted for the Chateau de la Napoule, a fortified castle from the 14th Century. They enjoy the beach, swimming, exploring the coastline, and cycling, as their real-life counterparts Hemingway, Hadley and Pauline did in 1926. Both the fictional Bournes and the Hemingways – including Pauline – took side trips to the Camargue, vast salt flats where wild white horses roam, cattle and black bulls dominate the landscape and are herded by gardians, and flamingos and dozens of other species fill the skies.

Antibes Juan-les-Pins

The Hemingways spent considerable time in Cap d’Antibes with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Sara and Gerald Murphy, wealthy friends of the Fitzgeralds. Hemingway often socialised with John Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein, and Pablo Picasso – a sometimes-resident artist who said: “Whenever I come to Antibes I’m always attacked by the itch of antiquity.”

The Murphys, who were the inspiration for Dick and Nicole Diver in Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, became close friends with Hemingway, especially supporting him during his break-up with Hadley. Gerald, an heir to the Mark Cross luxury leather goods company, and a painter of early Pop Art together with his beautiful wife Sara, one of Picasso’s secret muses, were the Riviera’s original trendsetters.

After studying art in Paris, Gerald and Sara moved to Cap d’Antibes in the summer of 1922.  Soon after renting rooms in the seaside Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, they encouraged the owners to maintain the hotel with full facilities during the summer. This was unheard of, since most of the luxury hotels were only open during the winter season. The Murphys were credited with initiating the summer season on the Riviera. The Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc soon became the center of the Murphys’ social life, as well as those of their friends, until their home, the Villa America, was completed nearby.

In the summer of 1925, Hemingway and Hadley spent June in Antibes with the Murphys, while Picasso spent July there; the Murphys wisely kept the two egos safely separated.

To celebrate the publication of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, the Murphys gave an extravagant party in his honor in the Juan-les-Pins casino, as described in A Moveable Feast. The Hemingways stayed at the Villa Paquita (today the Villa Picolette) in Juan-les-Pins, close to the seaside villa Saint-Louis, which the Fitzgeralds called home, and where Scott began writing Tender is the Night. In 1929, the Villa Saint-Louis became the fascinating and trendy 5-star, Hôtel Belles Rives which has kept its striking Art Deco ambiance.


During almost 40 years, Hemingway visited much of southern France including Cannes and Nice, Avignon and Arles, Aix-en-Provence and Juan-les-Pins, Monte Carlo and Marseilles. In 1924, aged 25, Hemingway had traveled to the area on a delayed honeymoon with Hadley. In 1927, they were divorced. The following year, Hemingway and Pauline went to the Camargue on their honeymoon, staying in the Grand Hôtel du Pommier (the Hôtel Grande Bellevue today), as they enjoyed the isolation and privacy of the small village of Le Grau-du-Roi, as well as the start beauty of the Camargue.

As with the Bournes in The Garden of Eden, Hemingway and Pauline spent time in Aigues-Mortes and Avignon. Hemingway and Pauline planned to bicycle from there to the Pont du Gard, a large bridge spanning the Gard River and supporting an aqueduct that carried water 30 miles to Nîmes. “But the mistral was blowing so they rode with the mistral down to Nîmes and stayed there at the Imperator…”

In 1949, Hemingway returned with Mary, his fourth wife, to the Imperator. The legend goes that Hemingway created the Bloody Mary in the Imperator to trick Mary, so he could drink what appeared to be only tomato juice, even though his doctors insisted that he stop drinking.

By John Pekich  producer, director, actor and writer, especially of original Sherlock Holmes and Victorian Mysteries in Cape May, New Jersey, USA

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