The lifestyles of the rich and famous always show us the way.
As they did in the past, mad or not, in fashion, body shape, design or places to go to.
Also when they started to create luxury beach resorts in Europe.
The history of beach life at the seaside makes a good read. And at the same time shows you some of the best beach resorts in Europe.
Homes for the rich and famous
So, who were the first to have their luxury beach resorts at the seaside? We don’t know.
But we do know for sure that the emperors Augustus, Hadrianus and Nero had their summer palaces built in the seaside town of Baiae (at the coast south of Naples in Italy) in the 1st and 2nd century AD and were highly likely the first documented seaside and beach pleasure seekers on a large scale.
They loved their beach parties full of food, drinks, music and so on.
Mad about the beach
It is said that emperor Caligula ordered his troops to collect as many shells as possible at the beach of Amalfi (east of Sorrento under Naples), and by doing so declared himself “owner of the sea”.
More seaside fun in England
Once more the Romans, settling in England, made the beaches of today’s Mersea Island in Essex (until today a famous place of pilgrimage for oysters & ale) into their holiday destinations.
And again in England, the glamorous rich & famous of their time made Scarborough in Yorkshire a fashionable sea resort as early as 1720.
Followed by the developing of the seaside and beach resort of Brighton, which attracted the large gang from London seeking New Romance on the edge of the sea.
Today the city of Brighton bears the title “the hippest and happiest city in the United Kingdom”, with lots of extraordinary places to visit, such as the Royal Pavilion, great restaurants and lots to do at night.
For the working class
When railways started to develop as a form of transport, the middle and working classes could afford to travel to the seaside and its beaches. One of the first resorts with train access was Blackpool’s seaside resort with its splendid Promenade and the North and Central Piers, opened between 1863 and 1868 with a theater and large open-air dance floor.
Back in mainland Europe, Heiligendamm in northern Germany on the Baltic Sea was the first seaside and beach resort built in 1793 for pleasure, attracting nobility from all over Europe.
Norderney, one of the East Frisian Islands off the coast of the North Sea, followed in 1797 with the construction of bath houses, in 1799 followed by the building of a resort for 250 guests.
Crown Prince and last King George of Hanover (whose father hoped him to marry his cousin, the later Queen Victoria) held summer court in Norderney from 1836 onwards, which resulted in a strong following of the rich and famous.
Unfortunately, the Crown Prince turned blind at a young age and has never seen more of the beauty of this seaside area.
In Scheveningen (the beach area of The Hague) in Holland, the Grand Hotel des Bains opened in 1828.
The hotel, built next to the site of the first bathhouse pavilion dating from 1818, became such a success, that it was replaced by the large Kurhaus hotel in 1885.
Shortly after however, in 1886, the Kurhaus burnt down. The chambermaid of the beer brewing Heineken family, staying at the hotel, had caused the fire by accident.
It was rebuilt two years later.
Domburg, in the Zeeland province, started off with bathing facilities for some upper class from 1818 onwards as well as the building of the Bad(!)hotel in 1837 and has attracted tourists from Holland, England, and Germany ever since.
In Oostende, the first English tourists looking for new sea bathing options arrived as early as from initial 19th century.
In Blankenberge, tourism from Belgium, England, France and Germany started to arrive after the railway from Brussels was initiated in 1863. A pier was built in 1894.
Between 1870 and 1914, Blankenberge was the place to go to for the noble rich and famous.
In Knokke in 1908, the Lippens family started to develop a patch of their farmland into a seaside resort.
It has seen an influx of the rich and famous ever since, as the seaside and beach resort is still one of the most expensive real estate areas, with prices going over € 12 million for modest size villas.
All about the money in France – Côte d’Azur
The French Riviera, in French Côte d’Azur, and the city of Nice at the Mediterranean Sea were made popular by the (again!) British upper class at the end of the 18th century, mainly as a winter health resort.
On the same Riviera in Monaco, the Prince of Monaco Carlos III from the house Grimaldi (who was almost bankrupt) and his fellow businessmen responded to the growing demand in gambling and luxury by building Grand Hotels and casinos.
Finally but slowly, in 1863 when regular transport was arranged between Nice and Monaco, gambling at the casino became a real success.
It was renamed Monte Carlo, after Prince Carlos III, and royals and other nobility started to show up, including Queen Victoria and The Rothschilds.
Biarritz, in the south of France, started as a small but popular beach destination.
But when the French Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie built a large summer residence (today Hotel du Palais) at Biarritz, it turned into a luxurious society sea resort for the English, Spanish, and French jet set.
What is the best in Biarritz? Read more.
Then there is Deauville, at the Atlantic in the north of France, developed by the Duke de Morny, the half-brother of Napoleon III as a seaside resort, with horseracing, a railway to Paris and a casino, as well as a bath complex and a seaside promenade.
Somewhat later in 1912, the famous hotel Normandy (now hotel Barrière Le Normandy) opened doors.
Coco Chanel opened her very first boutique store in Deauville around that time, inspired by her lover Boy Capel.
Coco’s saying “ ..you are elegant because you are elegant ” could count for Deauville too.
Spain – San Sebastián
Past the border in Spain, the gorgeous city of San Sebastián (Donostia in Basque language) started to develop as a seaside and beach resort following Biarritz.
The Queen, Isabella II, came to the city often for her thalassotherapy from around mid 19th century onwards.
Maria Christina of Austria moved to the city in summer when she became a widow.
She used to stay at the Miramar Palace, and later commissioned the building of the Royal Summer Palace at La Concha Bay, finished in 1893.
San Sebastián became the summer capital alternative to Madrid.
Today San Sebastian is one of the major tourist destinations in Spain.
Italy – Venice
The Lido island forms the long the strip of land in the Laguna Veneta protecting Venice and Murano from the Adriatic sea.
Since the set up of the first bathing facilities in seawater in 1857, the name Lido became the synonym for luxury beach resorts.
Towards 1900, the initiatives of a couple of businessmen made the Lido shine equal to Biarritz and Oostende (Belgium). Ever since the names Venice and Lido are associated with the light atmosphere of holiday and freedom worldwide, from the U.S. to China.
In the summer of 1900, the famous Grand Hotel des Bains was opened, making the Lido one of the most desired destinations for the international jet set and in 1908 the hotel Excelsior followed.
The hotel hosts the Venice Film Festival, the first edition took place on the front terrace of the hotel in 1932.
Today’s investors have turned hotel Excelsior into a 5 – star luxury hotel again.
They are renovating the sea promenade as well, but the destiny of the Grand Hotel des Bains is looking depressing, as plans are to turn the breathtaking building with all its history into luxury apartments.
Sad even more, the investment company (Est Capital, that owns a hospital and three palazzi in the city), hasn’t started works yet and the hotel is still fenced off.
Rumors go that the investment total was estimated € 700 million.
Across the Adriatic
Looking south of Venice, a small Slovenian coastline lies at the gorgeous Adriatic Sea and neighboring south starts the beauty of Croatia.
Back in time, another Roman emperor, Diocletianus had his retirement Palace built in a bay on the Dalmatian coast, today’s Split.
Back up north, Opatija was the first holiday resort that was set up around 1850.
It was one of the most important and famous health resorts of Europe and later followed by numerous resorts created for the mass tourism boom.
The capital of Zagreb (inland) is one of the most important tourist destinations.
Neum is a maritime resort area developed from 1965 onwards, occupying the beautiful tiny strip on the Adriatic Sea coast in Bosnia-Herzegovina, it claims to see the most sun hours per year within the Adriatic littoral, which makes it for some fleeing the rainy seasons of Northern Europe count as a luxury beach resort location for that matter only.
“If you want to see Heaven on Earth, come to Dubrovnik” is what George Bernard Shaw wrote.
The Hotel Imperial was built in 1895 on a prime location with stunning views over the Medieval Old Town of Dubrovnik and the Adriatic Sea.
And of course… around the world too
The coast of America’s New England developed late 19th century, followed by the Mid-Atlantic States and the area of Miami, Florida.
Miami created a resort within its community of Cocoanut Grove, the Bayview House (also known as the Peacock Inn) and soon other Hotel resorts would follow (e.g. the Royal Palm Hotel and the area of Florida Key with Long Key) around the 1900’s.
Mad about the beach again
One more mentioning outside Europe: the ‘other’ Brighton in Australia is a beach-side suburb of Melbourne that goes back to the same period of the 19th century as its UK namesake.
Brighton Beach was connected by railway in 1860 and has been famous ever since 1862 for what you would call rather a refuge than a resort: the very colorful Brighton bathing boxes.
Today the bathing boxes are very much sought after, they are advertised sometimes as “the
ultimate beachfront address…”, but may only be bought by residents paying local council rates.
The auction at the end January 2016 of 2 brand new boxes built by the council to fill in the financial gaps, did result in the highest bid ever for one of the 12 sqm bathing boxes with no electricity or running water : AUS 285,000.
Maths per sqm makes you wonder if size still matters in Oz?