If the French Riviera became famous in the 19th century, it was mainly due to certain figures of British high society who promoted the area as a health resort for the winter. Before that Nice was known as a stop over for aristocrats heading to Italy on their grand tour of Europe, to see first hand the cultural sites of Europe.
In 1765 a Scottish doctor Tobias Smollett helped set Nice as a desirable destination when he wrote a bestseller on his travels drawing attention to the town as a health resort due to its mild winter. And when sons and brother of King George III started coming regularly to Nice, this added to the prestige of Nice. At that time, Lady Penelope Rivers was helping many British settle for the winter here, and she was no doubt the first property finder ! Then after the unsettled period of the French revolution and Napoleon, the British came back again after 1814 in ever increasing numbers. More hotels and villas, and even blocks of flats were built to accommodate the visitors. The other popular destination alongside Nice was Hyeres, known for its spa, located near Toulon thanks to the efforts of Alphonse Denis the mayor of the town.
Where the English left their mark
In 1823 following a bad harvest, many locals were out of work and the Anglican Révérend Lewis Wey had an idea to employ them - build a promenade along the sea front with the financial support of English visitors. Completed in 1824 it was later called "camin dei Inglés" or "Promenade des Anglais".
Then one day in 1834, Lord Brougham stayed in a very small fishing village called Cannes, and was stunned by the beauty of the bay and surrounding area. Just a year later, he came back to build the first château Éléonore-Louise in Cannes, and many others followed. From initially a British resort, the French Riviera in the 1860's then attracted high society from Paris, Russia as well. Queen Victoria, Edward VII, the Romanoff's were all regular visitors.
With the extension of rail travel and tourism, and the many famous artists and painters who came to live here, the French Riviera or Cote d'Azur became the prime holiday destination in Europe. Luckily the nicest buildings of the 19th century period are still visible today.
If you want to explore in detail the history of the Riviera in the 19th century, with pictures of the first villas built here, check this excellent source: https://journals.openedition.org/insitu/11060