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Au revoir, Petra Hall!

After more than 25 years at the helm of our publications, Riviera Press editor-in-chief Petra Hall is starting a new life. It has taken an unbelievably strong and determined woman to give a voice to the many thousands of expats – Anglophones and German-speakers alike –on the Côte d’Azur and Italian Riviera.

Ever since founding RivieraZeit (formerly known as Riviera-Côte d’Azur Zeitung) in 1992 and Riviera Insider (previously The Riviera Times) in 2002, Petra Hall has helped foreigners adapt to life in a new land. She has tirelessly shown newcomers to the region the social and practical skills needed to understand, navigate and master the rules of an unfamiliar place, and has taught them to be respectful and confident – but never arrogant – when dealing with its natives and authorities. She has also demonstrated how conflicts can be calmly resolved among people of different nationalities. And all this through tools she created herself: the only dedicated foreign-language publications in the south of France and Liguria. 

To a life of freedom

She can look back on an enormous number of achievements and is a beacon of mutual respect. Now she passes down an outstanding journalistic legacy that is for others to continue. Following this final issue, Petra will retreat to, in her own words, a ‘more laid-back life’. Never in the history of 309 and 179 editions of RivieraZeit and Riviera Insider respectively has she been absent from these pages.

“I’m really looking forward to a life of freedom, of being able to do exactly what I want,” she says, refusing to dwell in nostalgic pathos. We’re of course happy for her, albeit with a tear in the eye. 

Even those who have worked alongside her in these past decades can only have a superficial understanding of the work and effort she has poured into the magazines. We love her and will certainly miss her, but rejoice – if grudgingly – with her that she will finally get some time to herself.

Writing words of praise, that’s the hardest task for every journalist. So it really struck me to have been selected to come up with ‘a few worthy parting words’. Let me tell you, there’s just nothing bad to say about this woman. How annoying! When you’re writing an obituary, you can at least be sure your protagonist won’t complain afterwards. But our editor-in-chief is as alive as ever, and there’s a good chance she will find something to nag about.

She doesn’t fit any cliché

The safest thing to do is simply to quote others, including the chief editors of Die Zeit, the renowned German national weekly newspaper published in Petra’s hometown of Hamburg: “Self-assertive and contemplative”... “Particular and exacting yet supple”... “Traditional but also innovative”... “Worldly and down to earth”... She doesn’t fit any cliché. Far more than just her German origins, Petra is an Anglo-, Franco- and Italo-phile. Thoroughly individualist, she can be a bit unpredictable, but that’s great if you like surprises and you’ll never get bored in her company.

From the very start, the positive reactions of her readers were proof that she had recognised a real gap in the expat and foreign visitor market. It was harder, however, to convince the region’s ‘institutions’ (as she describes them) of the power her German and English-language publications held. 

Petra Hall is pictured with Prince Albert II de Monaco in the palace's gardens“It took years for the various decision makers to finally understand what we had become,” she reflects, “an influential source of news and information.”

But neither this nor times of economic hardship dulled her passion and ambition for the magazines: “The more difficult things became, the thicker my skin got.”

During her tenure, Petra has seen numerous other foreign language newspapers and publications come – and go. She, however, has kept her course even in the stormiest seas of the press world and has stood solidly by her principles. The most overriding of these pertain to quality. To this end, she has built around herself a team of experienced, native-speaker journalists who understand and know the area well. They conduct independent research to report on verifiable information.

A rock of international culture

Another of her principles was to share knowledge on a broad range of topics. She has tackled everything from environmental reporting to crime, culture, business and gastronomy. The reputation of her magazines has drawn interest from specialist contributors from the fields of tax and the law, to name just a few. She defied lobbyists and uncovered the man-made causes behind algae and oil pests as well as plagues of insects. She denounced arsonists, reckless road hogs and robbers. The topics she covered showed how courageous a woman she is.

Today RivieraZeit and Riviera Insider stand alone as the only dedicated foreign-language publications on the Côte d’Azur. Together they reach an estimated 100,000 readers. It must be said that Petra has not only distinguished herself as a journalist, editor-in-chief and publisher, but also as a rock of international culture in the heart of the Mediterranean.

A biography

Petra Hall was born in Hamburg to a father from Denmark and a mother from Westphalia, a region in northwestern Germany. She lived in the city for 20 years before she headed south: “German blood still flows in my veins, but Nice is where I plan to stay.”

At the age of 17, Petra embarked on her first visit to France. Her inaugural experience of the French Riviera was a trip to Fréjus with a stamp collectors club.

“The way of life, the climate, the food, the palm trees and the charm of the Côte d’Azur captured my imagination,” she says. “They never left me.”

Six years later, at 23, Petra headed for the Mediterranean coast once more, fell in love and by 25 was married to a Ligurian native. She is a teacher by training and taught in both Germany and Italy, but her real vocation took some time to reveal itself. Her early steps into journalism were as a freelancer for the renowned Süddeutsche Zeitung, Die Welt (a German national daily newspaper) and Merian (a travel magazine). She founded the German-languageRiviera-Côte d'Azur Zeitung in 1992, a project she wholeheartedly committed to.

The Riviera Times came a decade later and the Italian-language Corriere della Costa Azzurra the following year in 2003. Things changed in 2015 when the two first titles were relaunched as part of a publishing house, Riviera Press, owned by the young French entrepreneur Sebastien Fraisse. Riviera-Côte d'Azur Zeitung became RivieraZeit and The Riviera Times was rebranded as Riviera Insider. The changes were in more than just name: the now bi-monthly magazines contain twice as much editorial content and offer a greater scope for professional journalism. 

Things are moving in a direction Petra is happy with and she will leave her post at the head of the magazines feeling content. But what will change for her personally? It’s time to live now, so she won’t suffer the fate of poet Colette, who only realised very late: “What a wonderful life I’ve had. I only wish I would have noticed it earlier.”

“I’ll read, travel, cook and wander more,” she says. “I’ll listen to more music: Mozart, Puccini, the Beatles, Johnny Cash. And I will finally have more time for my daughters and grandchildren in Liguria and America.”

She’ll also be able to reflect on the many memorable encounters – Prince Albert II of Monaco, Brigitte Bardot, the Scorpions, Sir Cliff Richard... – she has had over the last 26 years as editor-in-chief. 

As for the team she leaves behind, we hope she visits often and continues to share her indelible passion for print journalism, the media and the Riviera. 

 

Rolf Liffers