The American Club of the Riviera is more than half a century old, being founded in 1962, but can trace its roots back to the early days of American naval presence in the south of France. Since the end of the 19th century, the American naval fleet had been using Villefranche-sur-Mer as its European port base. In 1927, the US Propeller Club – an association that promoted the maritime industry and its various personnel throughout the world – established a base in the region and was ultimately the precursor to the current club. Naval activity increased significantly during the 1950s and 1960s with the permanent presence of the US Sixth Fleet in the Villefranche bay. Dozens of families relocated to the area during that time and the years that followed, and in 1962, the US Propeller Club evolved into the American Club of the Riviera.
Despite its American title, the club is a thoroughly international entity and has members from over 20 countries. A core 40% of the 200+ group is from the US, but the UK represents nearly 20% of membership.
Current president Beathe-Jeanette Lunde, who is originally from Stavanger, Norway’s ‘oil capital’, counts herself among the remaining, global 40%.
Lunde lived and worked in the US (most recently in Minneapolis) for many years, before she moved to the Fabron area of Nice six years ago with her husband. While in the States, she noticed how important volunteering was to the local community and was keen to become involved in what she describes a ‘strong volunteering culture’.
“Everyone from parents helping out at their children’s’ schools to elderly citizens was some way involved as a volunteer,” says Lunde. “It was almost as if this kind of community engagement was expected of you. It’s deeply anchored in the culture, and it seemed like such a positive thing that I had to join it too.”
She and her husband have owned a home in Nice since 2007 and were on their way back to Norway in 2012 when they decided to have an ‘extended stay’ on the Côte d’Azur. Like so many of us, the couple ended up permanently relocating to the region.
“I was offered a job lecturing at the International University of Monaco for the MSc in Luxury Management,” says Lunde, who has a hospitality management degree from the University of Stavanger and a postgraduate degree in business administration from the University of Edinburgh, as well as decades of experience in senior roles with the hospitality and Human Resources fields. “It all fell into place. As I have done in the many countries I have lived in, I started looking into the social scene here and visited various clubs.”
Lunde was introduced to the American Club and despite being one of the youngest in a more senior group, she was immediately taken by its approach as an ‘international social club’ and its welcoming atmosphere. She has also been a prominent member (and mentor) of the Professional Women’s Network, which she describes as an ‘inspiring place where talented and powerful women share their experiences and support the next generation of the bold and brave’, since 2012.
“Places like the American Club give people experiences they can use in their careers and personal lives,” she explains. “We have official positions – president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary… – that each teach you something about managing a community. We are all volunteers too. It is so good for your personal development and sense of community. The American Club really tries to make the most of the beauty of the region: we travel the coast between the Var and Italy, visiting museums, opera houses, festivals and events. Members sometimes tell us that they would never have been to a place if they had not been introduced to it by the club. We recently went to the Citron Festival in Menton by invitation of the city’s British Association. Our trip coincided with one of the heaviest days of snowfall, but out of the 85 people who said they would come, 80 turned up!” Each
year, the club hosts a Film Festival-themed event at a beach restaurant in Cannes, an Independence Day event for 4th July, a Gala (at the Grand Hôtel du Cap Ferrat in 2017 and this coming September), and Thanksgiving luncheon, which is by far the most popular date on the calendar and is regularly attended by over 150 people. Far from being polarising, the celebration of US holidays binds members together and is a part of the club’s heritage.
“It is not just the board of officers and governors who organise events,” continues Lunde, “all members are able to get involved. One of our Italy-based members, Cindy Egolf, recently invited us all to Dolceacqua while another living in the tiny hamlet of Gorbio above Menton showed us this little-known, but magical place.”
For Lunde, one particularly memorable and moving event from last year was a visit to the Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial in Draguignan, the resting place of US soldiers and mariners who died during Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of the south of France from the Mediterranean Sea. The club will visit again on Memorial Day 27th May. Other upcoming events include Cannes on 12th May, to which the club has invited the region’s Canadian club, and a guided visit to the Picasso Museum in Antibes followed by a lunch on 16th June.
“We always have a dinner date,” says Lunde, “that’s where we do our chatting and socialising!”
Join the club
The American Club of the Riviera is open to all nationalities and backgrounds. Membership runs from 1st January to 31st December and costs: €55 a year for an individual or €105 for a couple. The application form can be found on the website!