Say the word “Monaco” and what comes to most minds is untold wealth, star-studded parties where the rich, the famous and the royal commingle, and the unattainable glamour of a bygone era – a soup of fast cars, fast spending and fast boats. Many people have passed through the city but the Riva family has seen it all through – from the golden era of the ’60s to the present – staying as steadfast as the boats they once manufactured.
Riva boats are legendary for their beauty. The Aquarama, the luxury wooden runabout, is a symbol of the international jet set, lining the docks of Monte Carlo at a time when jet-setting was still glamourous and had yet to ally itself with budget airlines and sardine-style airplane seats. Brigitte Bardot was frequently seen on her 1959 Super Florida. Jeremy Clarkson called the Aquarama “the most beautiful thing in the world” whilst driving it for an episode of Top Gear. Magazines like Boat International voted it the most beautiful boat of the last century.
The Riva family has played a not insignificant role in building Monaco’s reputation. Hailing from Lombardy’s Lake Iseo, the brand was established in 1842 by Pietro Riva and brought to prominence by Carlo Riva in the 1950s with craft displaying the now-familiar sleek lines and mahogany decking.
Though the family sold the company to Feretti Group in 1989, we speak to Lia Riva – who remains connected to the boating world as president of Monaco Boat Service – to look into what it was like to grow up as part of the family behind such an iconic boat and how she contributes to Monaco (beyond boating) in the present day.
Tell me about your first trip on a Riva.
I remember it very well. I was three years old on the lake with my father and the family and I absolutely wanted to drive. I remember I couldn’t swim yet but they did let me go on. I went boating a lot but really the best was when I was older, in my teens and twenties, when we would go out to the Mediterranean and to Greece. Everybody would stop because we took a bigger boat out but also because it was the Aquarama.
Everyone from Sophia Loren to Brigitte Bardot and the Princess of Monaco owned a Riva. Do you have any anecdotes to share?
I remember Ingrid Bergman, an actress who won many Oscars. Anyway, she met my father and asked him about buying a boat. My father lent one to her to see if she wanted it and from that moment on there was a great friendship between my father, Ingrid Bergman and the director Rosselini. When I met Isabella Rosselini, his daughter, she told me she knew that our parents were linked and were friends.
There’s also a famous picture with Gunther Sachs, who was a notorious playboy of the period. He was very, very rich and he brought 10 girls to the boat. After that picture was taken and publicised, the boat sold at auction for an incredibly high price because of all the stories.
There are 15 Riva models. What are your favourites?
Of course the Aquarama because that was my father’s best boat, from my family. Of the new Riva boats, I like the Domino a lot because it’s very comfortable and so beautiful. Then there’s the new Riva 110 Dolce Vita which the Ferretti Group unveiled at a preview event in Monaco in May.
What do you find most beautiful about the Riva boats and your family’s legacy?
There are many different things. These are old boats, the boats of my father. He once went sailing to Turkey in an Aquarama and the seas were so rough. The Queen of Greece was coming down from Denmark and stopped his ship and asked if they wanted to be rescued! The boats hold the memory of my father, the memory of very happy times. But the design is extraordinary and that’s something everybody can see.
Also the shipyard. I remember when I was young I would go to the shipyard and there was the smell of leather and the smell of wood. Tradition is so important so even in the new boats they order the same mahogany. All of these things are beautiful to me.
Then there’s the special sound of the Aquarama – when it starts. It’s unique and it’s fantastic. Many people say this, not only me.
Nowadays you are a patron of arts and culture in Monaco. How did that come about?
Well, I’m a friend of the New National Museum of Monaco. Up until 10 years ago, there was no museum for contemporary art in Monaco and so some friends and I started thinking about this. We started to collect funds for the museum and that’s how it all started.
We also make good use of the Riva Tunnel at Port Hercule in Monte Carlo and host exhibitions, concerts, fashion shows. I’m on the board of the Kennedy Foundation so on the 25thof October I’ll give this tunnel to the foundation to host a big gala.
Why is it important for Monaco to have a thriving arts and culture scene?
I think it’s important for every city but for Monaco in particular. It helps show that the country is not only bling bling and that it is very involved in cultural life. We have an opera house. We have fantastic ballet. There’s a big tradition of ballet in Monaco. And since the founding of the New National Museum of Contemporary Art we have fairs and now attract important collectors.
What are some of your favourite secret places in Monaco?
The Riva Tunnel of course. Then there’s a square that’s hidden just under the trees in front of the palace. Not many people know it’s there, but it’s very nice. There’s also a little old restaurant that’s not very well known called Maison de Caviar. You can have caviar but the foie gras is very good, and the chicken curry. It’s known by Monaco people, not by tourists.
If you had to be stranded on a Riva boat with somebody, who would it be?
My family, I suppose. Or, my secret lover!