If you are visiting Villefranche and want to really spoil yourself, allow some time to visit one of the most spectacular villas on Cap Ferrat, Villa Kerylos.
I had been visiting Villefranche every year for 4 years before I finally made the effort to walk across to Beaulieu-sur-Mer to see this remarkable Greek villa.
I’m not sure why it took me so long to get there (maybe because it wasn’t ‘French’?) but since then I’ve been back twice, and it now *features* as a part of my Riviera Tour.
Villa Kérylos was built on the very edge of the blue coastline at Beaulieu-sur-Mer by Théodore Reinach in the early 1900’s during the Belle Epoque. It's surrounded on three sides by crystal waters of the Mediterranean, with an impressive backdrop of the mountains of Eze and panoramic views of the harbour. You can hear the gentle ocean waves kissing the shoreline from every room in the house. This connection with the sea will have affected every aspect of the Reinach’s family life.
Upon entering through the imposing doorway, you know at once that you are about to be taken on a journey of marvel and authenticity. With massive marble pillars supporting the roofline, you feel like you are in some sort of luxury theatre set. Despite the relative simplicity of scale, a sense of drama is in the air.
Surprisingly, the first room off the entrance hall (which itself leads onto the main loggia – or internal courtyard) is the bathing room. Dramatic, fully-tiled in exquisite mosaics, lavishly crafted from Carrera marble, and finely detailed with bronze-plated silver fittings, this room will delight you. It speaks to a time when bathing was a favoured pastime in the Greek culture, sometimes lasting all day. This is no ordinary bathroom; it is a luxurious, private spa.
Théodore’s wife, Madame Fanny Reinach, was a cousin of Maurice Ephrussi, who was married to Béatrice de Rothschild.
The absolute beauty of the villa (as well as the spectacular location) inspired the Baroness to build the Villa Rothschild further out on Cap Ferrat.
Villa Kérylos was the realisation of a dream held by Reinach, who was an archaeologist, and that vision was passionately nurtured by his architect Emmanuel Pontremoli. Together, they recreated an authentic lifestyle experience based upon the style of noble houses of Greece in the 2nd century BC.
All the rooms of the main house lead off the central loggia, and face the sea on every side, so despite being incredibly detailed, with inlaid timbers, and richly-coloured washes, it is never dark. In fact, it has a gallery-like feel to the interiors, which is fitting since the villa houses an authentic array of ancient Greek artefacts, alongside the more pragmatic, but nonetheless incredibly ornate, everyday items like furniture, beds, table, chairs and armoires.
The interiors were faithfully designed with elements from Rome, Pompeii, and Egypt, as was typical of the ancient Greek palaces. All of the furniture, mosaics, artwork and hand-embroidered soft furnishings were commissioned exclusively for this project, intricately detailed and accurately reflecting the style of the era. The layers of texture in the decor, created by the tiles, timbers, leathers, and linens create a striking ambience which is entirely unique and utterly breathtaking.
You have to walk through Villa Kérylos to truly appreciate its splendour.
Although not large (by comparison to Villa Rothschild) it is simply but beautifully laid out with frescoes. carvings, inlaid timber furniture, tabourets, and klismos, which together create a remarkable sense of living in another time and culture.
Most impressive to me are the literally millions of tiny mosaic tiles which cover the entire floor of the villa, throughout its many rooms and courtyard areas. I admit to having a passion for mosaics, and Villa Kérylos is an absolute treasure for like-minded souls. With patterns depicting characters and themes from classic Greek mythology, the floors gleam silkily in the Mediterranean light. Each room has a different, intricate, and stunning pattern which, together with the incredibly detailed frescoes, murals, and painted and carved ceilings, go together to create an absolutely marvellous experience.
The Reinach family shared their meals in classic Greek style, lying horizontally on beds next to three-legged tables, which were historically used in Greece because they are stable, as most houses had beaten earth floors.
It was quite common for ancient Greeks to have wine for breakfast. And I thought the French were all over that one! I can’t image what it must have been like for the lady in the house, in particular, lying down to eat, because she wore modern clothing for the times, which in itself was hardly loungewear.
In some ways, living at Villa Kérylos would have been less than comfortable, with no upholstered furniture whatsover, apart from the beds. The style, although highly decorative and embellished, is somewhat austere and minimalist. But for us, today, to have a chance to witness this extraordinary masterpiece of dedication to history and culture is an experience not to be missed.
Reinach bequeathed the villa to the Instituit de France, and since 1966 it has been listed as a ‘monument historique’ by the French Ministry of Culture.
Happily, this means that today we are able to experience its beauty for ourselves and delight in the incredible attention to detail that Théodore and his team created on the shores of the Mediterranean.
There is a little shop in the grounds of the villa where you can purchase some surprisingly lovely souvenirs and books, but no café or restaurant on-site. My recommendation (and what we do on my Tour) is to visit in the late morning, spend around around an hour and a half touring the buildings and strolling the harbourside gardens, and then meander along the coast to lunch at one of the many restaurants situated along the harbour at Beaulieu-sur-Mer.
My particular favourite is the African Queen, where we enjoy a leisurely lunch along with some delicious French wine, before being picked up by our wonderful Tour guide, Loïc, and taken home for a relaxing afternoon in Villefranche. Sublime ... X
Villa Kérylos is located in Beaulieu-sur-Mer. It's a 30-minute walk from Villefranche, or there is a train station about 7 minutes walk into town. By bus, take line 81 to the 'Kérylos' stop or line 100 to the 'Eglise' stop.
Admission (at the time of writing 2019): €11.50 with a variety of concessions.
January 2nd to April 30th: Open daily, 10.00-17.00
May 2nd to August 31st: Open daily, 10.00-19.00
September 1st to December 31st: Open daily, 10.00-17.00
For comprehensive information, including prices, directions, and - importantly - holiday closures, visit their website.
Make sure you get the audio guide for the opportunity to learn so much more about the Villa, its owners and their intimate culture.