The lovely town of Beaulieu sur Mer is often overlooked, despite being exactly half way down the coast between Nice and Monaco, which is a shame as it has all the different elements that embody the charm of the French Riviera: beautiful and refined Belle Epoque architecture, spectacular mountains, pleasant beaches and luxuriant vegetation thanks to a very mild microclimate similar to that of Menton.
But the main draw for visitors is the splendid Greek Villa Kerylos, a villa built in the early 20th century in a strategic location by the sea, that is now a historical monument… One may wonder why there is a Greek villa on the French Riviera – the answer is particularly interesting, giving a real insight into what the Belle Epoque was like and this is what I will be explaining in this blog article, which also provides practical information and will take you on a nice walk afterwards along the coast of Cap Ferrat.
This itinerary can easily be explored in half a day and combined with some of the visits described in other articles covering half-day excursions in the area, such as the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Cap Ferrat (you can buy a combined ticket for both monuments), the village of Villefranche sur Mer or the Nietzsche trail from Eze sur Mer to Eze Village.
Background of the Villa Kerylos and a few words about its creator, Theodore Reinach
Theodore Reinach (1860-1928) was from a very wealthy French-Jewish banking family and from a very young age showed extreme talent at pretty much everything that he did. After studing both law and literature, he developed a successful career as a politician (notably as a French deputy/member of parliament from 1906 to 1914), lawyer, archeologist, numismatist, mathematician, amongst plenty of other activities – basically the archetypal humanist open to all sorts of disciplines.
His passion for archaeology and Ancient Greece led to the creation of Villa Kerylos. As the French Riviera and notably Cap Ferrat were a noted destination for the European elite, especially in winter, Reinach stopped by Beaulieu at the start of the 20th century and fell in love with a small strategically located promontory called the Pointe des Fourmis (the cape of the Ants, sounds better in French!) near the harbor, offering stunning views over both Cap Ferrat to the west and the Italian coastline to the east. He also figured that the scenery and climate reminded him of the Cycladic island of Delos in Greece which happened to be an archeological paradise that he had visited in the past.
Putting two and two together, he decided to team up with Emmanuel Pontremoli, a young local architect from Nice who was also a huge archeology buff to build a villa for him and his wife that was a perfect reconstruction of a villa (granted, a particularly sumptuous one) from Delos in the 2nd century BC with beautiful artwork but also with all the modern comforts of the early 20th century such as electricity, running water and proper toilets. Money not really being an issue, the villa was built between 1902 and 1908.
Theodore Reinach’s family was related through his second wife Fanny Kann, to the Ephrussi family that was so impressed by his achievement that Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild decided to build her eponymous villa that was completed in 1912 on the isthmus of Cap Ferrat. Reinach lived at Villa Kerylos until his death in 1928 and then donated it to the Institut de France that maintained it in top condition – the Reinach family however lived there until 1967 when the villa was turned into the beautiful museum that it is today, under the management of Culturespaces.
Visiting the Villa Kerylos – some highlights
When entering the villa through the main counter, you will be asked for an audioguide – this is included in the price and is absolutely essential for you to make the most of the visit, even for technophobes as it is very easy to use. Each point of interest has a number explaining the history behind it in bite-size pieces and you also have extra background information if you want to learn more about ancient Greek cuisine, the gods or other additional topics linked to the villa. As a history and Greek mythology buff, I really enjoyed these little insights into the culture of the time.
Before entering the villa itself, have a quick wander around the luxuriant gardens: don’t expect anything as spectacular or huge as those of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild but they are still very pleasant in a typically Greek style and you will be able to enjoy some of the beautiful views over both sides of the French Riviera that made Theodore Reinach fall in love with the location.
I was there on a sunny afternoon in late November and the light was just amazing.
Upon entering the villa, the first impressions in the main hall will be some splendid attention to detail in order to make the villa as authentic as possible, as per Reinach’s wishes. Now I won’t go into too much detail here as you’ll have the audioguide for that but I will mention some of the special highlights that I enjoyed the most.
- The entrance hall has some beautiful mosaics and sculptures from Greek mythology, this is where you will learn about the island of Delos that inspired Reinach so much.
- The bathing area made out of marble in a typical Greek style – this is however where you can see where Mr and Mrs Reinach placed the limits of ancient Greek comfort and did install proper plumbing and electricity for example to pipe the hot water in to the bath via holes in the bottom, just like a hot spring.
- The main atrium is a beautiful open courtyard designed to recycle the rainwater that pours across the sloped roof (with optimized roof tiles to that effect), surrounded by stunning mosaics – here you will learn about the life of Theodore Reinach and his family and how the villa was conceived with the help of Emmanuel Pontremoli.
- The beautiful library is Theodore Reinach’s office and reading room, decorated with huge attention to detail and with stunning views over the gardens and the spectacular landscapes – note the podium desks where he worked standing up, just like the Ancient Greeks did.
- The living room is the most luxurious room of the villa, with beautiful marble walls, lovely sculptures: I was especially drawn to a very interesting Minotaur and labyrinth mosaic in the centre of the room.
- Carry on to the circular dining room where the Reinach family ate delicious Greek specialities (not ambrosia and nectar like the Gods of Mount Olympus but not far off) together, whilst reclining on luxurious chairs and enjoying some beautiful sunset views.
- Head upstairs to visit the private bedrooms of Mr and Mrs Reinach: both had separate areas and a common room, all affording stunning views over the coastline: unfortunately the balcony running outside the bedrooms isn’t open to the public so you’ll have to enjoy the view through the windows.
- Mrs Reinach’s room is decorated with the theme of the Greek goddess Hera notably plenty of strutting peacocks, whilst Mr Reinach’s quarters have some very noticeable and a tad naughty wall paintings of Eros above his bed…
- You can conclude the visit by heading down to the basement to watch a video about the villa: there is also a mosaic workshop for children. When done, go back to the gardens to soak in the special atmosphere and views for the last time and if you are still motivated, you can go into the basement to see some replica Greek statues in the Antiques Gallery (which slightly resembles a dungeon!).
If you want to see more of the places described in this article, all of the pictures I took of the Villa Kerylos can be consulted on the French Riviera Blog Facebook page.
Practical information about the villa and how to get there
Beaulieu is located by the sea on the Basse Corniche coastal road half way between Nice and Monaco, precisely between Villefranche and Eze.
- By train: Beaulieu sur Mer train station, about 12 minutes from both Monaco and Nice Ville train stations. From the station, walk about 5 minutes to the coastline and follow the signs to the Villa Kerylos which is at the end of a small alleyway.
- By car: take the A8 motorway to either the Monaco or Nice Est exits then follow the Basse Corniche to Beaulieu. There are a few parking spaces in front of the Villa Kerylos if you are lucky but the easiest place to park is the car park in front of the town hall (mairie), about 5 minutes walk down the coast. Parking is free on Sundays so that’s a good day to go and visit!
- By bus: line no. 100 from Monaco or Nice to Beaulieu (“Eglise” stop), regular buses every 15/20 minutes but like for the train, avoid rush hour on weekdays heading towards Monaco in the morning and towards Nice in the evenings. You can also take line 81 from Nice (“Kerylos” bus stop) that also travels via St Jean Cap Ferrat so that’s also a good option for those wanting to combine with Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. You can find bus timetables on the Lignes d’Azur website.
The precise address of the Villa Kerylos is Impasse Gustave Eiffel, 06310 Beaulieu-sur-Mer.
At the Villa Kerylos itself, you can check out the latest prices and opening times on the very instructive and well organised official website: when I visited at the end of 2015, the entrance fee was 11.50€ for an adult and 20€ for the combined ticket with Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild: certainly not cheap but definitely worth the experience.
Optimising the day… A nice walk around Beaulieu and Cap Ferrat from Villa Kerylos to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
I spoke to several readers to had combination tickets for both villas but found it rather complicated to find their way between both villas: here’s a beautiful walking itinerary that you can follow to get from A to B whilst enjoying some great scenery on the way. The lady at the desk of the Villa Kerylos was extremely helpful so please feel free to ask her how to get to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild if you need extra practical advice.
Walking at a decent pace with photo stops, allow around 30 minutes between the two villas.
Also, if you are wanting to visit both villas, you can do them in any order but I would advise to visit Villa Kerylos first, simply because Villa Rothschild, unlike Villa Kerylos, has a lovely tea room where you can relax after a hard day’s sightseeing and you can unwind with a beautiful panoramic view from there over the whole Riviera.
Upon leaving the Villa Kerylos, if you are motivated, you can have a quick 15-minute wander around the centre of Beaulieu, with its peaceful Belle Epoque atmosphere: follow the coast to the right (towards Eze, Monaco and Italy) and have a stroll around the quiet port, soaking in the lovely views of the mountains and the sea, especially the spectacular cliffs around the Cap Roux that separate Beaulieu from Eze.
There’s also the quaint Sacré Coeur church, the luxurious Résidence de Beaulieu hotel and the Eiffel building, built by Gustave Eiffel next to Villa Kerylos which is now a residence hotel.
Heading back towards Cap Ferrat, just keep following the coast past the elegant and typical Belle Epoque Rotonde building, built in 1886 and which acts as a reception venue and past the recently renovated casino and take a small flight of steps down to the coastal path.
From there, it’s pretty straightforward: keep following the coast on a wide footpath, soaking in some sumptuous panoramic views of the eastern French Riviera and enjoying the lush vegetation and sea air until you hit a large villa that previously belonged to British actor David Niven : just before the villa, you will see a large signpost indicating Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. From then on there’s a short and well-signposted uphill walk to the Villa.
I hope that this article will have helped you gain more insights into the Belle Epoque delights that the French Riviera can offer and that it will help you enjoy a great day out!
Special thanks to the Grand-Hotel du Cap Ferrat and the Villa Kerylos for inviting me to visit the Villa.