“What is a weekend?” asked the Dowager Countess of Grantham in the BBC’s opening series of Downton Abbey and, indeed, it sets the tone for the latest big screen hurrah by Julian Fellowes ‘Downton Abbey – A New Era’ in which Lady Violet Crawley inherits a fine villa in the South of France. Cue cocktail parties on the terrace and jaunts by Riva boat along the Riviera…
Here are five of the finest villas on the French Riviera to see in the summer, Crawley-style.
Set within the rolling French countryside, La Casella is just a stone’s throw from the bustling Riviera and the peaceful villages of the Côte d’Azur’s arrières-pays. Once the home of former Colefax & Fowler Chairman Tom Parr, La Casella is a neoclassical pavilion with one of the most exceptional gardens in the region. The drawing room bathes in sunlight and opens onto a charming terrace – perfect for pre-dinner drinks, followed by a walk along a myriad of pathways marked by scented roses and fragrant lavender to dinner under the pretty, wisteria-draped pergola. The villa boasts one of the most renowned gardens – created by Claus Scheinert - in the South of France and it provides the most exquisite backdrop to a family celebration to remember.
An estate of palatial proportions…. Within easy reach of the boulevards of Aix-en-Provence and the beach clubs of St Tropez, this 18-bedrooom estate's 115 hectares are dedicated to an award-winning vineyard, oak woodland and swathes of olive groves. The Chateau itself is a masterpiece, with accommodation divided between the Bastide, Moulin and Bergerie. A delightful, shaded terrace sits proudly above the surrounding gardens and vineyards – the perfect place for entertaining long into the night. There's also a wine cellar, games room with pool table, gym, sauna, tennis court, glorious pool and yoga studio. Pride of place belongs to an 18-seat movie theatre. Staffed on a par with a five star hotel, Mr Carson would have nothing to complain about.
A mere three miles from the intoxicating glamour of Monte Carlo is Villa Mont Charles, an elegant six bedroomed villa nestled into the dramatic hills of Cap d’Ail with views to the Cap Ferrat peninsula and sparkling Mediterranean Sea. A team of staff pampers guest from breakfast served on the terrace to sunset cocktails as the sun falls over the Mediterranean. Living areas are bright and modern with direct access onto a terrace with heated infinity pool and landscaped lawns. All bedrooms have private en-suite bathrooms. Three bedrooms are located in the main house, with a further three located in a guesthouse offering further privacy. There’s a state-of-the-art fitness room with cardio machines, treadmill, stepper, upright fitness bike and Satellite TV; a Philip Starck shower bathroom ensures luxurious pampering after an afternoon workout. The villa also has its own private cinema for evenings in. For evenings out, the famous Casino de Monte Carlo, Alain Ducasse’s Michelin three starred restaurant, Le Louis XV à L’Hotel de Paris, and some of the most exclusive nightclubs on the Riviera are all within a few chauffeur-driven minutes.
A grand, double-height entrance sets expectations sky high on arrival at La Bergerie and it does not disappoint on further discovery. The triple-aspect drawing room is elegantly furnished with a blend of carefully chosen antiques and contemporary pieces. A wine cellar, cinema room, open plan kitchen and living area are equipped with the latest touch-pad technology and Sonos music system. All six bedrooms in the main house are en-suite and exquisitely furnished; there are a further two bedrooms in La Petite Bergerie for extended family or guests seeking privacy. Outdoors, 1.4 hectares of landscaped gardens comprise lawns, fruit trees and a kitchen garden. There’s a shaded dining area, pool house, outdoor living areas and 18 metre pool surrounded by cosseting daybeds.
Lady Violet Crawley would undoubtedly raise an eyebrow at this modern masterpiece. Contemporary Villa Bayview commands breath-taking views over St Jean Cap Ferrat from its plum position – one of the very best on the Côte d’Azur. Just a few minutes’ walk from the chic restaurants and boutiques of Villefranche, Villa Bayview is a state-of-the-art showpiece of a villa with monochrome interiors combining stone, glass and floor to ceiling windows with occasional splashes of vibrant colour. There is an infinity pool with stunning Mediterranean views, south-facing landscaped gardens hewn into the hillside and even a vehicle ‘turntable’ to turnaround the supercar… Staff includes a chef, housekeeper, butler and concierge.
Just the place for a Crawley-style family gathering, Villa Napoleon occupies an enviable position close to the bustling marina of Sainte Maxime, with its indulgent beach clubs, restaurants and endless white sandy beaches. Spread over three floors with numerous terraces looking out over the Gulf of St Tropez, there’s ample space for entertaining. All 11 bedrooms are generously proportioned, with ensuite bathrooms and private terraces. There’s also a games room and gym, three dining terraces, a cinema / media suite and outdoor kitchen, pool table and table tennis. The heart of St Maxime is within walking distance.