Beaulieu-sur-Mer is situated between Nice and Monaco, a seaside resort that is blessed with a picturesque setting and history books that are dotted with tales of royalty, movie stars and politicians visiting to enjoy the mild climate.
It is here that you will find Villa Kérylos, one of the French Riviera’s cultural gems that was previously managed by Culturespaces but from January 2016 is now under the management umbrella of the CMN (Centre des Monuments Nationaux). The Villa Kérylos was historically listed in 1966 and becomes the 99th national monument in France to be overseen by the CMN.
A Greek Dream
Designed and built over a six-year period between 1902 – 1908, the Villa Kérylos cost 7 million francs-or and was the dream of Archaeologist Theodore Reinach (1860 – 1928), born into a family of bankers. Reinach was passionate about Greek culture and he commissioned his Italian friend based in Nice, Architect Emmanuel Pontremoli (Member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts) to construct a villa inspired by the houses of the Cycladic island of Delos in the second century B.C.
Reinach’s design specification was to rebuild with the greatest possible accuracy a Greek house using the latest advances in modern technology at that time. It was not seen to be an unreasonable request, this was the French Riviera at a time when Art Nouveau championed a taste for luxurious materials, and eclectic and extravagant buildings featured everything from minarets to Renaissance towers though challenges existed in preserving existing trees on uneven terrain and working on a site constantly exposed to the elements.
Even the site they chose to build the Villa Kérylos, on the small cape at Beaulieu-sur-Mer alluded to Greek influence where they compared the cliffs at nearby Eze to the Phaedriades cliffs that rise above the sacred site of Delphi. They did not aim to merely build a pastiche, but a true reinvention of an authentic Greek mansion and chose the name ‘Kérylos’ meaning ‘sea swallow’ in Greek mythology which symbolised good luck.
As per conditions of Reinach’s will, after his death in 1928 Reinach’s children and grandchildren continued to live at the villa for a number of years. Villa Kérylos was gifted to the Institut de France and his will specifically requested the Institut continue to promote philosophy and Greek culture.
It’s a popular option to visit both Villa Kérylos and the nearby Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on the Cap Ferrat peninsula, though we recommend a minimum of half a day due to the significant exhibits and the sheer size of the gardens at Villa Ephrussi. There is more than a geographical link between the two villas – Reinach’s wife Fanny was the niece of Charles Ephrussi (thus she was the second cousin of Beatrice Ephrussi). Today, these two villas are opposing in their decor and opulence but rate as top attractions on the French Riviera.
In 1997, a book titled ‘La Villa Kerylos’ was written by Régis Vian des Reves who at the time was the Administrator of the Fondation Theodore Reinach with a preface by fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. Monsieur Vian des Reves now lives in the Var however he has kindly provided insight below about Villa Kérylos’ highlights and history behind the exhibits.
Villa Kérylos Highlights
Villa Kérylos invites visitors to share a journey into Greek antiquity with every detail transporting you to the reimagined luxury of an ancient Greek home. If you visit, ensure you use one of the audioguides which are included in the entrance price as they give background information on Theodore Reinach and the villa displays.
Upon entering the Villa Kérylos, visitors are greeted by the Greek welcome Xaipe (Rejoice) and you see the villa is built around a central courtyard surrounded by 12 monolithic columns of Carrara marble. Each room is laid out in such a way that views of the sea or garden are possible.
The octagonal marble bath was constructed both for Reinach’s Greek-obsessed aesthetic pleasure and relaxation purposes for guests – they were invited to enjoy a bath in the late afternoons when the window on the west side of the room created pleasant light. The taps are hidden by bronze plaques.
Situated in the east of the Villa Kérylos because it was deemed better to work in the morning light, the library is a place for study and meditation. It has beautiful furniture designed by Pontremoli and made by cabinetmaker Louis-François Bettenfeld. An inscription split across two walls reads: “It was here in the company of speakers, scholars and poets of the Greeks, I am cleaning a tranquil retreat in the immortal beauty.”
Red medallions linked by garlands of ivy and laurel bear the names of the greatest historians, philosophers, orators and Greek scholars.
Furniture throughout the villa is crafted from exotic woods such as American walnut, Australian plumwood and Angelica inlaid with ivory, bronze, mother of pearl and leather. Linen curtains replacing doors are embroidered by Ecochard workshop in Lyon, and fabrics and wall coverings are decorated with ivy, birds, stars or palms. All chairs are not padded, simply furnished with decorative cushions.
Painted by Adrien Karbowsky and Gustave-Louis Jaulme, the frescoes were chosen by Reinach and inspired by ancient vases held in museums in Italy and Germany. The 2 largest ones showcase one of the last episodes in the quest for the Golden Fleece from the Argonauts, and the marriage of Pelops and Hippodamia. Other frescoes show Apollo, and Nike, the goddess of victory.
The Villa Kérylos has magnificent reproductions of mosaics including Alexandrian mosaics featuring a rooster, sea creatures, Minotaurs and Triptolemus on a chariot drawn by serpents. The mosaics are impressive and they cover a large ground area of 2000 m2.
Many of the most splendid examples of statuary were damaged by the Gestapo during the war, along with a vast collection of books that Reinach amassed. Some of the remaining statues you can find around the Villa Kérylos include a Bronze Dionysos, Charioteer of Delphi, Heracles and deer and Alexander the Great and his war horse Bucephalus. In the basement at the villa, three galleries make up an Antiquities Salon with copies of life-size statues:
- Gallery of draped females: Venus Genetrix
- Gallery of Aphrodites: Venus d’Arles, Venus de Milo
- Gallery of Gods & Athletes: Apollo Belvedere, Discobolus of Myron(the discus thrower), Arès Borghèse
The Villa Kérylos was constructed with some modern comforts not always common during the Belle Époque era – running hot and cold water piped to all of the bathrooms, electricity (which went against the Greek concept of lighting by torches, candles or oil lamps only) and underfloor heating hidden behind perforated bronze grills inserted into floor mosaics.
Villa Kérylos has a magnificent garden with wide reaching views of the Baie des Fourmis, peninsula of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat and across to Monaco. The plantings showcase Greek vegetation with typical Mediterranean species – pines, palms, iris, olive trees said to be given by Athena, carob trees, myrtle dedicated to Aphrodite, laurel from Apollo with pergolas and bench seats to find a quiet space to take in the views.
Villa Kérylos hosts special events whereby you can visit the villa on themed Greek days as well as join ceramic workshops (for children and adults). It also welcomes scientific groups and temporary exhibitions.
How to get to Villa Kérylos
Villa Kérylos is located at Impasse Gustave Eiffel, 06310 Beaulieu-sur-Mer
By yacht: For yacht charter guests berthed at Beaulieu, Villa Kérylos is located just 5 minutes from Beaulieu port and is easily reached by following Boulevard du Maréchal Leclerc, continuing onto Avenue des Hellènes in a westerly direction before turning left onto Impasse Gustave Eiffel.
By car: Take the Autoroute A8; exit at Nice Promenade des Anglais or Monaco Cap d’Ail, then follow the N98 – Basse Corniche. The closest car parking to the Villa Kérylos is at Place de la Batterie near the Town Hall on Boulevard du Maréchal Leclerc.
By train: Villa Kérylos is situated a leisurely 10-minute stroll from the Beaulieu train station. Exit the train station and turn left onto Avenue Maréchal Joffre, continue walking until the intersection with Avenue des Hellènes. Turn right and follow Avenue des Hellènes for around 200 metres before turning left onto Impasse Gustave Eiffel. In summer months, there is a free shuttle bus that departs the train station and stops at Villa Kérylos before continuing to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.
By bus: From Nice, you can take bus number 81 or 100 and stop at the ‘Kérylos’ bus stop. From Monaco direction, bus 100 (Nice-Menton line) bypasses Beaulieu however you need to get off at stop ‘Gare SNCF Beaulieu’ and walk from there. Current bus timetables can be found online with Lignes D’Azur.
Opening hours / Entry fee
Villa Kérylos is open Monday to Friday from 2pm – 6pm.
Week-ends, bank holidays and during school holidays, hours are 10am – 6pm.
Last admission is 30 minutes prior to closing.
Adult ticket : €11.50
Reduced ticket : €8
Free entry applies for children under 18 years, EU nationals aged 18-25 years, handicapped persons and their accompanying companion, jobseekers.
There are special concessions to receive discounted entrance :
1) If you want to visit nearby Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild as well, and pay €15.50 instead of €20; this is called ‘Pass 2 Villas’ and you can purchase it at either villa.
2) If you arrive by TER SNCF train to Beaulieu, show your validated train ticket at the entrance at Villa Kérylos and receive discounted entry of €9 instead of €11.50. This also applies to the ‘Pass 2 Villas’; the offer applies to any TER SNCF customer with a valid train ticket dated the day to Beaulieu-sur-Mer. The visit of one or other of the two villas is to be held on the day of use of the TER ticket. If you choose ‘Pass 2 Villas’, you get within 7 days to visit the second villa.
This article was written by Rebecca Whitlocke, who with over 10 years travel industry experience loves to share ‘must-do’ destination tips and hidden spots to discover in France and beyond.
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