Saturday, February 4, 2012

Villa Kérylos and Beaulieu-sur-mer
Ancient Greece in a French Riviera setting

Beaulieu-sur-mer is a discreet Côte d'Azur seaside town that has a reputation for being charming but rather aloof and perhaps a little too well-heeled. It's true that its neighbour Villefranche is the more gregarious sister. With its bijou old town and tourist-friendly restaurants that cater for the large cruise ships that constantly pile into its deep-water harbour, Villefranche draws the crowds.
In contrast, Beaulieu is never really that busy and has a much smaller coterie of followers who rather like it that way. There is always room for one more on the beach in summer. People picnic under the shade of the palm trees, a pan bagnat (basically a salad niçoise in a roll) and bottle of rosé to hand.
Villefranche may have its Old Town and the delightfully quirky small chapel decorated by Jean Cocteau, but Beaulieu oozes old-style Riviera chic and has the beautiful, if rather eccentric, Villa Kérylos.
Perched on the rocky Beaulieu coastline, Kérylos is an angular white-washed villa built in the style of an ancient Greek noble house. Constructed between 1902 and 1908, the Belle Epoque era, the house was the creation of two men, Théodore Reinach, who commissioned the villa, and Emmanuel Pontremelli, an architect. Both men were passionate about ancient Greece.
The villa is now a museum and is well worth a visit for anyone interested in architecture, history, or just as a place to feel peaceful and admire the beauty of the building and setting. I managed to miss visiting it for quite some time. It seems many people do as it is tucked away and anything but flashy. However, this means you can almost have the place to yourself in the winter months, which is a rather delicious feeling.

The house is based on ancient Greek principles of architecture. The beautiful tiled, open-to-the-sky peristyle is the focal point round which the rooms are grouped. Spread over two floors, the house is a folly. It is not an authentic representation (check out the stunning early 20th century jet shower) but an interpretation and spirt of 2nd century BC Greece. It adheres to basic rules of good architecture. Natural light, a feeling of open space and flow between rooms, clean lines. The walls are decorated in muted frescoes, beautiful mosiac tiles pattern the floors.  From the windows you glimpse the sea, but the view is always discreet and tantalising. It always leaves you feeling like you want to see more.
The ground-floor gallery houses bizarre life-size casts of Greco-Roman statues. Jean Cocteau would surely have used it as a setting for his film Orphée if he were making it today.
Beaulieu is a perfect home for Villa Kérylos. Discreet, bathed in good taste and not too bothered if you pass by as it happily goes about life. But try not to pass it by.

The villa is centred around the internal courtyard

A giant marble bath is the focal point of the bathroom

The intricately tiled peristyle (internal courtyard) is flanked by columns

Life-sized replicas of Greco-Roman statues line the gallery