Culture – Villas of the Riviera: La Pausa

Writing an article about the most exceptional villas on the French Riviera is not an easy task. After all, in a crown of jewels how do you choose which one is the most precious? It’s not particularly difficult to imagine that this part of this world is home to some of the most elegant, beautiful (and indeed expensive) private homes that mankind has ever conceived of. After all the stretch of sun bleached, rock pine blessed coastline running from Toulon to Menton is the Mecca of the world’s most affluent people. Standing out in this land of ‘wealth excess’ is not an easy task; the term ‘millionaire’ rolls off the tongue too easily to be truly special; a recent article by Forbes cites that 1 in 3 people in Monaco alone are millionaires. The question must be raised, what to do when you are a millionaire in a land of millionaires and wish to stand out? The obvious answer for a truly unique possession is property.

Villa La Pausa should be considered one of the jewels of the riviera. After all it is elegant, beautiful and supremely expensive, but what would you expect when it was commissioned and owned by Coco Chanel.  For a villa of such architectural pedigree its fame is nowhere near that off villa’s like Ephrussi de Rothschild or the Villa Kerylos. Yet what it lacks in a prime waterfront location it does not lack in beauty. The area the house lies in is famed for its scenery, so much so that Coco Chanel splashed out 1.8 million Francs in 1929 (equivalent to €2.6 Million Euros in today’s value) for the parcel of clifftop land. The Villa lies in the former hunting grounds of the Monegasque Royal Family, the Grimaldi, looming over Roquebrune-Cap-Martin with stunning views both East and West over the Cote d’Azur.  The villa itself reflects the land around it – magnificent. Originally modelled on the 12th century convent/orphanage in Aubazine where Chanel spent her childhood indeed her architect Robert Streitz sought to create, “the ideal Mediterranean villa”. By all accounts he succeeded.

The central villa he created covers 10 000sq feet split over seven bedrooms with two smaller villas built for guests.  For the main villa itself Chanel’s design credentials shine through magnificently. Everything is centred upon a central courtyard surrounded by a cloister reminiscent of the monastery where she spent her harsh childhood. There are three wings overlooking a central courtyard itself with Coco Chanel’s favourite number, five, resonating throughout. No window is set individually; they are grouped in five’s in tribute to Coco’s oh so famous parfum.

The interior is designed to the same standards, the central colour theme throughout the house is beige including a simply magnificent huge beige grand piano dominating the front room. This was masterminded by Stephane Boudin, the president of the interior design firm Maison Jansen with assistance from Chanel herself.  Her input is evident throughout the house, the main staircase is an exact replica of the 12th century convent which Coco remembered from her childhood.

Whilst the exterior of the house and the layout is French, the interior is unmistakeably English. The rooms are filled by oak furniture from the 16th century with English oak floors and English oak panelling, the chandeliers at least come from the continent as they are wrought out of Spanish iron. The English influence on the house is most likely the result of one of the more shocking pages of Coco Chanel’s life – her decade long affair with Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, one of history’s richest and by all accounts most scandalous men.

Westminster is believed to be the financer of the house and this parcel of land in the most expensive area on Earth was just another in a long line of gifts she received from him. The Duke made it very apparent she’d never forget his financial contribution on her project. The entry has a Romanesque vaulted brick ceiling and lights ornately decorated with the Crown from the Dukes’ Westminster coat of arms. The relationship ended in 1930 with Coco Chanel keeping the house until its sale in 1953. The Villa La Pausa is rightfully not what Chanel is most renowned for however in its way it epitomises the glamour of the French Riviera.  Effortlessly beautiful with views East towards Menton and Italy whilst West lies Monaco, Cap Ferrat peninsula and Nice. The Villa itself sits above Roquebrune-Cap-Martin amongst perfumed gardens and olive groves, a part of a perfect Riviera scene.