La Fiorentina was built in 1917 by the Countess Therese de Beauchamp on a vast piece of land which occupies the extreme end of the Saint Hospice point of the Saint Jean Cap Ferrat peninsula.
The daughter of the Count Giorigi Vitali who had 40 years earlier modified the Villa Fiorentina in Cannes, the Countess Beauchamp addressed the architects Aaron and Gaston Messiah who designed a large rectangular building surrounded by two large belvedere turrets.
The exterior of the building which forms the grand reception rooms, is made up of a large loggia of arcades with views stretching to Italy.
As they were accustomed, the Messiah brothers worked in collaboration with Harold Peto who authorised a part of the park which was made up of 22 hectares of pine trees which had been damaged by the wind. He designed notably the large staircase from the villa leading to the waters edge, along with the large ponds and orange tree areas.
Having an authoritative and voluble character, Therese de Beauchamp does not take a long time to get angry with the workers, who are soon to be thanked and replaced by Ferdinand Bac, of whom work she greatly admired at the Villa Croisset in Grasse.
The writer/architect-landscape gardener imagined however, that to better distinguish the entrance, a kind of monumental pillar enclosure with the latin inscription “Fata regunt orbem” which translates to “destiny rules the world”, would finally complete the gardens with several themes.
By the end of 1919, Bac visited the property to supervise the work and noted in his journal that the plants and the grass had grown so much that “the villa seemed to be placed on an emerald plate”. Soon tired of her new domain with the families coat of arms placed upon the gates, and baptised in the memory of her father, the Countess Beauchamp proceeds to buy the Leopolda in Villefranche sur Mer and lives there at the beginning of the 1920s.
She then sells the property to Sir Edmund Davis, a diamond magnet and a large art collector, who constructed a large part of the littoral path which surrounds Cap Ferrat.
During this period, the famous Italian writer, Gabriele d’Annunzio stayed in the property, just a short time before he is proclaimed Lord and Prince of Monte-Nevoso. In 1939, La Fiorentina was purchased by Lady Kenmare, who was sometimes viciously referred to as “Lady Kilmore” with reference to her three ex husbands who had passed away. It was the son of her last husband Roderick Cameron, who was passionate about landscaping and gardens, the man who opened the Golden Riviera, who took upon the task to rearrange the domain with the help of the architect Henri Delmotte who had worked a few years earlier at the Villa Mauresque of Somerset Maugham.
Second World War
During the years of renovation, Rory and his mother lived in the Clos de Fiorentina, which is an old bastide which was part of the domain. In order to modernise the style of the building, the gold flaked ceilings, the sculpted stone chimneys were simply removed for more of a stripped decor. Unfortunately, the declaration of the Second World War stopped the renovation works and due to the strategic position of the property, it was occupied by the Germans who made several degradations during this time. When the conflict was over, the works began again and several large modifications were made to the original building. The temple marking the entrance was removed along with the two belvedere turrets. The arcades loggia of the facade and the immense reception room disappeared for two new floors, metamorphosing the building of a palladien style mansion which immensely resembled the Rotunda de Vinence Villa in Italy. Finally the gardens were redesigned by the landscape gardener Russel Page.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Villa Fiorentina
At La Fiorentina Cap Ferrat, Rory Cameron organised large parties and received many celebrities such as Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor, Somerset Maugham who loved to play bridge with the hostess. Even though the park has been reduced to 30 000 m², the Villa Fiorentina with its two swimming pools, remains one of the largest properties on Saint Jean Cap Ferrat.
Further reading on Le Clos Fiorentina, the neighbouring property which is more recently recognised as being the summer residence of Hubert de Givenchy, the French fashion house.
Please note that this is an article written solely for the history of La Fiorentina. This is not a real estate listing.
Here is a selection of villas for rent in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat.