Around 1900 a certain bishop, Major Félix Charmetant, installed himself in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat.
Having previously worked in several African countries, he headed back to France to manage “de l’oeuvre des écoles d’Orient”. Charmetant quickly set about drawing plans for his new home, La Mauresque.
The villa was to resemble a Mauresque-style property with a patio and pillars. Its horseshoe arches created the arcade and a domed minaret housed a private chapel.
Surrounded by a four-hectare park, the property was extremely similar to the villa he lived in during his time in Africa. And it was back on the African continent he spent his winters, usually with his sister Aline Géraldy for company.
Aline’s son Paul Géraldy became a famous poet and the pair had a host of famous friends back at Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. One was celebrated dancer Isadora Duncan, who owned a villa on the Saint Hospice (the extreme Eastern peninsula of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat).
Dressed in his long homemade dress, Felix Charmetant spent most of his time studying his files and walking in his garden. He spent many hours tending his vegetable patch and enjoying the beauty of his surroundings.
After Charmetant’s death in 1921, Aline conserved villa La Mauresque for six years before selling it to Somerset Maugham. Maugham, famous for his works such as ‘Servitude Humaine’ and ‘Le Fil du Rasoir’, did not like the villa’s style.
He quickly asked architect Henri Delmotte to draw up new plans and to overhaul the villa. An extension was built and the chapel turned into an office. A more modern, cubic style replaced the spherical design.
Unlike his religious predecessor, Maugham was superstitious. So, to ward off evil spirits, he placed a strange motif by the entrance hall.
In the garden, Somerset Maugham planted many trees with a predilection for fruit trees. He was the first owner of avocado trees in Europe to produce excellent fruit. He also installed a swimming pool and a tennis court, on which he played with his personal secretary.
The grandness of Villa La Mauresque required a vast team of staff, including a secretary, butler, footman, two waitresses, chef, chauffeur and seven gardeners. During the height of his fame, and in between the two World Wars, Maugham received many guests. These included Winston Churchill, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who were neighbours at the Château de la Croe on the Cap d’Antibes. Other notable guests included: Adlai Stevenson, Henry George Wells, Noel Coward, Harpo Marx and Lord Beaverbrook and the Aga Khan.
Villa La Mauresque during the Second World War
Furnished in a Spanish style, the villa, contained many valuable pieces of art brought back from Maughan’s travels in Asia, Africa and Polynesia. Fine art adorned the walls, created by the likes of Gauguin, Picasso, Matisse, Pissarro, Monet and Toulouse Lautrec.
Maugham was a target for the Nazi regime, who condemned the morals of his work. He fled to England for refuge but returned to the villa in 1946. German, Italian and French occupation left the villa badly damaged. Bullets riddled the facade; his cars were gone and the wine cellar had been emptied.
But his priceless collection of art was safe, hidden away and untouched.
Maugham summoned American architect Barry Dierks, who was used to such properties, to renovate the villa.
The writer planned to sell the property during the early 1960s but his ex-wife and daughter laid claim to it preventing the sale.
In 1965 Maugham passed away and the villa was eventually sold on. Now the gardens have been broken up and are a quarter of their original size. The villa’s name, Mauresque, is one of the few original features still present.
Please note that this is an article written solely for the history of Villa La Mauresque. This is not a real estate listing.
Here is a selection of villas for rent in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat.