This has to be one of the most talked about villas in France, in fact in the world.
Reports of the Villa Leopolda – Villefranche sur Mer being sold for 500,000,000 euros in 2009 via the local newspaper Nice Matin to a Russian business man indicated that this was the most expensive property in the world.
The grounds are breathtaking, as is the history of the villa
A regular on the Cote d’Azur for a number of years, the King Leopold of Belguim decided in 1895 to buy 18 pieces of land on the hill of Caire, together forming 18 hectares which he later transforms into staff accommodation. He later asks the architect Aaron Messiah to modify the villa which he names “Léopolda”. True to his style, the King enlarges the property in 1903, when he purchases the neighboring villa which was named the Villa Saint Segond, set on 7 hectares of land. To link the two properties which were separated by the Avenue Léopold II and to compensate for the slope on the land, Aaron Messiah built a tour which resembled a ruin.
First World War
Despite his new acquistion, the King of Belguim did not spend much time in Villefranche, and from 1900 enjoyed his properties in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. In 1915, Léopolda was sold to the Belguim state following the death of the King, and was transformed in a temporary hospital for injured soldiers from the First World War. In the grounds, Léopolds successor, Albert I asked Aaron Messiah to build several small wooden houses which were used as dormitories during the time that the villa was used as a care house. At the end of the First World War, Albert I sold all of his properties on the Cote d’Azur.
In 1919, Léopolda was bought by the Countess Therese de Beauchamp, the daughter of the Count Vitali who redesigned the abandoned gardens, made up of thousands oliver trees, lemon trees, orange trees. The villa itself, was remodelled to become more of a modern and Mediterranean style, once again by Aaron Messiah, with the assistance of his son. The old bell tower was removed, the body of the building was enlarged. The Countess Beauchamp, who also owned property in Paris, a palace in Rome and a chateau in Poitou, sold the property in 1929 to a rich American architect from Boston, Ogden Codman. A friend of the American writer Edith Wharton with whom he published “The decoration of houses” in 1897, Ogden Codman redesigns the property to his taste and makes dramatic changes. He studied European architecture for several months and traveled across France and Italy in search of inspiration for ideas. After a long reflection period, he drew up new plans with changes such two wings one of which covered a water tower. He modified the Southern facing facade with a roman inspiration with a triangular pediment and created large terraces.
In front of the Northern entrance, he built an enormous swimming pool which was 84 meters long and 14 meters wide along with a tennis court.
Inside the property, severe changes were made. The entrance hall held a large staircase made from stone from la Terbie inspired by the Chateau Borelli in Marseille. With eight suites and eight staff bedrooms, the Léopolda did not bear much resemblance to the modest villa of Leopold II.
Following the Second World War
After the Second World War, the property was bought by Giovanni Agnelli, the owner of Fiat. In 1947, several scenes were filmed “Red Shoes” of Michael Powell with Anton Wellbrook and Miora Shearer.
Today the property is maintained in perfect condition, and remains one of the most beautiful and largest properties of the Cote d’Azur. The villa Saint Second was bought and remodeled in 1919 by the Belgian Puck Chaudoir. In 1948, the writer Blaise Cendriars rented the property Saint Segond. The writer used the ground floor to work, and notably wrote “Le Lotissement du Ciel” from the villa. He used the property to host several friends, including Robert Doisneau.
The villa has undertaken renovations during the past few years but remains true to its original style.