Many who visit the Riviera are aware of the Villa Ephrussi, which was built by Beatrice de Rothschild, but there is an equally fascinating villa, Villa Kerylos, that was built by Theodore Reinach, a relative by marriage to Beatrice’s husband, Maurice Ephrussi. It was when Beatrice visited Villa Kerylos in 1902 that she decided to buy the land to build her villa at the tip of Cap Ferrat.
An intellectually gifted scholar, Reinach was a lawyer, archeologist, numismatist, mathematician, historian and sociologist as well as a member of the French Parliament from 1906-1914. One of the most knowledgeable scholars in the twentieth century of the Hellenistic period, Reinach was fascinated by the literature, politics, philosophy, art and architecture of ancient Greece. Drawing on his profound knowledge and love of ancient Greece, Reinach collaborated with the architect, Emmanuel Pontremoli, to create a home modeled on the houses of wealthy families built on the Island of Delos in the second century B.C.
Located on a rocky cliff on the Baie de Fourmis in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, the villa offers a stunning view of the Mediterranean which can be glimpsed from almost every window facing the water. With the sea surrounding three sides of the house, the villa lives up to its name (Kerylos means “sea swallow” in Greek) with swallows and other birds soaring above the sea.
The house was built around a peristyle surrounding an inner courtyard lined by twelve columns. It is beautifully decorated throughout with mosaics and frescoes reflecting the sumptuous interiors of Greek villas discovered at Pompeii and Herculaneum. The dining, kitchen and sitting areas are located on the ground floor with bedrooms and bathrooms on the upper level. The design was scrupulously based on literary descriptions, the remains of frescoes, and archeological evidence, the result of which is a fantastic re-invention of the home of a wealthy Greek family. Stools, tables, baths, bedrooms were all furnished as Reinach presumed they would have been in the second century B.C. and even everyday objects such as cooking utensils were carefully crafted to reflect an ancient Greek aesthetic. Although Reinach was focused on reproducing as accurate an imitation of a Greek villa as possible, he was also interested in incorporating the most up to date conveniences of the early twentieth century including plumbing, electricity, and a piano (cleverly hidden in a wooden chest).
Reinach died in 1928 and left the villa to the Institut de France. His son, Leon, and his family continued to live in the villa until the Nazis confiscated the villa and sent the family to Auschwitz where they died.
After WWII other descendents of the family lived in the villa until 1967. It is now open to the public. Make sure to include a visit to this magical, Greek-inspired villa when you are next on the Côte d’Azur.