Monday, June 3, 2013

Villa La Leopolda

Villa La Leopolda, Villefranche-sur-Mer
I remember seeing the signs for Villefranche-sur-Mer, on my last trip to the south of France, as we had our own car and drove up and down the French Riviera.  Lately, I've been reading two books about Lily Safra, the current owner of the super-luxe and historic villa known as La Leopolda.  I haven't finished reading "Gilded Lily" by Isabel Vincent, so I'm not sure if Mrs. Safra still owns the house or not.  A Russian billionaire had tried to buy it four years ago for a reported 500 million euros (736 million US dollars) but then, there was a lawsuit, in 2010 resulting in the courts deciding that Mr. Prokhorov could not get back his 39 million euro deposit, which, apparently, Mrs. Safra donated to charity.  A more fabled past on a property would be hard to find.  Ogden Codman, Jr. designed and built this house in its current state, between 1929-1931.  He was so extravagant with the project that he could not afford to move in.  He then tried to lease it to the Windsors, but with a few too many conditions, resulting in the memorable statement-"I regret that the House of Codman is unable to do business with the House of Windsor" !!!  

There's a Slim Aarons portrait of Mrs. Safra, on the dust jacket of the Gilded Lily book, and I must say, she is truly a beautiful and elegant looking lady.  Villa La Leopolda was always her favourite residence, and one can certainly see why.  In the late 1980's she and her husband spent 2 million dollars hosting an open house, which lasted for two days- the first day party (in August) was for the social set, and the second day was for the more business side guests...above, a view from the villa- so beautiful and serene.  Before Ogden Codman bought this property, it was an estate owned by King Leopold II of Belgium, a wild spender and bon vivant known for the grand gesture.  The house was a gift for his scandalous mistress, Blanche Delacroix, known to have been a Romanian-born prostitute, with whom he had two sons, out of wedlock, as they used to say.  Much of the money used to build all of this lavish living was from the Kings' exploitation of the African Free State of Congo slave trade.  The slaves, you see, were forced by cruel and ruthless drivers, to extract rubber and precious metals for the Belgian crown. Ten to fifteen million slaves died from the abuses, and the Joseph Conrad novella "Heart of Darkness" tells the grisly story.  In the late 1950's the estate was sold to Gianni and Marella Agnelli, who supposedly painted over scagliola walls with white paint.  Lily Safra bought La Leopolda in about 1988, and hired Renzo Mongiardino for the main floor decor and Mica Ertegun ( a friend) for the upstairs bedrooms.

Villa La Leopolda, like many famous old estates, has been used for location shoots in various films, including the 1948 "The Red Shoes" and the 1955 "To Catch a Thief" with Grace Kelly and Cary Grant.  The main house invokes the style of the Belle Epoque.  It is registered as a French "monument historique".  (Thanks Wikipedia).  I'm certainly hopeful, that, the next time I find myself anywhere near Villefranche-sur-Mer, I can perhaps catch a furtive glimpse of this fabled old villa on the cote d'azur...!  DF *****


  1. Dear Dean,
    When you are there, don't forget to pop down the road to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferat and visit the wonderful Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild is one of my design heroines!

    1. Kirk, thanks for this comment, I will try to do that, and also Villa La Fiorentina, another grande dame in that "neck of the woods" :)

  2. Michele from BostonJune 10, 2013 at 11:22 AM

    I noticed this resplendent place from the terrace of the Villa Ephrussi just above where I enjoyed the gardens more that the villa itself. What a sublime villa that crazy King of the Belgians managed to build. I heard the story of her outwitting the oligarch a year or so ago and do think Lily Safra still holds onto this property?

  3. Dear Michele,

    I think Mrs. Safra still owns the villa- have you read the Isabel Vincent book "Gilded Lily" ? It's a very good account of her most interesting and philanthropic life. Thanks very much for taking the time to post your comment on DFS.


  4. Note: The Agnellis hired Monsieur Boudin, of Jansen, to decorate the Villa La Leopolda, according to the book "Legendary Decorators of the Twentieth Century" by Mark Hampton.



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