We came across the small Château de la Napoule quite by accident when driving from Cannes along the coastroad back to our campsite in St. Raphaël. Driving slowly past it looked so pretty that we took the spur of the moment decision to stop – the handily placed carpark a couple of hundred meters ahead and a quick glance in the back confirming that our 2 year old was asleep hastily confirming our decision. With sure handedness that would make any bomb disposal expert proud we transferred the 2 year old to his buggy without waking him up and high fived each other that we could actually do a little bit of sightseeing.
Originally built in the 14th century the castle was rebuilt several times and finally bought in 1918 by the Americans, Henry and Marie Clews. Henry and Marie met and fell in love in Paris and promptly divorced their respective spouses. Henry was part of a wealthy New York banking family and Marie was a New York socialite whose first husband was the 3rd richest man in America. This combined wealth meant that they had the resources to buy the ruined Château de la Napoule and set about renovating it in their own unique style, a rather personal interpretation of the French middle ages. Henry was a sculptor and his works can still be seen around the castle. Marie set about renovating the gardens and there are now four acres of lovely walled, formal gardens. A rather eccentric couple, they saw the castle as their fantasy fairytale like refuge and escape from the industrialised world and would entertain distinguished guests such as Scott and Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso and the composer Delius whilst dressed in medieval costume.
In 1937 Henry died but Marie refused to leave her beloved castle, and although it was occupied in turn by the French and Italians, Marie only moved away to nearby Cannes when it was occupied by the Germans. During the war she managed to remove and hide much of the valuable furniture and all of the Clews collection, and at the end of the war set about repairing the damage. In 1951 she set up the La Napoule Art Foundation in memory of her husband and to this day it is still used as a cultural and artistic centre. (have a look at this article from Life magazine at the time)
Although the history of the now visible castle structure is really quite modern, it’s no less interesting for this and is a lovely picturesque place to stop off when driving the Cote D’Azur coast road. The sea views from the rear of the castle are stunning, and there is a very sweet little tearoom with tables and chairs outside making the most of the view.
We had never heard of the Château de la Napoule before literally passing in front of it, but it was one of those lovely afternoons when you discover a little gem without any planning.