You’d be hard-pressed to find a prettier drive than highway D 559 from Saint Raphael to Mandelieu-la-Napoule in the department Alpes-Maritimes in the south of France. Along the Mediterranean coastline, this 20-mile stretch is filled with dramatic vistas, craggy cliffs, sandy beaches, quaint villages and tropical vegetation. As you round a curve, Château de la Napoule eerily looms between the road and the sea on Pointe des Pendus (Hanged Man’s Point).
It’s a sight to behold. The château presents itself as a bizarre mélange of Romanesque, Gothic, Moroccan and Hollywood architecture, conceived by an American expatriate millionaire turned artist, Henry Clews Jr., and his architect wife, Marie. The Clews purchased the 14th century château in 1918, which had been used as a glass factory until 1789. They spent the next 17 years transforming and restoring this ruin into a magical environment suited to their eccentric artistic taste. They added additional sections, including a large studio and showplace for Clew’s fantastical sculpture.
Marie devoted her time to developing several gardens complete with fountains, ponds, walkways and an arched stone bridge. The French Ministry of Culture has deemed the gardens one of the country’s Jardins remarquables (Notable Gardens of France).
The Tower of La Mancha was built as the Clews’ final resting place where they would remain together for eternity. Their lover’s tomb with its high windows left slightly ajar, the Clews believed, would allow their souls to escape during the daylight hours and return at night. Henry had also sculpted a large Don Quixote to stand in the garden as he continued to create and live his own impossible dream.
After Henry’s death in 1937, the château was captured by the Germans during World War II. Marie stayed on to serve as a maid to the soldiers and also to remain in her home and close to Henry’s creations. The La Napoule Art Foundation was founded by Marie in 1951 as a memorial to her husband. The foundation acts as a cultural centre and hosts resident writers and artists who come to live and work for a set period of time in this inspirational setting.
Open all year, the grounds and some of the interior rooms are open to the public. Lunch is served on the back terrace overlooking the sea and harbour where stunning views are welcome in this haunting setting. Three Ms are carved into the lintel of the main doorway into the château that help to sum up the Clew’s world view– Mirth, Myth, Mystery– a fitting tribute to the couple’s unique life.
Château de La Napoule, Boulevard Henry Clews, 06210 Mandelieu-La Napoule. Tel.: +33 (0)4 93 49 95 05. For information on guided tours, visit the official website: www.chateau-lanapoule.com
Jo Anne Marquardt is the author of My Trip Around the Hexagon: Meandering in France and Falling in Love with France, both available at Amazon.com. Her first published book, Falling in Love with France, offers responses to the various questions friends and family have asked her over the years about why she visits France so often. The second book includes illustrations and descriptive notes from her travel journals.
Visit Jo Anne’s website to check out her art: www.joannemarquardt.com.