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Mediterranean marvels: Les Camélias, where history and art combine

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Villa Les Camélias, with its Belle Epoque style, is full of architectural details © Monaco Tribune

The villa, located in Cap d’Ail, is full of historical details relating to the town and hosts a collection by the Basque painter Ramiro Arrue.

As everyone knows, there are some magnificent villas on the French Riviera. Often built in the Belle Époque period, their eclectic style and rich detailing impress locals and visitors to the French Riviera alike. Today, let’s visit the Villa les Camellias, a museum about the history of Cap d’Ail and Ramiro Arrue, surrounded by greenery and overlooking the blue of the Mediterranean.

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Cap d’Ail, a recent and fascinating history

A winter resort par excellence at the beginning of the 20th century, the Côte d’Azur has seen many a famous face on its promenades, created for the tourist of yesteryear. This is what gave birth to Cap d’Ail. Once the property of la Turbie, the town was no more than rugged wasteland at the time.

In 1908 the town gained its independence and became Cap d’Ail. This was thanks to Baron de Pauville who, in the 1880s, began an ambitious development project on the Cap. Cap d’Ail was at the forefront of modernity, with mains drainage, a dairy patented by the Prince of Monaco and a power station. Charles Blanc, of the family that founded the Société des Bains de Mer de Monaco, was its first mayor.

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The Saint-Antoine district and its factory chimneys © Monaco Tribune
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A milk bottle patented by the Prince of Monaco © Monaco Tribune

This rich history of the town can be seen on the ground floor of the villa. Just a stone’s throw from the train station, you step through the gate and into the lovely property. The entrance to the museum is now from the rear of the villa. This means you have to go through the pleasant garden and around the villa, which gives you a chance to admire it from every angle. With wrought iron railings, medallions, bay-windows to make the most of the sun in winter, the villa is full of details that show off its wealth.

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The shady garden of Villa Les Camélias © Villa Les Camélias
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The splendid view from the garden © Monaco Tribune
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East facade of the villa © Monaco Tribune

The museum also tells the story of a new town, and of new, mostly Italian families who settled there. The stars of the day started to holiday in Cap d’Ail, renting and building superb villas that created the town’s charm and are listed in the museum.

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Photographs of Italian families © Monaco Tribune

Sacha Guitry, Mathilde Kschessinka, a famous Russian dancer, Jean-Cocteau, creator of the town’s Théâtre de Verdure, André Malraux, André Gide, Colette, Joséphine Baker, Winston Churchill, the list of personalities who came to enjoy the mild climate is a long one. Later, Princess Grace carried on the tradition of celebrities passing through Cap d’Ail, becoming an honorary citizen.

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Presentation panels of the villas in Cap d’Ail © Monaco Tribune

Ramiro Arrue, a Basque painter on the French riviera

It is unusual to find a Basque painter in Cap d’Ail but you can, at the Villa Les Camélias. On the 2nd floor are the permanent works, an incredible collection of paintings by Ramiro Arrue. He devoted himself to painting his native country in the 20th century and is now widely considered a hero by the Basque people, who must envy the collection here.

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The Sailors by Ramio Arrue © Monaco Tribune
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Paintings by Ramio Arrue © Monaco Tribune  

It’s an opportunity to discover a very different style of painting from that of the many painters who came to capture the Côte d’Azur. on canvas. Ramiro Arrue’s paintings are filled with the traditions, landscapes and everyday life of his region. “It is a completely dreamed-up, perfect world, a better version of reality,”  explains Hélène Bonafous, the museum’s curator.

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The museum also includes a collection of enamels by Ramio Arrue © Monaco Tribune

Mitchell Johnson, The Meyreuil Revelation

As a response to Ramiro Arrue’s geometric canvases, the 1st floor hosts a temporary exhibition of American painter Mitchell Johnson.

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Paintings by American artist Mitchell Johnson © Monaco Tribune

During a stay in Meyreuil, not far from Aix-en-Provence, the artist explains that he experienced a genuine revelation that profoundly transformed his technique. The very special light in the south of France changed his perception of colours and had a strong influence on his work today.

A before-and-after that you can see at the museum until September 29, 2024.

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A Mitchell Johnson painting on display © Monaco Tribune

As a bonus, the museum has two pneumatic pianos – pianolas -that the museum team will be happy to show you or even give you a demonstration. A neat trick for making people believe you can play the piano even if you can’t.

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This kind of piano was common in big restaurants and hotels © Monaco Tribune

Practical information

Audioguides are available in 5 languages (French, English, Spanish, Italian and German) to help you get the most out of your visit

  • Where: 17 avenue Raymond Gramaglia, 06320 Cap d’Ail
  • When: Tuesday to Friday from 10 am to 12.30 pm and from 2 to 7 pm. Also open on Sundays from 11 am to 6 pm.
  • Prices: €9 with a reduced rate of €5 for (students, 60+ and U18s)