Inspiration

Tracing the origins of the villa in the South of France

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Nicky deBouille

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

For two thousand years the word Villa has been synonymous with entertaining in a beautiful house in a sumptuous setting. The Romans understood that there were few better ways to spend one's leisure time, and we have inherited that love from them. Nicky de Bouille, our in-country manager in France, looks back on the origins and pleasures of the villa as a place of relaxation and indulgence.

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A villa in the South of France, worthy heir to the Roman villa, has become legendary, after capturing the imagination of writers and filmmakers since the Belle Epoque and through the glamour of the 1930s, from F Scott Fitzgerald and Evelyn Waugh to Hitchcock, Woody Allen and even Downton Abbey. It is very appealing to picture artists, adventurers and heiresses fleeing to the Riviera to escape the cold, the dreary and the debt-collectors. The villas mentioned in their works are steeped in legend; of languid days sipping champagne under the shade of a parasol pine, diving into pools, sparkling conversation and playing roulette in tuxedos until dawn.  

Villas are designed for entertaining, inside and out. There should be several reception rooms with big windows or French doors to let the sunlight flood in and spacious gardens with cool places to hide from the fiercest sun. A modern villa has a big kitchen where those who love to cook can play to their heart’s content with delicious things picked up at the morning market and enough bedrooms for a happy group of sun-worshipers to gather for a holiday and kick up their heels. 

Although since the ’30s the south of France has been transformed with a lot of new buildings, there are pockets which have been spared the developers’ zeal. It is still possible to find oneself a villa, bathing in sunlight, only a walk to the Mediterreanean, in a village where smart town shoes are abandoned for cheap espadrilles from the market, where fish is still purchased straight off the fisherman’s boat, with a beach only known to the locals nearby for dips to cool down after days exploring the museums and villages of the cote d’azur. 

Explore our villas in Europe >

 

Recommended villas in France

Villa Alexandra

Villefranche-sur-mer, Alpes-Maritimes

  • From €585 p/n
  • Self-catering
  • 4 rooms for 8

Beaux Rêves

Saint Crépin Carlucet, Dordogne

  • From €225 p/n
  • Self-catering
  • 3 rooms for 7

Le Mas

Sainte Croix, Dordogne

  • From €525 p/n
  • Self-catering
  • 5 rooms for 10

Nicky deBouille

Sawday's Expert

Nicky has gone from roots in the mountains of New Zealand to her home in an 18th century merchant's house on the banks of the Loire. Armed with an eccentric soundtrack from Bach to Radiohead via Beirut and Herbie Hancock, she goes on the road for weeks at a time, in search of new special places. What matters most to her is connecting with the owner, because it's the person that creates the place. She loves that she can give them an alternative to booking.com, and they love the fact that she's "gone native".
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