La Mauresque in Cap Ferrat
Around 1900, the former missionary and chaplain to King Leopold II, Félix Charmettant, purchased a parcel of land (4 hectares / 10 acres) on the newly subdivided peninsula of Cap Ferrat. Here he had a villa constructed in the Moorish style by an unknown architect.
Villa La Mauresque occupies two addresses – 52 boulevard du Général-de-Gaulle and 48 Bellevue Avenue, Cap Ferrat.
In 1927, British novelist Somerset Maugham (who famously called the French Riviera a “sunny place for shady people” — quite prophetic, given the villa he lived in) purchased the property. He was the wealthiest author of his time. He commissioned the young American architect Barry Dierks to eliminate the villa’s original neo-oriental elements, to classicize the façades and patio, and to modernize the layout. An extension was built and the chapel turned into an office. He also installed a swimming pool and a tennis court, on which he played with his personal secretary.
Surrounded by gardens and terraces, this villa has received numerous writers and celebrities. An invitation to visit Somerset Maughaum’s mansion on the Cap was considered quite the coup by Riviera high society, and a steady stream of luminaries came to visit. Becoming a near-obligatory stop for the literary and Riviera society, it received most of the celebrities who visited the Riviera: Winston Churchill, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Lord Beaverbrook and the Aga Khan mingled with such literary figures as T. S. Eliot, H. G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Ian Fleming, Noël Coward and even Virginia Woolf. The story of this time in the villa’s history has been turned into a live-theater play.
Maugham and his partner Gerald Haxton (who died in 1944) lived together at the villa. Maugham was a target for the Nazi regime, who condemned the morals of his work. He fled to England for refuge but returned to the villa in 1946. German, Italian and French occupation had looted the villa and left it very badly damaged. Bullets riddled the facade, his cars were gone, the wine cellar had been emptied, and it was extensively damaged by the Royal Navy as they shelled Cap Ferrat in an attempt to destroy the lighthouse. In fact, when he moved back in, he found an unexploded bomb resting on his bedroom floor, and said the villa ‘looks like a patient who has barely survived a deadly disease.’
But his priceless collection of art was safe, hidden away and untouched. Luckily, he had the wealth needed to restore his dear patient to grand health. Maugham summoned American architect Barry Dierks, who was used to such properties, to renovate the villa. The writer planned to sell the property during the early 1960s but his ex-wife and daughter laid claim to it preventing the sale.
A merciless feud with his daughter over her inheritance, engineered by his jealous secretary-lover, Alan Searle, marred Maugham’s final years. The villa was Maugham’s main residence until his death in 1965 when, some say, he died a bitter, lonely and near insane old man railing against the world and its corruption like a latterday Lear. In the end, Maugham’s last partner, the young Alan Searle, inherited Maugham’s estate and the villa, then moved to Monte Carlo.
In 1967 the villa was purchased by a Texan socialite and daughter of Russian-American entrepreneurs, Lynn Wyatt. She is a prominent figure in international society, with many accolades to her name. She had the façades and the interior layout modified – while retaining the classic style – this time by the French architect Marcel Guilgot.
The interior, on the ground floor, which was modified during the renovation of 1967, included a larger semi-circular foyer (formerly the dining room), living room, kitchen, and service rooms and staff quarters. The tower housed the library. On the first floor, which is served by an elevator, are seven bedrooms and four bathrooms as well as service rooms, laundry and linen room. A staircase leads to the terrace and there is a tennis court on the property.
In 2005, co-owners David Brown and Robert Shelter-Jones purchased the Villa La Mauresque for €50 million.
Since then, Dmytro Firtash, a Ukranian oligarch with close ties to Vladamir Putin and the Russian mob, purchased the villa. The billionaire oligarch is “at the dead center of the greatest corruption operation in Ukraine’s history,” said a former senior U.S. diplomat. The Ukraine put him in charge of what was one of their largest state-owned banks (called Nadra Bank), and he almost immediately received $190 million of state bailout loans which he then siphoned off for his own private use, crippling the bank while enriching the tycoon. The bank was declared insolvent and liquidated shortly after.
But the bank scandal wasn’t even his worst transgression against the people of the Ukraine. He’s done so many dirty deeds that Ukranian activists call him their most dangerous oligarch. The U.S. Justice Department identified Firtash as an “upper-echelon [associate] of Russian organized crime.” Firtash has since been caught up in a new, massive American political scandal with Donald Trump and Rudi Giuliani.
Locals say that they never see Firtash out on the street and the residents of the house are secretive, not friendly. Like he does at all of his homes, whenever he leaves the property, a Mercedes SUV pulls out first to block the street leading to his home. His black Mercedes Maybach then rolls out of the premises. His burly security guards hop in the SUV and it takes off closely trailing Firtash’s vehicle. At no point during the choreographed exit is Firtash visible.
Despite it often being confused with a boutique hotel in Saint-Raphael that bears the same name in photos, the villa is not visible from the road, and no public photos (aside from the ones published here) of it exist.
Want more? Here’s a list of famous villas, the celebrities who owned them, and the crazy things that happened there.