You surely know them – the family some struggle to emulate and who set the bar for society’s aspirations. We again encountered one of that very real family’s most famous members, Edith Wharton, whose home in Lenox, Massachusetts, The Mount, we have visited on more than one occasion. She began building her “autobiographical” house there in 1902 and it was an amazing achievement. Much of her writing was done there, but the creativity shown in her design and her gardens lives on also.
After her divorce and her work on behalf of France during WWI, she shared her time between a home near Paris, and the city of Hyères, the oldest resort on the French Riviera. It played its part in the Crusades, as a command post of the Knights Templar, and was long ago discovered by the British. Even Queen Victoria stayed there. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of the city, ” I dwell next door to Heaven!”
From 1919 on, Edith created her trademark gardens around her home, Castel Sainte-Claire, on a hillside above this little town, on the grounds of a ruined 17th-century convent with a staggering view down to the Mediterranean. A previous owner, Olivier Voutier, had the distinction of discovering the Venus de Milo, which went posthaste into the Louvre. The home is not open as a museum, but the gardens are a lovely homage to her style.
But a mere five years later, a new bar was set in Hyères by Villa Noailles, an early modernist house, built by architect Robert Mallet-Stevens for art patrons Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles. The war finally over, the race began on the Riviera to build luxury homes that took full advantage of the possibilities of the hillside settings and the Noailles set the pace, with a true 20th-century building. The cubist garden is just one of the many stark contrasts to the Wharton style. There were some new Joneses in town…
We had lunch near the town tower, a remnant of the Knights and the Crusades. A wonderful place to sit and soak up the scenery.