It was 50 years ago.
The Rolling Stones decide to cross the Channel and find refuge in the South of France. If Mick Jagger allows himself to be charmed by the heights of the village of Biot, Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor by the Cap d'Antibes and Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Keith Richards has set his sights on one of the most legendary residences of the Riviera, just renovated by architect Joseph Karam: Villa Nellcote.
It was in 1899 that the banker Eugène Thomas had the Château Amicitia built in Villefranche-sur-Mer. Designed in a purer neo-classical style, the property is built facing the sea, protected within a hectare of lush vegetation, just above the bay of Villefranche.
Classic Amicitia Castle? With its four meter high ceiling, its imposing marble columns, its moldings and its gilding, it is above all one of the most incredible showcases of the Belle Époque on the French Riviera. And as if to better establish her legend, it is one of the survivors of the Titanic, Samuel Goldenberg, who will rename her « Nellcote » in homage to his wife Nella.
An exceptional location, a property with a sumptuous interior and a park bursting with Mediterranean essences. This is enough to seduce the guitarist of the biggest rock group in the world while in search of a place of residence on the French Riviera. Keith Richards also declared in his autobiography Life, released in 2010, that it was impossible to remain insensitive to the aura of this house: “If you woke up smashed in the morning, a tour in this sparkling castle was enough to get you back”. However, it was quite another thing that would decide Mick Jagger's sidekick to move into Villa Nellcote. This property has indeed an unusual feature that had already seduced the Gestapo under occupation: an incredible and endless underground network of cellars and tunnels. The guitarist immediately sees infinite instrumental possibilities in recording a successor to the already cult Sticky Fingers.
It is therefore in the underground of one of the most luxurious and legendary properties of the Côte d'Azur that the Stones will install all their studio equipment from the spring of 1971 until the summer of 1972. For more than one year, Villa Nellcote will live to the rock n'roll rhythm of its illustrious occupants, between Dantesque evenings rich in excess of all kinds where the cream of the world star system squeezes together and composition and recording sessions. It will release the only double studio album ever produced by the group, the brilliant Exile On Main Street. An offbeat, hybrid record and a bit of a catch-all but so raw. And that perfectly defines the rock, soul and bluesy sound and spirit of the Stones of the time.
Today, Villa Nellcote holds its place among the ranks of the most beautiful villas that have made the story of the French Riviera. But more than others, its name also shines in the firmament of the galaxy of those great places that have helped to write rock history. A light shaped by the Mediterranean sun.
Shine a light, they said.
© Sébastien Didier pour Valmont Riviera
Photo credit : Dominique Tarlé
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