Situated just west of Cannes, the Château de La Napoule occupies a magnificent seafront site. Constructed in the 14th century by the Countess of Villeneuve, the Chateau was rebuilt several times over the centuries and was even turned into a glass factory in the 19th century. When 2 Americans, Henry Clews Jr. and Marie Clews (1880-1959) purchased the Chateau in 1918, it was a private house on the edge of a poorly maintained property. Only the 2 medieval towers standing majestically within the walled compound hinted at the wealth of history attached to the spectacular site.
They moved immediately into the castle and started a massive reconstruction project. Marie played the role of architectural designer while Henry created his fanciful sculptures for every new element of the renovation.
The gardens were designed by Marie, who enjoyed blending the geometry of the formal French style with an overlay of softer plants, typical of the English gardens.
She created intimate rooms with refreshing pools and fountains.
In addition, there are three smaller gardens in the Italian style: the Garden de la Mancha next to the Tower of La Mancha, under which the mausoleum of the Clews family is located; the terraces which overlook the Bay of Cannes, are planted with cypress trees, hedges and rosemary; and the secret garden, in a corner of the walls with windows looking at the sea, with a Venetian well in the centre.
It is Henry Clews’ sculptural decor, combining wit and turn-of-the-century sensibility, that makes the Château de La Napoule, registered as a monument historique, such a fascinating excursion into architectural history.
When Marie and Henry first saw the castle, they were immediately enamored with its spectacular site on the western perimeter of the bay de Cannes. To fully enjoy its magnificent view, they added a grand terrace garden, running the full length of the seafront and giving the castle legs directly into the Mediterranean Sea.
A third tower was added in 1933, in the style of the 2 existing Saracen towers, the "Tower of La Mancha" in homage to Henry's lifelong identification with Cervantes' character, Don Quixote de la Mancha. This tower was planned as their final resting place. It includes a secret room at the top where they believed their souls would be reunited and would abide forever.
At La Napoule, Henry found an atmosphere of inspiration.
Henry died in 1937 and Marie was left alone to direct the reconstruction work. During the Second World War, the castle was captured by German soldiers. Marie served the soldiers by acting as the maid of the castle's staff so she could stay close to her home and the memory of her husband.
The Chateau restoration continued until Marie's death in 1959. Today, the castle is owned by the La Napoule Art Foundation, which was founded in 1951 by Marie, in memory of her husband and in order to preserve the Château.