After our incredible stay at Le Majestic, my body physically rejected leaving — seriously. Somewhere along the way, probably at one of the beachfront restaurants, both the hubs and I contracted food poisoning.
This meant I spent the first official day of my 30s cooped up in a hotel room that did not even sort of compare to the one we just left, taking care of an 8-week-old while the hubs spent the day bouncing between meetings… on YACHTS. Listen, I don’t even know who had this one worse, and I’m being serious. Breastfeeding an infant when you can’t keep anything in your stomach is no picnic, but I don’t think you could have paid me to step foot onto a boat, either. Woe was us, basically.
Fortunately, it passed quickly (and even more fortunately, Margot never got sick), and by the next day, my little lazy baby and I were in dire need of fresh air. Our new hotel wasn’t technically in Cannes, and because of the conference, I wasn’t really dying to take a shuttle into town and elbow my way around the boondogglers. Instead, we were a 5 minute walk from the town of Mandelieu-La Napoule, and I use the word “town” VERY loosely. There were a few restaurants, some cheesy beachfront shops, a marina… and a château, a 7-minute walk from our hotel.
Before we walked out of the hotel, I reorganized our pram & nappy bag, and very decisively took out our sling. Sidenote: we use this one, which was a random find and has been great, and these videos for a different wrap were WAY more helpful than the stupid card that came with ours. Naturally, leaving the sling behind was the biggest mistake of the day, and a good lesson for traveling around Europe with a little one. Cobblestones are not our friend, and after I bought a ticket and set off to explore the grounds, I realized this was not going to work… at all.
Luckily, the woman in the ticket office has a baby of her own, and was more than happy to let us leave our pram with her while we walked around, exploring Margot’s first castle. Less luckily, this meant I was left to tote la petite lazy baby around in my arms, and as a result, all my photos are via one-handed cell phone, soooo, apologies in advance.
Though the château was originally built in the 14th century, its most recent owners were an American couple, Henry Clews, Jr, and his wife Marie, who bought the property in 1918 and immediately began restorations.
It all sounded like my dream life, until I started reading the history signage around the gardens — which, by the way, are listed as a Notable Garden of France, a distinction awarded by the Comité des Parcs et Jardins, and holy CRAP I hope a French Leslie Knope exists.
Anyway! Henry and Marie were each born into aristocratic families in the States, but Henry escaped his family to live as an artist in Paris. He fell in love and married, but eventually returned to Rhode Island and met Marie, who was considered one of the most beautiful women of the time. Or something. She was a catch, which meant she was also married, and with two children of her own.
This was all annoying enough, but then I learned that in that life, Marie was named Elsie Whelen Goelet, and at their wedding, Henry renamed her. They moved to Antibes three years after they wed, eventually buying the château and pursuing an 18-year renovation project on the property that Marie called her “spiritual home.”
Basically, these two were the couple at the party that everyone actively tries to avoid getting stuck in a conversation with, because they just want to talk about things like spiritual homes and art that “moves them” and the 14th-century seafront château they’re renovating. This quote from Henry is a pretty good indication of how fun he probably was:
“Solitude is what I need, high walls and aloofness, a hidden corner to be alone with my dreams, away from humanity.”
Where is my eyeroll emoji?
Unfortunately for Marie, Henry died in 1939, and as Italian forces moved in during WWII, she struggled to maintain her life at the château. Her friendship with some Italian princess was all she could rely on to keep her safe, but she still ended up serving as a maid in her own home, tending to the soldiers.
After the war ended, she regained the property, and went back to hosting grand parties and performing for her guests — because, by the way, Marie was a failed opera singer. But I guess if you’re invited to a party at a seafront château, you’ll put up with a little bit of opera from a wacky American?
22 years after Henry’s death, Marie joined him, leaving the château to the La Napoule Art Foundation, a non-profit organization she started as a memorial to her late husband. The two are buried on the property in the Tower of La Mancha, because of COURSE Henry had some sort of weird Don Quixote fixation.
They requested that their tombs not be closed so their souls could escape and reunite in a secret room at the top of the tower for eternity and can you just imagine explaining all of this to your lawyer as you write your will?
Today, the gardens and the castle are open to the public, with a gallery of Henry’s sculptures and a tea room that opens to the front terrace and overlooks the sea. I opted not to explore inside the castle, but really enjoyed our morning walking around the grounds, lazy baby in my arms, learning about two very quirky Americans who, once upon a time, moved to France.
I probably wouldn’t suggest staying in Mandelieu-La Napoule, but I’m positive we wouldn’t haven’t found this place if the combination of food poisoning-induced cabin fever and our weird hotel room hadn’t joined forces and smoked us out and into this little village.
Tickets are €6, and hours change seasonally, but if you nab an invite to a party there, let me know. Lazy baby and I would LOVE to be your +1.5.