The gates of Villa Eilenroc will swing open as part of Les Floralies, a wonderful rose festival dedicated to the agricultural heritage of Cap d’Antibes, on 20th May. In the years before it became a millionnaires’ playground, the Cap d’Antibes’ predominant crop was roses. The sandy, well-drained soil was the ideal consistency for rose cultivation. Sadly, all but one of the commercial rose cultivators have left the area today.
The festival is an opportunity to celebrate Antibes’ floral history, connect with the past and, best of all, see and smell over 1,000 beautiful flowers. What makes this event so special is that the garden at Eilenroc is home to a unique and important collection of roses. Many of the roses in the garden are Meilland and the Meilland family, who still live on the peninsular, are one of the largest domestic rose producers in France. The rise of the house of Meilland and the many roses they have created over the years, which you can discover through the event, is interesting enough to be its own exhibition.
The GEVES (Groupe d'Etude et de Contrôle des Variétés et des Semences) collection of roses is a real treat for connoisseurs. In layman terms, it was the national collection for study from 1960 to 1990 and although its long form may seem slightly technical, it was essentially a working rose garden for the whole of France. When a new hybrid was created, it was necessary to keep an original seed from the flower as a point of reference in case of mutation or change in the future.
Many of roses found in this collection were created by the Meilland family such as the Le Prince Jardinier, Papa Meilland, Madame Meilland, Line Renaud, Monica Bellucci, Philippe Noiret, Pierre de Ronsard, Balzac, and Princesse de Monaco. They had a particular interest in protecting this precious group off flowers after 1990, when the GEVES outfit moved to Holland. The family carefully sheltered the plants, which represent many lifetimes of work, until they could be moved safely into the villa’s gardens.
The history of the villa is no less interesting. Villa Eilenroc is one of the great properties of the south of France and one of the few to be in public hands. With an elegant carriage drive, it is from a time before the motor car, when the Riviera was a winter holiday resort for the aristocrats and highest echelons of society. In the mid 1800s, the retired governor of the Dutch East Indies, Hugh Hope Loudon bought a vast parcel of land on the Cap. On this superb plot of 11 hectares, the villa was built in 1867 according to plans by Charles Garnier, the architect behind the great opera houses of Paris and Monaco. The last owner of the house was the glamourous, beautiful and seriously wealthy American aviatrix Helene Beaumont, who left the estate and its grounds to the city of Antibes after her death. Several films have been made here including Magic in The Moonlight by Woody Allen most recently in 2014.
The Villa Eilenroc is open to the public every Wednesday from 2pm to 5pm as well as on the first and third Saturdays of the month (same hours). Entrance is 2€, although free until 31st March.