Few people will have a villa in the South of France bequeathed to them by a marquis, but then there’s only one Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. (Still, you can capture her timeless radiance with Sunday Riley’s Downton Abbey: Wake Up With Me Kit. So that you know, all of the kit’s fan-favorite products are made for HBICs from any era.)
If the new Downton Abbey movie has you dreaming about your own South of France escape, you’re in chic company.
Since the mid-19th century, upper-crust Brits like the Crawleys made the French Riviera their summer playground. The early 20th century saw artists and writers like Picasso, Matisse, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Edith Wharton flock to the South of France. Today, everyone from Beyoncé to the Kardashian-Jenner-Hadids are spotted yacht-hopping and champagne-sipping in its Mediterranean waters. Money, fame, and glamour have always been synonymous with the Côte d’Azur.
Back to Violet’s neo-classical mansion, the Villa Rocabella, where mere commoners (with the means) can stay IRL today. We’ve also rounded up several other villas for rent this summer, in case the Dowager Countess’ was already booked by the Beckhams.
Villa Rocabella, Le Pradet
In A New Era, the estate left to Lady Grantham in her former lover’s will is referred to as “The Villa of the Doves.” Lush gardens and a 65-foot pool offset the 20,000-square-foot Villa Rocabella, located between Marseille and Toulon. With 19 bedrooms and 21 bathrooms, the Belle Epoque mansion accommodates up to 40 people — for an eye-watering $100,000/week. The price includes an entire staff. Summer like the Crawleys with your own butler, concierge, valets, maids, a chef, drivers, and boatmen for the 12-person boat that comes with the villa rental.
Château de la Messardière, Saint Tropez
A 19-century château that’s been transformed into a five-star hotel, Château de la Messardière is situated in glitzy Saint Tropez. Made famous by French sex symbol Brigitte Bardot when she filmed And God Created Woman, Saint Tropez is home to glamorous beach clubs like Le Club 55 — and the A-listers who frequent them — along the Plage de Pampelonne. It’s also the preferred docking spot for the season’s mega-yachts. But you may never leave the château and its sprawling grounds, replete with tennis courts, swimming pools, yoga platforms, kids club, Valmont Spa, several restaurants, and its private beach.
Château Ventoux, Sarrians, Provence
With Insta-worthy fields of lavender and world-renowned vineyards, Provence is a bucket list destination for many travelers (and their iPhones.) The luxury home base for your lush explorations? The Château Ventoux, located on Mont Ventoux, is an 18-century castle that’s been turned into a lavish country estate with nine bedrooms, a pool, basketball, volleyball, squash and tennis courts, a gym, and wine cellar, and a wedding chapel. Staff included: A butler, chef, house manager, and housekeeper.
Villa La Coste, Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade
Nestled in Château La Coste, the astonishing 600-acre sculpture park, outdoor art gallery, and biodynamic vineyard in Provence, Villa La Coste is an ultra-luxe hotel that takes art and architecture to another level. Villa La Coste sets the bar for wine and culture connoisseurs with a modern midcentury design, impeccable service, and art you’d typically view in a museum. Of course, there’s plenty of R&R to be had with the heated outdoor pool, gym, and spa with a hammam and a Japanese-style onsen bath.
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Château Les Carrasses, Languedoc-Roussillon
An extensively renovated, 19th-century wine estate in the laidback region of Languedoc, Château Les Carrasses mixes château living with luxury amenities like a heated outdoor pool, a Masterclay tennis court, and an onsite winery and restaurant. The château’s concierge team will ensure you get the most out of your stay, from wine tastings to canal walks to food and bike tours. One unusual feature for a French château: There are 19 self-catering properties (i.e., kitchen facilities), so you can almost believe you live there.
Château Castelnau-Valence, Occitanie
The château experience gets real with an affordable stay at Château Castelnau-Valence. Near the city of Nîmes where (fun fact) denim originated from, this castle has a history dating back to 1500 — it’s remained in the same family for the past 522 years! A stay at the château includes a tour of the tower, a private, two-bedroom apartment, and all the medieval history you can soak up.
Château du Puy, Sarrians, Provence
It’s not often you get to stay at the top of a castle on top of a hill. Château du Puy was built in the early 19th century by General Fabre, a military engineer for Napoleon. In 2021, the top floor was completely renovated into a five-star Zen retreat with a 360-degree view of the surrounding area. There’s a shared swimming pool and, incredibly, air conditioning in every room. (Trust, that’s a real luxury in France!)
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