The South of France has been home to a revolving door of the superrich for the past century. As their fates rose, industrialists, princes, and bankers built palaces along the Mediterranean, and as they fell—first the Russian aristocracy, Americans after the 1929 stock market crash, then much of the European upper class after World War II—they sold them to the world’s next crop of newly wealthy.
The gates of the villa open to a long, winding path, flanked by towering palms and the cedar trees (cèdres in French) that give the house its name. A bronze statue of Athena, draped with a marble tunic, stands guard at the front entrance. Inside, the vibe is decadent and slightly weathered, consistent with the estate’s Belle Epoque heyday: grand sitting rooms, chandeliers, French doors, and floor-to-ceiling 19th century portraits in ornate frames. A wood-paneled library holds 3,000 books on flora and naturalism, including a 1640 edition of a botanical codex worth several hundred thousand euros. (The furnishings can also be bought with the home.)
Les Cèdres remained in the Marnier-Lapostolle family until 2016, when Campari acquired Société des Produits Marnier Lapostolle (SPML), Grand Marnier’s parent company. Confronted with a piece of property that could be worth 20 percent of its gross 2016 sales, Campari almost immediately put the mansion on the market through the real estate agent Savills.
Previous estimates in the local press of a €1 billion price tag are “absurd rumor and folly,” says Fabio Di Fede, the managing director of SPML since the acquisition and a former Campari executive. But its €350 million listing is likely aspirational as well: The number comes primarily from the amount of land and the size of the home relative to its location. Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is, by real estate agents’ accounts, at least, the most sought-after of the Caps, including Cap d’Antibes and Cap-d’Ail. Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen owns a neighboring villa, as does composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The sale is being handled by a steering committee of five family members from Marnier and Di Fede, who acts as a Campari representative but has no sway on the decision to sell the property to any one buyer.
Who that buyer might be, of course, is anyone’s guess. Its residents, in the meantime, are happy to wax nostalgic about an increasingly distant era: Teissier remembers how Stéphane Marnier-Lapostolle, one of the members of the steering committee, would play with his young daughters, Axelle and Laura, in the villa’s vast, man-made pond, sitting on Amazonian lily pads so large they’d use them as flotation devices. Even in the biggest of home sales, sentimental value still reigns supreme.