Villa Les Cèdres, the world’s most expensive house Photo: YouTube

Villa Les Cèdres, the world’s most expensive house Photo: YouTube

What can justify a $1.1 billion price tag for a house?

Before searching for the features behind the number, let’s clarify that in this case, “the house” is rather a large, opulent mansion on the French Côte d’Azur, set in a “small” privileged refuge between Nice and Monaco frequently described as the ‘billionaires’ playground.’

First, there’s the house itself, with the understated name Villa Les Cèdres—The Cedars—at the center of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, known in French as a “presqu’île,” or “almost island.”

The description of the magnificent property in the French press includes 10 bedrooms, a ballroom, concierge, a chapel, 50-meter swimming pool dug into the rocks, a winter garden and stables for 30 horses.

But what seems to be the most valuable aspect of the property is its botanical park, considered one of the most beautiful private gardens in Europe. It covers more than 35 acres with 20 greenhouses, is overseen by 15 full-time gardeners, and features some 15,000 rare tropical species, also reportedly Europe’s largest collection of tropical plants.

Another of the most spectacular houses in Cap Ferrat neighboring the Cedars, the villa was built by the Baroness Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild who bequeathed it to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Photo: Villa Ephrussi

Another of the most spectacular houses in Cap Ferrat neighboring the Cedars, the villa was built by the Baroness Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild who bequeathed it to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Photo: Villa Ephrussi

“No real estate transaction has ever reached such heights, even at world level where the last record is the sale of a ranch of 210,000 hectares in Texas that was offered for $725 million,” wrote Bursier.com.

Then there’s the location. Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat now has the most expensive price per square meter—more than €200,000 at the top end—in the world, according to le-gotha.com: “More than 50 of the most beautiful villas of the 600 on the presqu’île are worth their weight in gold. It’s true that there’s very little for sale because the biggest owners in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat are very attached to their sumptuous dwellings, even if they come only some weeks of the year.”

A view from Cap Ferrat Photo: Wikipedia

A view from Cap Ferrat Photo: Wikipedia

With a population ofjust over 2,000, it has always attracted celebrities, royalty and some of the best-known “rich and famous,” from around the world and has been described as ”the escape from Monaco for those burdened with taste.”

It’s tony enough to have drawn billionaire Facebook FB +0.17% co-founder Eduardo Saverin for his wedding in June, when he rented the entire Le Grand Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat for four days and 350 guests.

The list of those who have vacationed at the house on offer include Winston Churchill, who loved painting the gardens, Charlie Chaplin, David Niven, Elizabeth Taylor  Richard Burton, and Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Current neighbors include British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and tech tycoon and Microsoft MSFT +0.41% co-founder Paul Allen. Other rich families like the Ferrero (Nutella) of Italy, the Mondadori from the publishing firm, French couturier Hubert de Givenchy, advertising titan Lord Maurice Saatchi, and assorted Russian oligarchs own houses in Cap Ferrat.

Villa Les Cèdres as it was when King Leopold was its owner

Villa Les Cèdres as it was when King Leopold was its owner

Finally, there is its history: Leopold II, king of Belgium between 1865 and 1909, who’s remembered largely because he privately owned and despoiled the Congo Free State in Africa, was a big fan of that part of the French Riviera and also ownedthe entire west side of the Cap Ferrat. In 1904, he purchased the Villa Pollonnais, a 15-acre mansion built in 1830, changed its name to Le Cedres, made extensive renovations and used it as his main holiday home.

It’s also said that although the king lived most of the year in Monaco, he used Cedars  to accommodate his very young lover Caroline Delacroix who he had met in 1899 when she was only 16 and he already 64 years old. He made her Baroness Vaughan and his morganatic wife by the end of his life – meaning neither she nor her children would have any claim on his possessions or title.

The villa was sold in 1924 to Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle, the owner of the Grand Marnier liquor brand. Until June this year when Grand Marnier was bought by the Italian group Campari-Cinzano, Les Cedres was owned by Grand Marnier heiress Suzanne Marnier-Lapostolle. The house was included in the acquisition.

Grand Marnier started with Jean-Baptiste Lapostolle, who founded a fruit liqueur distillery in 1827. In 1876 his granddaughter married  the son of a wine-making family from the Sancerre region, the Marnier. The company had been in the family for six generations.

The heiress of The Cedars has said that she wants to downsize.

Source: Forbes.com     Photos: Youtube.com; Villa Ephrussi; Wikipedia

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