Zola, Picasso, Guitry… The stone heritage that survived the 1945 bombardments merges with the sepia toned memory of these great figures of French and international culture. They have been visitors to the seaside resort since the beginnings of the Belle Époque (1870). Discover the history of Belle Époque villas.

In Royan, like an air of Belle Époque

Newspaper criers, horse-drawn carriages traversing the rocky paths, ringing of the bell as the tram passes, absinthe drinkers on the terrace… So many clichés reflecting the spirit and the breath of a peaceful and carefree era before the war of 14- 18. Royan tastes the fruits of this "Belle Époque" when the sea ​​bathing fashion, coming from across the Channel, gradually raises this small village of fishermen and farmers to the rank of seaside resort. The Bordeaux elite then the All of Paris took the train to travel to the seaside resort.

The city has been connected to the national railway network since 1875. It has been served locally by a tramway since 1890. Royan is developing an infrastructure and a leisure offer in line with this new tourist economy. The city is covered with casinos. Of the five establishments that were established there between 1843 and 1960, only one remains today. The old Sporting, on the beach of Pontaillac, is thus built, on the threshold of the 1930s, with its back to the sea. The new place is therefore built in a concrete setting in the “art-deco” style. After the war, he saw the cream of French showbiz parade (Bécaud, Montand, Aznavour, Brel, Ferré and Brassens…).

Belle Epoque architecture on Royan's seafront

The last 1945 bombings reduced to dust the architecture of the “Belle Époque” and the “Roaring Twenties”. A few elements remain preserved, such as the former Jules-Ferry school (1907), the Émile Zola college (1904) and the former Hôtel du Golf in Pontaillac. The central core of this luxury palace turned residence, a quadrilateral surrounded by four corner towers surmounted by a slate dome, corresponds to the initial villa of Jean Lacaze (1856). The Pontaillac district remains, with that of the Park and the Oasis (to the east of the town of Royan), the only area spared by the intense and violent aerial epilogue of the last world war. About 250 of the 4 seaside villas recorded before the war escaped destruction. These villas, characteristic of a triple stylistic influence (chalet, castel or cottage), punctuate the Boulevard Frederic-Garnier, on the edge of the Grande Conche.

Initial villa of Jean Lacaze

Celebrities find refuge in the “Belle Époque” villas

Today, around sixty residences are the survivors of a bygone era. In particular, some of them are associated with big names in culture who have come to seek inspiration there. Émile Zola was invited by his publisher who had a large house built in the Park (the future “Paradou” demolished in 1978). He made several stays in the district between 1886 and 1888. After a stay in Saint-Palais-sur-Mer, the author rents the Chalet Albert (today Villa “Le Rêve”, at n°58 boulevard Frédéric Garnier). During his last holiday in Royan, he settled in the villa Les Œillets (now Villa “Les Arcades” at n°52 of this same boulevard).

Forty years later, the playwright Sacha Guitry, fell in love with the Charente resort where he spent several summers. From 1926, he put his suitcases down at the Villa Rose Rouge, built six years earlier (at no. 38). He meets regularly with his neighbor at 100, the photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue, staying for two seasons at the famous Aquamarine villa whose nickname "Chambord-sur-Mer" alone illustrates the size and architectural prestige.

some “belle-epoque” villas

Guitry, Printemps and Lartigue have another friend in common: Pablo Picasso, whom they meet and visit regularly in Royan. The Spanish painter, who had just finished his masterpiece "Guernica" (1937) found refuge in the seaside resort on the eve of the declaration of war on September 2, 1939. He moved to the Hôtel du Tigre (the brand still exists at 14 boulevard Clémenceau in a completely redone building), then at the villa Gerbier de Jonc (building disappeared, boulevard Albert Ier) and ended up renting, from 1940, a workshop located on the third floor of the Villa Les Voiliers (above the port). The latter is located close to the Café des Bains which he immortalizes, five before its destruction, in a famous painting (the restaurant La Siesta now occupies this location). 

Also worth seeing, in the same sector, is the astonishing Villa Kosiki (1885). The storefront, adorned with an oriental-style terrace depicting a Japanese pagoda, is one of the great curiosities of Royan's heritage. THE guided tours de Royan allow you to learn more about this prosperous period for the city and to discover its remarkable villas.

Good to know

Some of these “Belle Époque” villas were divided into apartments and are now offered to the public in vacation location.

Was this content useful to you?


Share this content