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History

The origins of the Château Volterra are marvelously shrouded in mystery and touched with romance.

It is generally accepted that construction of the Château began in 1890, took twenty years, and that the builder was an English aristocrat. According to local lore, the Englishman developed a passion for a Saint-Tropez beauty, fisherman daughter, and planned the château as a love-nest; sadly, the romance waned before the château fulfilled its purpose. Other, less romantic, stories abound, all involving an Englishman, but the truth may never be learned and curiously, the man’s name never appears in any of the local registries. If the reason for the construction of the château then known as Château Camarat after the promontory it occupies is unclear, the story of its construction itself are well documented. The stones used in the Château’s walls and in its Italian-style terraced gardens were quarried at Cap Drammont in the Esterel and carried to the property by tartanes tropéziennes, the local boats. Mule trains then hauled the stones by the wagonload up the steep hill to the site.

 In 1926, the property passed into the hands of Monsieur Léon Volterra, a larger-than-life theatre impressario from Paris who, during a visit to Saint-Tropez already a gathering place for the stars of the day, was swept off his feet by another local siren, Simone, a fisherman’s daughter. They were married within the year.

 Monsieur Volterra was manager of four theatres in Paris: the Casino de Paris, the Théâtre de Paris, the Théâtre Marigny and the Lido. He also orchestrated the careers of stars Mistinguette and Maurice Chevalier, directed the Folies Bérgères, created the Luna Park at Porte-Maillot and owned a stable of racehorses.

 When elected mayor of Saint-Tropez in 1936, Léon Volterra had little time for his official functions and left matters in Simone’s capable hands. “The Lady Mayoress”, as she became known, was a popular figure in the area, a tireless promoter of its cultural life and, evidently, an indefatigable hostess. In its heyday, the 1930s and early 1940s, Château Volterra saw a constant flow of well-known actors and artists, several of whom were semi-resident, and a stream of spectacular-looking chorus girls. Among the celebrity guests were Raimu, Joséphine Baker, Colette and Jean Cocteau. The war years brought frequent visits from prominent figures of the Résistance. The Volterra’s marriage fell apart shortly after the war but Madame Volterra remained at the Château, selling off parcels of land to make ends meet. She continued to welcome actors, painters and writers to the Château, and each year at Christmas, threw it open to the entire village of Ramatuelle. In later years, she became an ardent supporter of the village’s annual open-air theatre festival at which, until her death in 1989, she occupied a front row seat for every performance.

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