Everytime I drive down the Gorbio valley I see this derelict house high on the hillside and have always wondered about it. The other day I happened to be driving on the other side of the valley on a road I'd never been on before - and there it was in the distance. I snapped the main photo and then asked a man walking his dog if he knew the name of the house. He did. Villa Mer et Monts (Sea and Mountains) and after that research was easy. He also told me the nearest place I could park but that I'd have to walk to the house.
I ignored a chain barrier saying 'no entry' and walked up a very long and steep drive to the property. Some of the shutters were half off and swung in the wind, the whole house seemed to creak and make weird music - it was pretty scary. I thought I'd be able to return to my car from the road beyond the house but it was blocked and so I had to retrace my footsteps. I can tell you I ran through the archways you see at the base of the building and won't be going back again - at least not alone! I wish someone would restore this beautiful building but frankly it's probably too far gone.
In 1905, an Englishman, Mr. Smith-Ryland, bought from the Baroness de Berge, widow of a former Senator of the Loire, the Villa Mer et Monts located in the Val de Gorbio, well away from habitual locations of the entrenched aristocracy, which was in the area of Garavan. It was too small for Mr. Smith-Ryland's taste and so he razed the building to the ground but kept the original name. He instructed the architect Abel Glena to design a large house surrounded by a park of 20,000 m2. The villa standing on a foundation of stone arches which forms a terrace, has forty rooms overlooking the sea and mountains and therefore living up to its name.
Each season, the owners organized 'bridge and dance parties' that reunited many of the British colony who spent their winters in Menton. Sometimes, Mr. Smith-Ryland rented the villa to friends such as Washington Singer, a son of the inventor of the sewing machine.
After the First World War the villa was converted into a nursing and maternity home. Under the direction of Dr. Seguel and surrounded by British personnel, the building welcomed patients who wished to take a 'cure' in the micro-climate of Menton, like Prince Yusupov, the assassin of Rasputin, along with his wife Princess Irina and his brother, Theodore.
Villa Mer et Monts has been abandoned for some years and is now the property of the Conseil General des Alpes Martimes.