© Ivan Ragozin unsplash 

25 May 2021  |  Tourism, Culture

Villefranche-sur-Mer and The Rolling Stones

Villefranche-sur-Mer is undoubtedly the prettiest and most charming of the smaller towns on the Cote d’Azur. Falling down from the hills to the seafront and its beautiful bay, Villefranche sits comfortably between Monaco and the Italian border.


  © Bogitw pixabay 

It’s an unmissable visit - spectacular views out over the bay with one of the deepest natural harbours on the Mediterranean. The waterside walk with tall, colourful houses...


...and numerous sidewalk cafés and restaurants. The famous Welcome Hotel sits to one end of the promenade where Jean Cocteau once resided.

Like Cannes in the late 19th century and early 20th century, Villefranche was a popular winter destination for royalty and wealthy visitors. And then, in April 1971, the wealthy rock and roll royalty arrived - The Rolling Stones.

Requiring exile from 93% tax demands, the Rolling Stones needed to quit the UK. Members of the band bought or rented houses in the Cevennes, Grasse and Paris. Keith Richards, never one for an understatement rented the seafront Villa Nellcote, a 16 room Belle Epoque mansion.

Nellcôte Villa

The band started to record ‘Exile On Main Street’ in June . As a suitable recording studio could not be found where they could continue work on the album, the basement at Nellcôte became a makeshift studio using the band’s mobile recording studio.

Thousands of pounds’ worth of heroin flowed through the mansion each week, along with visitors such as Willian S Burroughs, Gram Parsons and John Lennon.

Heroin brought with it the usual problems of supply and demand, and the usual retinue of shady characters and criminals. ‘Fat Jacques’ was the chef at Nellcote, who doubled as a heroin dealer with the Marseille connection. Villa Nellcôte was such an open house that, one day in September, burglars walked out of the front gate with nine of Richards' guitars, Bobby Keys' saxophone and Bill Wyman's bass.

In the often intense heat of the dank basement, the group struggled to get started. Musicians set up their instruments in adjoining rooms, with Bill Wyman having to play his bass in one space while his amplifiers stood in a hallway. Initially, they were hampered by guitars going out of tune due to the humidity. Basic communication, too, was a problem, with Jimmy Miller continually having to run from the mobile studio to the basement to deliver his instructions.

Rolling Stones

 © Dominique Tarlé 

Then, a few weeks in, Mick Jagger announced that he was going to marry Bianca Pérez Morena de Macias, a Nicaraguan-born model, in nearby St Tropez. The international press and a clutch of the world's most famous pop stars jetted in for the very public wedding ceremony. As Jagger and his bride departed on honeymoon, the celebrations continued for a week at Villa Nellcôte.

Mick Jagger by Dominique Tarlé

 © Dominique Tarlé 

Keith Richards quit the villa in August 1971. On October 15, 1973, he was found guilty of trafficking cannabis by a court in Nice, and he was given a one-year suspended sentence and a 5,000 franc fine and also banned from entering France for two years.

The album, ‘Exile On Main Street’ was released in May 1972.

Exile On Main Street

Villa Nellcote is situated at 10 Avenue Louise Bordes, 06230 Villefranche-sur-Mer.

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Hugh Atkins

Co-founder of Pure France. 20 years of visiting and photographing fabulous properties, meeting fascinating people and driving every main and back road in France.

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