April 14, 2014

Un Petit Week-end à Deauville

Bonjour from Normandy!

Another spring, another happily free weekend spent on the Norman coast. This time we took the train up to Deauville, the fabled "Parisian Riviera" (the closest sea resort to Paris). Just think of it as a really, really windy and cold version of Cannes and Monaco combined, with way less people. Casinos, golf courses, vacation hotels and homes, yacht clubs, and loads of chic shopping, and what did we do? We picnicked our meals and walked all over the place!

The promenade along the beach tells Tinseltown tales of many a summering cinema star. Hundreds of old and new Hollywood names grace the gates of the beach closets that lead out onto the sand. The Deauville American Film Festival has been going strong since 1975, completing every summer tourist season in early September.

I only need an umbrella. And some rain.
The iconic primary colored beach umbrellas dot the sand like hundreds of dainty popsicles, drawing the boardwalk pedestrians into their coolness. The beach closets are joined by adorable outdoor restaurants and bars, all facing the expanse of clean and inviting sand.

Our hours of walking led us into a neighboring area called Tourgéville, where my curiosities latched onto a very castle-like home in the walkable distance. We had already strolled by many an abandoned mansion along the seafront, reminiscent of another time when luxury vacation homes were quickly built by the dreams of people who had yet to know a world war. Every time we saw the stains of loneliness (broken windows, falling porches, overgrown vines, boarded up gates) on the face of what had once been beautiful homes, we both had the same reaction:

Why?!?! Why aren't these places for sale?! Or already foreclosed on by the local banks?! How can these still savable structures go entirely unnoticed and uncared for by the community?!

But this one particular castle - as it cannot simply go by the menial term of "mansion" - while at the beginning of its fall into ruins, still had surveillance cameras posted around the property. I hope they spotted us crying at the feet of the steps. The cameras were the only thing that prevented me from snooping like a real sleuth and Nancy Drew-ing my way to the top balcony. Nancy never had to deal with technology.

There was zero information around the property as to the owners, just some evidence of a time period as an apartment building (old mailboxes), and the fact that the builders were really into the castle look, gargoyles, byzantine arches, and all. But after the magic of Google and a few key search terms, here is what we have come to know.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to La Tour Carrée (The Square Tower), or more familiarly known as, La Villa Mors.

Image credit: www.delcampe.net
The Mors brothers, Émile and Louis, were automobile engineers at the turn of the 20th century. There is not much information about them except that they liked racing cars, one of the brothers married the sister of French writer, René Boylesve, and, in 1905, they constructed this beauty of a domicile. The castle is situated on the corner of Avenue de la Terrasse and Rue Mors, with Rue René Boylesve intersecting near the southeast corner. The Square Tower name comes from the cleverly designed cornered turret, topped with the watchtower of a portico.

It's one of those "homes" where both the front and the back of it could be considered the grand entrance. In the picture above, the beach and sea are behind this part of the house (what today, we would consider the backyard). In the picture below, what we believe to be the front of the house faces the sea. I wonder if that car parked along the side was manufactured by Mors?

Image credit: www.delcampe.net
Here is where the history melts into the mist. After the first World War, the Mors' former employee, André Citroën, ended up absorbing the Mors label into his own. Now everyone in Europe knows "Citroën" cars, and the Mors' castle stands as a monument to a forgotten era. And someday, we'll be calling it Le SwagVil.

Image credit: Marc Vilas
Do I recommend Deauville as a weekend retreat? Absolutely. The entire area is totally flat, even the approach to the beach stays exactly level with the town. The English Channel beach is only for warm souls, though, as the brisk winds make the sandy shores more similar to a day in San Francisco than Miami. It was completely relaxing and perfect for aimless wandering.

Good adventures lead to discoveries.
Great adventures lead to mysteries.