“The only note Focus Features gave me was, this has got to be exceptional,” longtime Downton production designer Donal Woods tells AD. He and location manager Mark Ellis looked at numerous houses from “Monte Carlo right through to Marseilles,” he says, but in the end it was a property called Villa Rocabella in Le Pradet that checked all the boxes.
It is 1928 in Downton Abbey: A New Era, and in the story, 86-year-old Violet visited the French villa in her youth. So although many upper-class Brits built new homes on the French Riviera during the roaring ’20s, any filming location would have to look as though it could date back to at least the 1860s to work with the timeline. Villa Rocabella was completed in the 1890s, but “it had the architectural style of Napoleon III,” Woods says.
Ionic columns decorate the exterior of the home, which was originally built by Danish architect Hans-Georg Tersling and restored by interior architect Patrice Nourissat, in 2000. Large, arched windows provide views of the palm trees and the nearby Mediterranean Sea, and the grand marble staircase is topped by a domed ceiling with intricate decoration. The Belle Époque is alive and well in the home thanks to the addition of Fortuny fabrics and rented furniture sourced by set decorator Linda Wilson, in London, since COVID-19 prevented any trips to France before filming began.