An actor at La Ciotat
From Switzerland to La Ciotat
Michel Simon (1895-1975) began his career in the theatre and was also a huge success in cinema, notably in the films Boudu Sauvé des Eaux and Le Quai des Brumes. A veritable rascal, he was one of the first film stars and acted under the greatest directors of the time (Jean Renoir, Sacha Guitry, Marcel Carné). Charlie Chaplin said of him that he was "the greatest actor in the world".
He discovered La Ciotat when visiting his friend, the sculptor Walter Spaeny (or Späny) who, since the 1930s, had been living in the villa that took his name. The enchantment he felt led him, in 1946, to buy an 18th century bastide below it.
A nature and animal lover
He considerably modified this old farmhouse to make it his home, notably by building a tower, a projection room and a belvedere. The latter, built at the end of the park, allowed the actor to contemplate the La Ciotat Calanques and to listen to the sound of the waves and the wind. A nature lover, he lived surrounded by cats, dogs... and even monkeys!
Former agricultural land
The estate adjoining the villa bears witness to ancient agricultural practices, with restanques where olive trees, almond trees, vines and orchards were cultivated. Following the agricultural decline of the 20th century, these farms were divided up and bought up by non-rural owners such as Spaeny and Simon.
A house in the National Park
After the actor's death, the villa was acquired in 1990 by the town of La Ciotat. In November 2020, it was entrusted by the town to the Calanques National Park for a period of 99 years. Located at the entrance to the Park's core zone, it is now intended to house the professional premises of some of the Park's staff, but also to become a place of welcome, information and entertainment for a wide public. It will thus be the first House of the Calanques National Park. Its opening is planned for 2024.
La Ciotat, a cinema town
The Villa Michel Simon is only one part of La Ciotat's rich cinematographic heritage. There is also the Eden Théâtre (the oldest cinema in the world!) and the film by Louis Lumière, L'Arrivée d'un Train en Gare de La Ciotat, making up a true journey dedicated to the 7th art. And it continues with the 2017 release of the film L’Atelier (The Workshop), by Laurent Cantet, filmed in Villa Michel Simon itself!
Visiting and regulations
Before coming to the Calanques National Park, plan your visit and read the best practices to adopt and the rules to be followed.
The villa's surrounding area can be explored all year round, except when the massifs are closed due to the fire risk.
Villa Michel Simon is located on the road to the semaphore station at La Ciotat, near the Notre-Dame de la Garde de La Ciotat chapel and on the road leading to the Bec de l’Aigle semaphore station. It is not open to the public. Consult the dedicated section on the Calanques de La Ciotat for more information about the area.
GPS coordinates: 43.169765, 5.591282