A hidden hand flicks a switch and the Reporter’s limousine sweeps through the imposing gates into an elegant park in Cagnes-sur-Mer, coming to a halt at the base of a 10-metre flagpole topped by the blue and yellow of the Swedish ensign. On a terrace above stands a distinguished villa.
Are we in the right place? We’ve come looking for the Swedish Club of the Riviera, but this looks more like an embassy. A welcoming hello from Kerstin Snellen, the club’s head of admin, confirms we are indeed at the Villa Ingeborg, new home of the Svenska Rivieraklubben at 40 avenue de Verdun, owned by the Swedish Church of the South of France and Monaco.
A great deal of money has been spent on converting the villa into a bespoke centre for the Swedish community on the Riviera. The Villa Ingeborg is slap-bang in the middle of bustling Cagnes-sur-Mer, its purchase financed by the sale of the smaller Stillegården property a little way up the hill. Stillegården was the Riviera house of Swedish socialite Ingeborg Stille, who gifted her home to the Swedish Church of the South of France and Monaco.
The Swedish Club has come a long way since its first meeting at Nice airport in 1975. Its original purpose was to provide a mutual exchange of information about living in the South of France and to be of assistance to both residents and newcomers to the country.
“We have 2700 members, with a range of ages from 24 to 94,” says Kerstin . “It’s the largest Swedish association in France, and our members live right across the south, from the Italian Riviera to the south-western French coast.
“What unites us is not only our nationality but a shared attitude: we love this part of France and try to do the best we can to take advantage of everything on offer.”
Kerstin Snellen is the head of admin
At Villa Ingeborg, the Swedish Church holds a service every Sunday, there’s a weekly meeting for au pairs and students as well as a Kids’ Club on Wednesdays at the same time that the Swedish School gives lessons in … Swedish. So together with Rivieraklubben’s activities, Villa Ingeborg offers a real Swedish playground, as well as being the home of Riviera Nytt (news), a classy publication edited by Jessica Holmertz. “There is exhibition space, which includes a large room that is used as a chapel but converts easily into a mini-cinema,” says Kerstin. “Now we can organise themed lunches, cultural events or musical concerts knowing we have the space to accommodate all comers. We also have a large terrace area, which is perfect for receptions – and aerobic classes.
The car rally queen. Ingeborg Stille participated in her last Monte Carlo Rally in 1950 when she was 52“I believe that we are the only foreign community in the South of France with an office that helps members with the different departments of French administration, in addition to running French courses. Together with the Swedish Consulate in Nice, the Swedish Chamber of Commerce and other different Swedish organisations, we have become THE Swedish network in the South of France. And as we have a significant number of members, we can offer very good health insurance and have a protection insurance included in the membership fee.
“Our members are active in different ways. Some work in France while others help organise – and participate in – our club events, everything from boules to bridge, from tennis to wine tasting, plus food classes, golf and excursions. And, last but not least, creating a Swedish stand when Zlatan comes to Monaco and Nice this spring!”
The success of the Swedish Club of the Riviera, now under the presidency of Bo Dimert, shows how a community can come together to build a home away from home that is open house to all. Välkommen!