Are Transatlantic’s Villa Air-Bel and Hotel Splendide Real? Do They Still Exist?

Image Credit: Anika Molnar/Netflix

Netflix’s historical series ‘Transatlantic’ revolves around the American journalist Varian Fry, who teams up with his allies and fellow members of the Emergency Rescue Committee to rescue Jews and anti-Nazis from Marseille. Fry does the same to stop the Vichy France authorities from deporting the German and Jewish refugees back to Nazi Germany and their deaths. Fry and his friends stay in Hotel Splendide, which becomes the base of their operations. When the authorities’ presence increases in the luxurious hotel, the journalist takes the refugees to Villa Air-Bel, the secret hideout of several artists, writers, political dissidents, etc. Since the two establishments play a vital role in Fry and his friends’ efforts to save thousands of innocent lives, one must be wondering whether they exist in reality. Let’s find out!

Villa Air-Bel Was Real and it Was Later Demolished

Yes, Villa Air-Bel is real. The establishment was rented out by Fry and Mary Jayne Gold, on behalf of the Emergency Rescue Committee, to hide the refugees who wanted to end up in the United States to avoid persecution in Nazi Germany. The funds for turning the villa into a safe house were provided by Mary Jayne Gold, who joined Fry’s group as an interviewer and courier, only to expand his list of refugees to rescue. Villa Air-Bel wasn’t just an office for ERC or an asylum. It was a cultural hub where some of the great minds of Europe at the time joined together to continue creating art.

Varian Fry (center wearing glasses) with a group of artists at Villa Air-Bel//Image Credit: Andre Gomes/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Wilfredo Lam, Max Ernst, Consuelo de Saint-Exupéry, and Marcel Duchamp, some of the most acclaimed artists of the time, lived and created art in Villa Air-Bel. André Breton, who is considered the father of surrealism, and his wife Jacqueline Lamba hosted gatherings at the villa for the artists and writers on the run to relax. Although the villa is presented as the house of Thomas Lovegrove, a fictional character conceived by the writers of the show, in the series, Fry and Mary Jayne Gold rented the villa on their own in reality. Villa Air-Bel doesn’t exist today. In 1970, the establishment was demolished to build a housing complex named “Cité Air-Bel.”

Co-creator Anna Winger wanted to shoot the show on location. However, since the villa was demolished, she had to look for alternatives. “The real Villa Air-Belle had been torn down, but we found another villa nearby. The south of France is full of these insane villas. The one we found hadn’t been touched since the ’40s. It was like it was waiting for us,” Winger told The Hollywood Reporter about the establishment that stands in for Villa Air-Bel in the series.

Hotel Splendide Existed in Real Life

Yes, Hotel Splendide is real. The luxurious establishment is located at No. 31 Boulevard d’Athènes, in the city of Marseille. The building was built at the end of the 19th century as the Grand Hotel de Russie et d’Angleterre. After renovation work in 1918-1919, the place became one of the most distinguished hotels in the region with 200 rooms, a winter garden, a famed restaurant,  a bar, etc. In August 1940, Varian Fry turned Splendide into his base of operations. Between August 1940 and September 1941, Fry and Splendide played a part in the rescue of over 2,000 refugees. When the Nazis occupied Marseille, they turned the hotel into a meeting place and house of officers.

Image Credit: Tourism-Marseille

Splendide reopened as a hotel after the Second World War and was operated as one until 1970. Currently, the building is a regional center for educational documentation of the Aix-Marseille Academy. The scenes that feature Hotel Splendide in the series were shot in the same building to enhance the authenticity of the historical drama.

Read More: Is Thomas Lovegrove Based on a Real Person? Were He and Varian Fry Together in Real Life?