Dar Sebastian: The True Fragrance of the Mediterranean

Orange blossom, white oleander, juniper, fig… These are the notes that compose the fragrance of the Mediterranean. At least, according to the legendary Hermès perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena, who created one of his incredible perfumes, Un Jardin en Méditerranée, which means “A Garden in the Mediterranean”, after visiting Dar Sebastian and strolling through the gardens of Hammamet

We offer our guests an excursion to this amazing place and are glad to share what else makes this fascinating house and garden famous, as well as what is happening at Dar Sebastian today.

Who exactly is this Sebastian?

George Sebastian. His parents were a wealthy Jew and a descendant of a noble line of impoverished Moldavian feudal lords. Being a prominent representative of European bohemia and a Romanian millionaire, he built a house on the sunny shore of the Mediterranean Sea in Hammamet in the mid-1920s.

However, Sebastian’s millions have a controversial origin. The fact is, George was married to a wealthy American woman, and this marriage happened solely for the sake of the overseas widow’s fortune. Sebastian treated his wife coolly, being a gay person and having a strong romantic bond with a completely different person.

By the way, there is indisputable evidence that George’s friend was the first to arrive on the blessed Tunisian land. After that, Sebastian convinced his wife to build a house here, then arranged a divorce, and settled in Hammamet with his partner.

A dream come true

They say that architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked on Villa Sebastian, said after the construction was completed, «This is the most beautiful house I have ever seen.»

And it’s not just a house but a dream come true for many Europeans who want to settle down in a warm southern country, such as Cyprus, Turkey, Morocco, or Tunisia, upon reaching an advanced age.

Some people think that it was George who set the trend for winter houses in Tunisia for wealthy Europeans. For example, before the construction of Dar Sebastian, many French people considered moving to Tunisia as a last resort. It was a kind of a business trip or even a kind of punishment, an exile.

Famous guests of Sebastian

This villa has been visited by numerous famous people. George was friends with prominent politicians and businessmen, and artists, writers, painters, and performers flocked to his place like moths to a flame.

Among the guests of Dar Sebastian were British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, King George VI of the United Kingdom, and other notable historical figures. During World War II, the villa served as the headquarters for General Rommel’s troops, who earned the nickname «Desert Fox,» and later as the headquarters for Field Marshal Montgomery.

French writers André Gide and Guy de Maupassant, fashion designer Coco Chanel, sculptor Alberto Giacometti, Italian actress Sophia Loren, and German artist Paul Klee also visited the villa. The geography and scale of the names of those who visited this hospitable home are truly impressive. And this is not a full list of those who have visited the hospitable house.

What does Dar Sebastian look like nowadays?

George’s ashes were scattered here, in the place where he happily spent many years of his life. This famous house was bequeathed to the state and in 1962 became the property of the Tunisian government.

Tourists can enter this house built in an eclectic style and enjoy the view of its light columns and vaulted ceilings, an unusual antique-style bathroom and a luxurious pool with arches. To this day, the house is regarded as a standard of elegance and an example of refined architectural taste.

Exhibitions of contemporary art are held here, and vernissages are organized. In 1964, an amphitheater was built in the area of Dar Sebastian, and the annual Hammamet International Festival began to be held here.

The participants of the festival are performers of classical and modern music, dancers and true virtuosos of the stage from different parts of the world. This event gives pleasure to connoisseurs of beauty. Moreover, even simply being in this magnificent place is a delight because from the upper tiers of the amphitheater, there is a wonderful panoramic view of the bay.

«Breathe, madam, breathe…»

After Georg’s death, the house remained a center of attraction for bright and talented people. Leïla Menchari, the Hermès decorator of Tunisian origin who spent over half a century creating unforgettable displays for the French fashion house, invited the legendary perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena to take a stroll here. Impressed by blooming Hammamet, he created the perfume Un Jardin en Méditerranée, which means A Garden in the Mediterranean, beloved by fashionistas worldwide.  

When visiting Tunisia, Leïla stayed next to Dar Sebastian, with family friends, an Anglo-American couple of philanthropists and gardeners, the Hansons. It’s symbolic that Leïla Menchari’s career at Hermès began with a display of her drawing depicting flowers from the gardens of Hammamet, which she presented as made of leather.

Leïla also incorporated Mediterranean scents into her designs. One notable story involves a display where only beach sand, white marble reef, a couple of sunglasses, a swimsuit, and the fragrance Eau d’Orange Verte sprayed along the street were featured. Upon seeing this setup, Hermès art director Jean-Louis Dumas exclaimed, «But Leïla, there’s nothing there!» However, when he noticed a lady stopping, drawn in by the fragrance, he remarked, «Breathe, madam, breathe…» Soon after, a huge crowd gathered around the window display.

Leïla became the main window decorator for the renowned fashion house. She was called the «queen of enchantment,» and each of her installations was unique. By the way, her friendship with Ellen, the perfumer at Hermès, with whom initially they were «like two cats that didn’t trust each other,» began after their trip to Hammamet. Leïla Menchari was the first person to whom the master of unique fragrances sent his perfume compositions.

That very garden in the Mediterranean

A walk through the botanical garden of Dar Sebastian is a chance to smell the very scents of the Mediterranean that inspired both Leïla Menchari and Jean-Claude Ellena, among many others. Previously, all varieties of citrus fruits growing on Cape Bon, in the most «orange» region of Tunisia, were presented here. Today, while the list may be shorter, during the blooming season, twenty hectares of the garden still transform into a fragrant paradise cloud.

In the botanical garden of Dar Sebastian a relaxed atmosphere is carefully preserved. There is no excessive precision or severity, just a delicate «French disorder,» lively and incredibly charming. The pathways exude freshness and coolness, with shadows of remarkable people, who once visited this fascinating place, seemingly flickering behind the trees. Undoubtedly, all of this is worth seeing with your own eyes.

Previously, it was convenient to visit Dar Sebastian and admire its botanical garden only for guests of hotels that are located nearby. Now we offer a visit to this amazing place as part of a new tour program “Attractions of Hammamet” by Carthage Group.