Baroness Ephrussi de Rothchild's gardens are in truly the most perfect setting on the med.
Seven seperately themed gardens allow you to wander away from the Villa into a new pleasure at each turn. Here a Japanese garden, there a spanish garden, alongside a full French Provencale garden..
It is said that Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild considered the Villa Ile de France - straddling the Cap - as though an ocean liner. Some twenty gardeners were employed and worked in full sailors uniforms, complete with red pompoms, to bring this place to perfection.
After her divorce she left, never to return.
Sit a while and capture this piece of paradise in your minds eye, so you can revisit it at will.
Perfect in pink, the villa of the Baroness Ephrussi de Rothchild straddles the centre of the main spine of Cap Ferrat. Bequeathed to the French National Trust, the fee for entry will allow you a glimpse of what can be acheived when both immense wealth and good taste come together.
Having seen off Leopold King of the Belgians to buy the parcel of land, the Baroness spent years having the finest artisans and craftsmen working here. Piles of renaissance artifacts were assembled for her choice, and the design matched to her favourite colour pink. . After its completion Ephrussi actually spent very little time here. However you can. Linger a while over a coffee or a beer in the tea-room, with an immaculate interior and a just perfect view out over Villefranche. Utterly magical.
For a full screen panorama of the villa viewed from the gardens click here, Ephrussi full screen
Walk the promenade Maurice Rouvier from Pont St Jean to around the promentory about 1 Km to "brush past" the sugar pink villa that is Villa Socoglio - or La Fleur du Cap - actor David Niven's home until his death in the early 1980s.
Subsequently Nivens widow became one of Monaco's Princess Grace Kelly's circle of confidants, until the princess's untimely death in 1982. Both sharing roots in Hollywood's film culture and English. By reputation Grace tired of her fairytale princess role, and the claustrophobia of the Monaco royal court..
Ownership then "disappeared" into front-companies. Reference to the refurbishment contract for the villa below indicates it cost getting on for 20m euro just to "smarten it up".
A beautiful place it is, just seen from outside. The Place Niven allows you to see what elsewhere is locked away behind 15 foot gates and electrified fences - well, the exterior at least
The best way to enjoy the magic of Cap Ferrat is to stroll the Promenade Maurice Rouvier, from the Royal Riviera Hotel - Beaulieu Baie de Formis side of the Cap, an easy kilometre, to the beach and yatching harbour of St Jean.
This red tarmac walkway is named after a former Maire of Cap Ferrrat, probably the most priviledged job on the planet. This particular one - unlike many of the Riviera "Maires" - did not end up in clink on corruption charges, though the present maire Renee Vestri has just had his collar felt. You look out on the open vista of the coastal mountains up to Eze and towards Monaco and Italy. On the distant seafront you should just be able to pick out the rich terracotta outline of Bono's villa at Eze sur Mer.
On the way to St Jean the promenade passes through Place David Niven, and past the beautiful sugar pink waterside villa that was the actors former home. En route past the private villas that edge the walk you will see in the distance past the port the yellow battlements of the Chateau St Jean, a fairytale chateau built for an eccentric American industrialist in the 1920's.
Finally you will emerge at the little yatching village of St Jean. Two long-standing establishments - le Cadillac and La Civette give you the opportunity to sit a moment and enjoy a beer or glass of wine and drink in the view. Then stroll down to the harbour, and edging the port is "restaurant row", including the gastronomic delight favoured by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Michael Winner when in town, Le Sloop.
From here you can either retrace your steps to Beaulieu, continue the circumference of the Cap by rocky path, or head inland to cross the promentory via quiet residential roads to emerge at Pont St Jean on the main Nice - Monaco road. Here you will find road access to the Villa Ephrussi of the Baroness Rothchild, brush past the entrance to Paul Allen's Villa Maryland. But beware every entrance bears the sign "Chien Mechant", in case you were feeling nosy.
Welcome to paradise.
The gardens were the reason we visited the villa. I'm a garden fanatic. You tour the villa (or not) and enter the gardens where you have great photo ops for both fountains and villa. There are often traveling art exhibits in the gardens and that is fun. They have recently started a fountain show that occurs every 20 minutes. The fountains are set to music so they change with the music and while we were there, they played different music each time so the fountain show changes each time. The most fun part was watching tourists react to the fountains. At one show a lady tourist decided to dance to the music and nearly always there are people who run or walk through the water. It's crazy, beautiful and fun, not necessarily at the same time.
You leave the house into the French garden and then walk through the Spanish Garden, Florentine Garden, Stone Garden, Japanese Garden, Exotic Garden (that wasn't very exotic to us since it is desert plants and we lived in southern California for 20 years), a stunning rose garden overlooking the bay, and then back through the Provencal Garden, again with amazing views over the water and hills in time to catch another fountain show.
You can eat in the restaurant-tea room in the conservatory of the villa or the lawn outside. When the tour buses are there, it's noisy inside but it was still quite nice. We got the "salt tart" which was a small ham quiche with a salad and it was just fine.
Rates can be found at http://www.villa-ephrussi.com/en/ephrussi/226-rates/
This charming zoo offers some relief from the relentless opulence of the Cap. Unusual for todays "modern" zoo - instead of earnest education and politically correct environmentalism - Cap Ferrat zoo has just old fashioned chimpanzees tea parties , goats, flamingoes, zebras, crocodiles and fun things that amuse adults and children alike. The highlight is the cheeky monkeys who reach out from their cage to take nuts from the hands of visitors. Face to face with the ancestors.
UPDATE September 2009
Zoo to close shortly, to make way for a deluxe spa, thanks to British Property developer and prominent Labour party donor Robert Bourne.
Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild spent years collecting things for her villa at St. Jean Cap Ferrat and it is now open to the Public along with the gardens. It is definitely well worth the trip. If time is limited, I would visit the gardens first, but the villa and gardens are both lovely.
There are often visiting art exhibits both inside and out. On this particular trip, there was a wonderful sculpture exhibit of Nathalie Decoster's works that were faintly Etruscan in feeling. We loved them.
Many of the rooms are open to tour and there is a marvelous collection to view. One of the rooms contains an excellent collection of Vincennes and Sevres porcelain very well displayed.
There is a restaurant-tea room with outdoor dining in season and terrific views.
Perhaps you know that people like Tina Turner och Michael Flatley lives above Villefranche. But it is (almost) impossible to get there, because there's a big gate that encloses the entire area. But during my latest trip to the Riviera I visited the garden center nestled in against to mountainwall a few hundred meters west of the gateentrance. From that gardencenter there is a stonestairs which twists up alongside the cliff. When the stairs ends you are now inside the closed neighborhood! From where you stand you can se the big entrancegate just some meters away from you!
Some of the most oppulent and expensive real estate on the planet can be found on the elongated peninsula of Cap Ferrat, seen here from the old Fort on Mont Alban above Nice.
Home at one time to King Leopold of the Belgians and the Congo, the Rothchilds, wealthy American industrialists and socialites, Agnelli of Fiat, Somerset Maugham, Charlie Chaplin, David Niven. This wonderful place is the apex of the French Riviera's "golden triangle", of Cap Ferrat, Beaulieu and Villefranche.
Yes, there are trophy homes in Malibu or Beverley Hills, tropical paradises in Barbados or the Seychelles. But none of those places have real culture. People like Cliff Richard and ex-Page 3 kiss-and-tell models have homes in Barbados. They live in a vacuous pretend paradise where reality is just poor people waiting table for tuppence. This is Europe. Real people live here. It has real history and class. Go back a hundred years and only royalty could afford to reach here. Enter La Reserve at Beaulieu, and maybe, just maybe, they will serve you. This is not a "resort", it is a real place.
With trademark originality - his other world-class designs include London's City Hall, the wobbly-blancmange tin next to the Tower of London, and the voluminous new Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok Airport. - modern giant of corporate architecture Sir Norman Foster built his home up on the sea-facing far side of Cap Ferrat.
Eschewing faux-Belle Epoch or classical allusions, he settled for the "Milton Keynes modern primary school block" look, fitted it out with a pair of giant Ford Cortina whip-arials, spanned with sheets of sailcloth to bring shade that undulates in the breeze. It "works", but don't ask me how. I guess that's the secret of great architecture.
This museum offers a chance to visit one of the Côte d'Azur's most legendary villas- built by the Baronne Ephrussi de Rothschild. The Baronne died in 1934, leaving the stately building and its magnificent gardens to the Institut de France on behalf of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. In addition to the villa itself, the Baronne donated the 18th-century furniture, Savonnerie carpets, screens and panels from the Far East, tapestries, original drawings by Fragonard, canvases by Boucher, and rare Sèvres porcelain.
The Villa's garden, which covers over 12 acres, contain fragments of statuary from churches, monasteries, and torn-down palaces. One entire section is planted with cacti.
The views from the villa are spectacular!!!
I definately recommend having lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants in the Port Nouveau. The village of St. Jean Cap-Ferrat is rather small, but there are a lot of nice terrace café-restaurants; most along the port. The port, like many along this part of the coast, was once a small fishing port that's evolved into a somewhat larger yacht harbor.
When King Leopold of the Belgians lived on the Cap he built a villa for each of his three mistresses and one for his confessor, to be always on hand. The confessors role was probably to excuse his petty infidelities rather than his rape of the Congo. No matter because the Congo continued to be raped by its own corrupt African leaders long after his demise. .
In the nineteen twenties, Somerset Maugham bought the priest's house, and dubbed it La Mauresque, due to its Moorish design influences. The attraction for some of Cap Ferrat was that its privacy permitted the wealthy an openly gay lifestyle that would not have been tolerated in more repressed European high society. So the mistresses of King Leopold and their web of secret tunnels gave way to the evolution of a different lifestyle.
Since Maugham's death in 1965, the plot has been broken up by developers, however someone somewhere occupies what remains of this piece of history. All that can be seen is the sign from the roadside.
The annotation on this farewell momument to King Leopold II (1836 - 1909) of Belgium and the Congo is from "quelques amis....".
This was one gentleman you would not want to call a friend. The wealth that enabled him to buy up parcels of the Cap came from his ruthless exploitation of the "Free State of the Congo" which he created as his own personal possession after tricking tribal chiefs into exchanging their land title for trinkets. Slavery, mutilation, and murder were the order of the day, as Leopold's agents secured for his personal wealth the vast natural resources of the Congo - much from ivory and the booming demand for rubber (thanks to Mr Dunlop).
Leopold avariciously purchased every parcel of land he could on the Cap, creating three villas, linked by secret passages. In one he installed his mistress, a worldly wise Parisian sixteen year-old named Blanche Delacroix. In another, his personal confessor-priest, on hand should his bad behaviour be finally called to account.
Leopold's successor in the Congo (renamed Zaire), General Mobutu, continued Leopold's tradition of kleptocracy for thirty years, bleeding his country dry before following Leopold's footsteps to the Riviera , setting up home at the Villa del Mare at Roquebrunne, some ten miles further up the coast.
Alas great wealth rarely comes with clean hands, but that's not reason to diminish the beauty and majesty of the Cap Ferrat.
A short walk uphill from the port of St Jean brings you to the Chapelle St Hospice, and a Disney-esque towering statue of the virgin Mary.
The hermit Saint Hospitius c. 580 lived at Cap-Saint-Hospice, between Villefranche and Beaulieu. According to Catholic history he girded himself with an iron chain, lived only on bread and dates, and was blessed with the gifts of prophecy and miracles. A painting within the chapelle shows St Hospice fallen to his knees and about to be beheaded by a sword-wielding figure standing behind. A chilling reference to the savagery still among us fifteen hundred years later.
In the chapel, visitors and locals enter requests and aspirations in a book. The last entry I read was from a local teenage girl, who hoped she would do well in her exams so her mother would be proud of her.