The French Riviera has so many wonderful attractions, yet one that deserves to be better known is the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, a real hidden gem. With a unique location in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat overlooking the Mediterranean Sea from all sides, it’s worth visiting the rose coloured villa for the view alone. Cap Ferrat is one of the most unspoiled parts of this coast and also one of the most exclusive.
Yet there is much more to discover here, starting with the fantastic gardens. The original owner of the property, Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, commissioned the villa from French architect Aaron Messiah. She was the wife of banker Baron Maurice de Ephrussi and a prominent member of the Rothschild banking family. Built between 1905 and 1912, it includes a series of gardens inspired by her travels abroad. Sadly, Béatrice had an unhappy marriage to Maurice, 15 years her senior and an inveterate gambler. She contracted an illness from him which prevented her from having any children, and a divorce was finally granted in 1904.
Béatrice was then able to devote her attention to collecting art. Upon the death of her father in 1905, she inherited his considerable fortune and purchased the plot of land where the villa now stands. Accessed only by a mule track at the time, it was quite a challenge to create gardens on such a rocky promontory. The ground was dynamited and additional earth was brought in, with the gardens being completed in 7 years. She later bequeathed the villa to the Académie des Beaux Arts so that it could be enjoyed by the public, and amazingly enough it’s open 365 days a year. The Académie entrusted the management of the site to Culturespaces who have overseen the renovation of the gardens and the Villa’s interior, following the original plan designed by Louis Marchand. They also organise events at the villa, including the Fête des Roses et des Plantes (Rose and Plant Festival).
I’ve always enjoyed visiting gardens, having recently been to Compton Acres and the Elizabethan garden at Kenilworth Castle, so was keen to see what made this one so distinctive. The French Ministry of Culture classifies these as one of the Notable Gardens of France. For me, it’s the magical water fountains in the French garden that stand out when I look back on our visit. They spring into life every twenty minutes with the dancing jets serenaded by classical music which really add to the ambiance.
The classical temple makes a charming focal point from which to admire the French garden and the villa.
Wandering around the gardens, you feel like you are being taken on a journey through many different countries and horticultural styles.
There’s a shady stone garden…
A tranquil Japanese garden…
And a Florentine garden where wedding photos were being taken on the day we visited. In all there are 9 gardens so I’ll leave some for you to discover yourself.
Inside the villa itself there are some fine Gobelins tapestries, porcelain from Sèvres, Old Master paintings and rare furniture.
You get an intimate impression of life at the villa.
And from the first floor you can admire the stunning view over the Italianate gardens. I can certainly see why Baroness Rothschild loved it so much.
There’s also an attractive tea room and restaurant in the former conservatory. Nearby, there’s St Jean Cap de Ferrat which has a good selection of seafront restaurants.
365 day a year from 10 a.m to 6 p.m, except July and August: from 10 a.m to 7 p.m and from November to January: from Monday to Friday from 2 p.m to 6 p.m. / weekends and holidays from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. Last admission is 30 minutes before closing time.
I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. Are you a fan of gardens?
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, 06230 Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France