Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

By Stephen Addison
This item appears on page 14 of the February 2020 issue.

Patio of Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild — Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France. Photos by Stephen Addison

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, on a peninsula between Nice and Monaco, was not on my radar when I began planning a trip to the French Riviera, but the more I studied, the more appealing it looked when I compared it to higher-profile locations.

During our September 2019 visit to France, my wife, Paula Owens, and I ended up taking a day trip from Nice to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer instead of visiting Cannes and Antibes.

Arguably, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat’s top attraction is the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild (www.villa-ephrussi.com/en), which sits astride the high ground of the peninsula’s neck. This villa was the home of Béatrice de Rothschild. She purchased the land in the early 20th century with an inheritance and in 1912 moved into the house.

Several years passed before the extensive gardens were completed. Béatrice lived there only sporadically, spending most of her time in her other homes.

The villa is in Belle Époque style and filled with Louis XVI furniture along with Béatrice’s extensive art collections, including several large cabinets filled with ceramics. Words don’t do the villa justice, but its website is filled with photos.

The grounds include eight different gardens plus musical fountains. In addition, there are several spectacular views of the coast, mountains, Villefranche-sur-Mer and other (much more modest) villas.

An admission ticket costs 15 (near $17) and includes an audio guide in English for the villa’s interior. The villa and gardens are open every day, but hours of operation vary according to the time of year. Count on spending three hours for a thorough exploration.

In addition, there is a fairly formal tea café on site with both indoor and outdoor seating. It had a line waiting to enter during our entire visit.

After our visit to the villa, we embarked on a 30- to 40-minute walk down to Villefranche-sur-Mer. The route was fairly scenic but didn’t meet our expectations, probably because we were jaded from the terrific views from the villa.

Due to limited time, we didn’t visit other Cap-Ferrat sites. If I had it to do over, I would have spent the entire day at Cap-Ferrat instead of going to Villefranche.

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is an easy day trip from Nice. From the Boyer bus stop in Nice, take Bus 15 (it was Bus 81 until recently) to the Passable bus stop in Cap-Ferrat. That stop is just across from Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild’s entrance road; walk uphill a few minutes to the ticket office/gift shop.

For detailed bus information, see Lignes d’Azur’s website (www.lignesdazur.com). The nearest train stations are Villefranche-sur-Mer and Beaulieu-sur-Mer.

Buses and trains to Nice get VERY crowded in the late afternoon. Our visit was not during the high season, but we had to force our way onto the 16:47 train leaving Villefranche-sur-Mer because it was so crowded. The train had at least a half dozen 2-level carriages, but they all were packed like a Tokyo subway car at rush hour. We were surprised, especially since trains were running roughly every half hour.

Fortunately, the trip duration to the Nice-Ville station was less than 10 minutes.

STEPHEN ADDISON
Charlotte, NC


Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild’s fountains and formal garden.

Period furniture and artwork in the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild — Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France.

View of Villefranche-sur-Mer from Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.

Period furniture and artwork in the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.