Sunday, June 24, 2012

Villa Ephrussi de Rotschild and Cap Ferrat. Summer 2012 Travelogue (4)

Off Cap Ferrat, near Beaulieu-sur-Mer

Bonjour les amis,

Les vacances are going smoothly here in my little corner of the French Riviera. The weather is ideal, around 85F during the day, and a balmy 70F at night. I could not ask for more. But Nice is a gift that keeps giving. 

The city itself has enough to keep anyone busy and entertained, and I have tried to make the most of it; walking around for hours; shooting hundreds of photos; regrouping in my cozy apartment when I get tired; shopping... 

As if this weren't enough, I can get anywhere in the Nice area thanks to the amazing public transportation system. For the ridiculous price of 2 Euros round trip, city buses take me to other cities along the coast, or inland, to perched villages in the Alps foothills. Last year, I visited Eze-Village, St. Paul de Vence, and Villefranche-sur-Mer, all wonderful day trip destinations. If I want to go faster, I can also ride the local trains. In short, Nice is the perfect base to explore the Southeastern part of France - and let's not forget Italy is just an hour away!

Today, I decided to get out of town for a few hours, and caught bus #81 to the Cap Ferrat peninsula. Cap Ferrat is an apt illustration of the opulence and exclusive lifestyle enjoyed by the Happy Few on the French Riviera. Behind closed gates and high walls, lavish estates are kept out of sight, only visible from the water. For a few Euros, tour boats enable the rest of the world, vous et moi, to take a peek... But today, I walked.

As I was following one of the trails on the peninsula (the paved section between the quaint village of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and the seaside town of Beaulieu-sur-Mer,) I could not get enough of the unobstructed marine views - Ah, la Méditerranée! - and admired several sumptuous properties along the way. 

Promenade Maurice Rouvier


Thanks, Jilly, for pointing out that the late David Niven
once owned this splendid house!

Sir David, you had great taste!

Truth be told, I considered inviting myself over to Paul Allen's exclusive estate. The Microsoft co-founder (and fellow Seattleite) has owned a house on Cap Ferrat for many years. I decided against it, and opted to visit one of the peninsula's most popular attractions instead: La Villa Ephrussi de Rotschild

The 1905 villa showed me what a creative person can do with a lot of time; good taste - and let's not forget - a wad load of money! At Villa Ephrussi, Venice, Versailles and the French Riviera meet in a breathtaking ensemble consisting of a Belle Epoque mansion - the dominant color theme is pastel pink - and no fewer than nine themed gardens.

The former owner, Béatrice de Rotschild, was a banker's daughter who inherited a colossal fortune when her father died. She loved the French Riviera, and like many of her [wealthy] contemporaries, elected to spend the winter here. Ask my Seattle friends - who are experiencing the chilliest, wettest June in slug memory - and they will no doubt tell you they get it!

The construction of the Villa and gardens on the rocky terrain was challenging and took seven years to complete (1905-1912.) When Béatrice died in 1934, she was determined to preserve the special place she had enjoyed with her friends and family. She did not have children and donated the property so it would become a museum. The pièce de résistance, the 9 themed gardens, were completed after her death. 

Villa Ephrussi, from the French Garden

I will be honest. The mansion was not my favorite part. There were lavish tapestries; antique furniture; art; rare china. The best feature were the breathtaking views from every window in the building. The famous shutters found all over Nice traditional façades were prominently displayed at Villa Ephrussi. They have proved to be an efficient cooling system, one Béatrice and her friends must have enjoyed on hot days.

Overlooking Villefranche-sur-Mer 

Like other visitors, I could not wait to get out and tour the prestigious gardens. Today was a special day: Local painters and artists (amateurs, mainly,) had been invited to visit the Villa for free so they could paint, or draw, at leisure. Late afternoon, Champagne would be served as their creations were on display. I arrived early in the morning (a trick I learned when I visited Nice during the peak of the tourist season,) and only met artists as I walked through the magnificent grounds. Designed in the shape of a ship (Béatrice was a fan of ocean liner trips,) the gardens are spectacular. From the majestuous French garden and its waterworks, to the peaceful Japanese garden; the fragrant rose garden; or the Mediterranean garden, I could not believe my eyes! What a special place. In the background, the insistent song of les cigales (cicadas,) reminded us we were in Southern France. 

A painter in the Japanese Garden

Artists by the "Temple of Love" gazebo

The Rose garden

Villa Ephrussi and the French garden

It was time to get back to reality. After a leisurely lunch in the quaint port of St Jean-Cap-Ferrat, I caught the bus back to Nice and spent the next couple of hours editing photos... and writing this story. 

Tomorrow is Monday, and a special day: I will be meeting a fellow blogger, Malyss, from Chronicles from the Shore. She lives in Nice, the lucky lady. Friendships born out of blogging have been a rare treat and a privilege. Meeting one of my cyber-friends in person is a wonderful opportunity, and I can't wait.

A bientôt.

All photos by French Girl in Seattle
Please do not use without permission.

As always, if you would like to see daily photos of the trip, "Like" the French Girl in Seattle page on FB. See you there!

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  1. You walked past David Niven's beautiful pink house - love your photos. Did you realise? On Promenade Maurice Rouvier.

    1. I did not! Bugger, bugger, bugger! Love David Niven. I am sure it is lovely. Will have a reason to return :-) Do you have a picture of it?

    2. Wait! Just checked it out on -- I got it! I got it! It is that gorgeous pink house I captured. I was wondering who was the lucky owner :-)

  2. v- it just keeps getting better and better...a lovly day spent in the most beautiful of spaces...and i do hope tommorrow's rendezvous is enjoyable as i am sure it will be...looking forward to the next installment-thanks ,as always ,for all the time and effort- IT REALLY DOES SHOW!!!

    1. Merci beaucoup g. I am glad you are enjoying le voyage too, and what a trip it has been. So far, so good. A bientôt, and thank you for following my adventures, as always.

  3. J'allais te dire la même chose! :o)Je l'avais photographiée sur mon blog, en expliquant que c'etait là, devant cette villa, que j'allais nager le matin en été..(Voir le 1er Aout 2011 dans les archives)
    Allez, a dem' !:o)

    1. Bon, apparemment, tout le monde était au courant, sauf moi :-) Superbe endroit pour la baignade dis-moi... A demain, prés de la fontaine.

  4. Once again, Veronique, you astonish me with your beautiful photos! It must have been fascinating to see how "the other half" lives! So envious, but enjoying seeing all that you're doing! xo

  5. What a delightful post and I love to hear how economical it is to tour by bus. I would love to have an opportunity to visit Sir David Niven's home and painted. The Rothchild would be a good second choice.

    I love your reporting.

    Enjoy tomorrow and looking forward to more of the French Girl's travels

    Helen xx

  6. Those gardens are *spectacular!* (I'm with you, prefer the gardens to the interiors.) Gorgeous photos all around!

  7. My dream is to live in that gorgeous pink mansion. Sigh. It really looks and sounds like you're in paradise.

  8. Dearest Véronique,

    You clearly are in your elements! Enjoy every minute of it and have a great meeting with your cyber friend. Very special.
    Love to you,

  9. Veronique you took a picture of it! It's the pink house with purple bougainvillea. As I said a lovely photo. You show two pics of it. One jutting out into the bay. Starting from the very first photo in this post they are photos 7 and 8. So many people stayed there, Charlie Chaplin, Churchill, I forget now. I did a few posts on it on the Monte Carlo blog. You can't visit. It's privately owned, by the way.

  10. Sorry i just wrote a comment and see you realised you had photographed it. Apologies for previous comment. Don't know who owns it.

  11. Wow, David Niven's pink house is stunning and in such an amazing spot. Your photos of the gardens at Villa Ephrussi and the 'Med' are formidables! I have visited this stretch of coast but next time I shall follow your advice, hop on a bus, visit the inland villages and walk along these peninsula trails. Enjoy meeting your cyber friend!

  12. Veronique, thought you and your readers might like this little history of David Niven's house:

    'Originally called Lo Scoglietto (Little Rock) with its private harbour, this beautiful pink Italianate villa was built in 1880 by Alfred Bounin, the son of an arms supplier to the Sardinian army, himself an olive oil trader from Nice.

    In 1920, the villa was rented by Duchess of Marlborough, Mme Balsan, originally Consuelo Vanderbilt. It was extended in the 1950s and rented by Leopold III, King of the Belgians, one year before his abdication.

    Later Lo Scoglietto was bought by the great Charlie Chaplin, and in 1960 he in turn sold it to the film actor David Niven, who was very much part of Princess Grace's social scene. Known for his gentlemanly appearance and clipped English accent, Niven had already enjoyed an immensely successful career starring, for example, in the Powell and Pressburger film A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and winning an Oscar for his performance in Separate Tables (1958).'from

  13. Looks like I have some more exploring to do! Wonderful information. I hope, I get to go to this Japanese garden some day.=)

  14. Wow, love it ALL, Veronique! This is like bits and pieces of a trip have been planning on my blog (i.e. I buy all info in post for later referral) all put together. The ease of transportation is terrific to know. I also want to go out to the Lerins Islands.

    FABULOUS!! Thank you. And as others say....the dedication and work truly shows and is much appreciated!! Great job!! :)

  15. What a magnificent post Veronique! The Villa Ephrussi is breathtaking, and beautiful in pink. I would love to spend a few hours exploring there. The gardens look wondrous. I can't find enough superlatives to describe them. And yes, you're right.. i totally get how it feels to long for sunshine. We are just a few hours south of you in Portland, and this soggy weather has got to go! BLAH! It's almost the 4th of July for goodness' sake! Have a wonderful rest of your 'vacances', Veronique, (how could you not, right?) :) I can't wait to see more pics!


  16. What a magnificent post Veronique! The Villa Ephrussi is breathtaking, and beautiful in pink. I would love to spend a few hours exploring there. The gardens look wondrous. I can't find enough superlatives to describe them. And yes, you're right.. i totally get how it feels to long for sunshine. We are just a few hours south of you in Portland, and this soggy weather has got to go! BLAH! It's almost the 4th of July for goodness' sake! Have a wonderful rest of your 'vacances', Veronique, (how could you not, right?) :) I can't wait to see more pics!


  17. Thank you for taking us along. I've been to Villa Ephrussi de Rotschild. It is magical! I know you are having a wonderful trip, Veronique. Safe travels! ~ sarah

  18. Hello! I love this post.....we spend every summer in Villefranche Sur Mer so your photos are very familiar to me!! We do the walk along the Promenade Maurice Rouvier to Cap Ferrat all the time, isn't it beautiful?! I love David Niven's old home, it's my favourite!

    And the Villa Rothschild is always so lovely, the views are stunning are as the gardens.

    Enjoy your trip :)

  19. What a beautiful post and I have hungrily read and viewed it twice before making a comment. I am stunned by the natural beauty at every turn in every direction. I have marked this post for my future travel use.


  20. David Niven's pink villa is just to die for!!! The photos are fabulous. Just looking at them is a vacation.


Bonjour! I love hearing from you, my readers. To quote a fellow blogger, my friend Owen, "Comments are the icing on blogcake... Comments are the UFO in the twilight sky bearing news from other planets... Comments are raspberry vinegar in salad dressing... Comments are the cool balm of after-sun moisturizing lotion... Comments are the moment the band comes back out onstage to play an encore... Comments are the gleam in the eye across the room in a smoky bar... Comments are the rainbow after the rainstorm..." Merci for your comments! French Girl in Seattle