The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, jewel of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Nestling on the lush peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is one of the Côte d’Azur’s hidden gems. This building, a testament to the refinement of the early 20th century, was once the home of Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, a woman with a passion for art and beauty. Strolling through the villa’s opulent rooms, visitors are transported back in time, captivated by an impressive collection of works of art and antiques. But the enchantment doesn’t stop at the gates of this residence. The gardens, meticulously laid out according to nine distinct themes, offer a botanical escape to delight the senses. Whether this is your first visit or you’re a regular visitor to this haven of peace, this article will guide you through the history, hidden treasures and anecdotes of this iconic site. Embark on a journey to discover one of the French Riviera’s most precious treasures.

History of a majestic villa

Evoking the splendour of the Belle Époque era, the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, also known as the Villa Île-de-France, reflects a sumptuous era, marked by a cultural and artistic renaissance in Europe. Imbued with this atmosphere of opulence, the villa is the work of Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, a woman of rare elegance, a shrewd collector and patron of the arts. The foundations of this majestic pink villa were laid in 1905 and its construction was completed in 1912. Inspired by the palaces of the Italian Renaissance, the villa stands proudly on a hill overlooking Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, offering visitors a breathtaking panoramic view of the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean. As for its architecture, it is the result of a perfect symbiosis of different eras and cultures. Gothic, Renaissance and classical styles blend harmoniously to create a unique residence. Every room, every nook and cranny of this villa is steeped in history and testimony to the past. The collections it houses reflect Beatrice’s passions: delicate porcelain from the Qing dynasty, paintings by European masters, precious tapestries and many other treasures. Each carefully chosen object tells a part of the story of its owner’s art, culture and refined taste.

The french gardens of the Villa Ephrussi are inspired by the castles of the Loire Valley.
The French gardens of the Villa Ephrussi are inspired by the castles of the Loire Valley.

The Ephrussi de Rothschild gardens

While the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild captivates with its elegance and history, the gardens that surround it are also an invitation to escape. Covering no less than seven hectares, these gardens have been carefully designed and laid out according to the wishes and inspiration of Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild. Every corner of these gardens is the fruit of travels, passions and a dream to create an earthly paradise. The nine themed gardens that make up this green space are each an ode to a particular culture or era. The French garden, with its symmetrical basins, geometric parterres and imposing statues, evokes the great gardens of the châteaux of the Loire, such as those at Chambord. The Spanish garden, with its tiled patios and Mediterranean plants, transports us to the warmth of Andalusia. The Florentine garden, with its terraces, pergolas and lemon trees, is reminiscent of Italian Renaissance villas. The exotic garden, where cacti, succulents and palms flourish, offers a mysterious desert landscape. A visit to the gardens also awakens the senses. Your sense of smell is stimulated by the intoxicating fragrance of the roses, your sight is awed by the dance of the azaleas in spring and the shimmering colours of the cacti in summer, and your hearing is soothed by the gentle murmur of the fountains and the rustle of the leaves in the wind. Each season brings its own surprises and wonders, making the Ephrussi de Rothschild gardens a place of perpetual discovery and enchantment.

The interior spaces

When you step through the majestic gates of this residence, you are instantly transported to the world of Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, a time when refinement and a passion for art prevailed. Each room in the villa is an invitation to a journey through time and culture. The interior spaces, designed with meticulous attention to detail, house art treasures accumulated by Beatrice during her many travels. From the drawing rooms to the bedrooms and galleries, each room reveals meticulously selected works of art: master paintings, Far Eastern porcelain, European tapestries, period furniture and many other marvels. The Salon Rose, for example, is a tribute to femininity and elegance, with its delicate nuances and precious ornaments. The Blue Dining Room, meanwhile, reflects Beatrice’s passion for the art of the table and offers breathtaking views of the gardens and the sea. Guided tours provide an opportunity to learn more about the history of the villa, anecdotes linked to Beatrice and the special features of the collections. Special events and temporary exhibitions are also organised on a regular basis, adding an extra dimension to the discovery of the site.

A lounge with views of the Mediterranean
A lounge with views of the Mediterranean

The restaurant and tea room

The tea room, with its elegant decor and large windows overlooking the gardens, offers a peaceful setting in which to savour a selection of fine teas and delicious pastries. It’s the perfect place to take a break after exploring the villa’s opulent rooms and lush gardens, lulled by the gentle murmur of the nearby fountains. As for the restaurant, it has established itself as a popular gastronomic destination in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. With a menu inspired by Mediterranean cuisine, each dish is a tribute to local flavours, prepared with fresh, carefully selected ingredients. The elegant and intimate setting is complemented by a terrace offering panoramic views of the Mediterranean. Dining here as the sun sets, tinting the sea in golden hues, is a striking blend of gustatory and visual pleasures, reflecting all that Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild has to offer.

Anecdotes and interesting facts about the villa

Over the years, the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild has become much more than just a Belle Époque residence. It has become steeped in history and has charmed many visitors, some of them famous, adding to its mystical aura. Among the illustrious guests who have walked the villa’s marble floors are names like Yves Saint-Laurent, the fashion genius, and film icon Audrey Hepburn. It is said that during his visit, Yves Saint-Laurent was so inspired by the gardens that he sketched some designs for his future collections. As for F. Scott Fitzgerald, although it is open to speculation, rumours persist that he drew inspiration from the villa for certain passages of ‘Tender is the Night’. But beyond these prestigious guests, the villa conceals many secrets. For example, Beatrice’s passion for botany was more than just a whim. She personally oversaw the importation of rare species, including orchids from South America, which required special care and attention to acclimatise. Today, some of these plants, once foreign, flourish proudly in the exotic garden. In cultural terms, the Villa Ephrussi has left its mark far beyond the borders of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. It served as a majestic backdrop for the film “La Piscine”, in which Alain Delon and Romy Schneider played in an atmosphere heavy with tension and seduction. The villa’s gardens, terraces and sumptuous interior were also showcased, reinforcing its status as a symbol of luxury and refinement on the Côte d’Azur. Many writers and directors continue to draw on the villa’s unique aura for their creations, propelling it into posterity.

The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild: an ode to beauty

Situated on the heights of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild stands out not only as a historic monument but also as a symbol of the Côte d’Azur’s artistic excellence. Its refined architecture, breathtaking gardens and impressive art collections make it a must-see for any visitor. More than a simple plunge into the past, the villa offers a dreamlike journey to the heart of the Riviera. For history buffs, art lovers or those looking for a serene interlude, the villa promises unforgettable moments.

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