No visit to the French Riviera is complete without a visit to the stunning Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa and Gardens.
Built in 1905 for Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild,daughter of the famous banker Baron Alphonse de Rothschild this magnificent pink palace, with its most Italian of influences, stands atop the St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula,on a 17 acre site, with exceptional views out over the bays on either side. The villa is ten kilometers from Nice in one direction, and Monaco in the other. Beatrice named the villa, the Île-de-France, after a luxury liner on which she had once sailed. She used the villa as her summer residence from 1912 for about ten years. In 1933, one year before her death, Béatrice bequeathed her Villa and all of her collections to the Académie des Beaux-Arts.
From the moment you walk up the steep hill to reach the entrance, you are captivated by the views, and the setting. Crystal clear blue seas all around you, and the Alpes-Maritimes create the perfect backdrop to the villa.
The villa, personally designed by Béatrice, is built around a central covered patio, with pink Verona marble colonnades and Moorish arches. Off the patio are sumptuous galleries housing beautiful antique furniture, porcelain and other numerous priceless antiques. There are 12 state rooms, the rose, and the color pink are recurring themes, Béatrice being passionate about both.
On the ground floor, off the patio area, the visitor can explore the Louis XV1 room, Louis XV room, Béatrice’s apartments, and the Porcelain room. One of my favorite rooms is the Boudoir, and in it the octagonal base table by Sevres. There is also an excellent film played on a continuous loop in the Cherub room, recounting the story of the palace and gardens. On the upper floors you can take a tour of some of the collections, accompanied by a professional guide. Béatrice was a renowned collector. She traveled the world in search of treasures. She regularly could be seen on the platform of the train station in the nearby elegant town of Beaulieu, selecting pieces that she had brought there for her collection.
Not to be missed is the exceptionally elegant tea room and terrace where you can relax and enjoy the surroundings and muse over the life that Béatrice and her family would have had in this beautiful place.This room was once the dining room used by Beatrice herself. It has an exceptional uninterrupted view out over the Bay of Villefranche. I can certainly vouch for the delicious food, and in particular the divine pastries. And my son claims the ice-cream was the best he has ever tasted!
The gardens at the Villa are a magnificent creation. There are 9 themed gardens. The main garden is modeled on a ships deck, and it is adorned with ponds and waterfalls and a Temple of Love at its prow.
The nine gardens are comprised of the Spanish, Florentine, Stone, Exotic, Rose, Japanese, Provencal, French, and Sèvres. Each garden offers a new delight, and when you think you have found your favorite, you will be wander into another more beguiling one, and so on. Children seem to find great pleasure in these gardens, from the water features to the little Japanese bridges, the nooks and crannies, and of course all of the magical places to hide. Children are also given a free booklet to help them in there understanding of the place and its history.
For me a particular favorite is the Rose Garden. I love to sit in the Rose garden and enjoy the fabulous scents from the roses, and the magnificent view out over Villefranche Bay. The French garden forms the heart of the gardens, a stepped waterfall leads down to the central water feature, with flowers and tress on either side. Every twenty minutes you can be mesmerized by the symphony of music and dance of the water display in the ponds. Be sure to look out for the two tortoises in the ponds!
For me personally a visit to the Villa and gardens satisfies on three levels. An historic magnificent villa, filled with priceless treasures, sumptuous themed gardens evoking exotic destinations, and an exceptional setting between two of the most beautiful bays on the Cote D’Azur. It is a beguiling, tranquil, beautiful place. It is a place for all seasons, with something exceptional to see in each garden all through the year.Being there on a glorious hot day in summer is a pleasure, but it is equally enthralling in the middle of winter. If you are someone who is particularly interested in gardens, and know a lot about horticulture, then you will be enthralled, but equally if you are like me and just appreciate a beautiful place, in a magnificent setting, then make sure that this is top of your list. You will not be disappointed, and will be sure to come back on for a second visit.
Note: Anyone who has read that wonderful book by Edmund De Waal, The Hare With The Amber Eyes, winner of the 2010 Costa Biography Award, might like to know that it is this villa that De Waal talks about in his book, and which his family is associated with.