ST JEAN CAP FERRAT (Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild)

A must-see tourist attraction on the French Riviera, here is my review of this splendid site.

History of Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild:

Built in the early 1900’s by Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, this imposing pink-hued Villa occupies a prime site on the peninsula at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.

Béatrice was the daughter of the banker and art collector, Baron Alphonse de Rothschild, and at 19 she married a wealthy Parisien of Russian origin, Maurice Ephrussi. Her marriage eventually collapsed after 21 years, and when Béatrice inherited a large fortune after her father passed away she decided to build the Villa.

No expense was spared in creating a mansion suited to her tastes. Tapestries, porcelain, furniture, artworks, frescoes are of the highest standard and craftsmanship, including a writing desk in the boudoir built for Marie-Antoinette.

She was an avid travel enthusiast, had a love of horse racing and casinos and her sometimes eccentric personality was notable in her choice of pets including a menagerie of poodles, an Indian mongoose, Peruvian parakeet, monkeys and gazelles.

Today, the Villa is owned by the Académie des Beaux-Arts who work alongside Culturespaces to defend and promote French artistic heritage.

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

Layout, accessibility and attractions:

The ticket reception (and attached gift boutique) where you purchase your entry ticket is accessed via 5 steps. Persons with restricted mobility however can access the Villa grounds via a double-entry vehicle gate, directly outside the ticket reception. There is a panoramic view from the entrance driveway of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, the Corniche mountains and stretching across to Monaco.

The entrance into the Villa is via 3 low-height steps, see photo below:

image copyright and reproduced This French American Life

image copyright and reproduced This French American Life

The interior of the Villa is set over two levels. Ground level has an interior patio courtyard with pink Verona marble columns, Béatrice’s boudoir with Marie-Antoinette’s writing desk, a bedroom and attached salon with mini chaise seats for pets, a dressing room with displays of Chinese robes and 18th century silks, bathroom with hidden cupboards and travel memorabilia, dining room and porcelain displays, tearoom, two salons with rare furniture and furnishings and is entirely accessible for persons with reduced mobility. This ground level also has accessible toilets located off the central patio courtyard.

patio arches

patio arches

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Salon

Salon

There is a first floor that is accessed via stairs only so it’s not accessible for persons with restricted mobility.  As you walk up the staircase, notice the vintage photographs mounted on the wall that show the construction of the Villa and places Béatrice used to frequent, such as La Jettée Promenade that you can read about here https://accessriviera.wordpress.com/tag/jetee-promenade/

This level contains a film room, Directoire bedroom, a tapestry room, a unique and bizarre room decorated with monkey panels and figurines, another bedroom decorated in blue furnishings,and a Chinese-themed room with lacquered panels and displays of jade and rose quartz. The first floor has a lovely outdoor terrace overlooking the French gardens, great for photos.

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French gardens seen from the first floor terrace

French gardens seen from the first floor terrace

chandelier in the Blue bedroom

chandelier in the Blue bedroom

The grounds and gardens of the Villa are unfortunately not entirely accessible for anyone who has mobility issues. The entry courtyard in front of the villa, and the French gardens with musical fountains are accessible. The ground surfaces for these accessible outdoor areas are not concrete-paved, it is small gravel chip.

The rest of the gardens are interspersed with stairways and steps, particularly the path through the Japanese Garden, Exotic Garden and from the Provençal Garden down to the French Garden. If you are wheelchair-bound, or with a heavy or large-sized child buggy/stroller I must be honest and say your options are limited to visit all of the themed gardens.

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The gardens are lovely, and due to the hill-top location of this attraction there are expansive views from the gardens across to Villefranche-sur-Mer and Beaulieu-sur-Mer. There are 9 themed gardens including:

– Spanish garden with water features, fish pond and pergola with vines

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Spanishseat

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– Florentine garden with water feature, statues, topiaries and lavender plantings

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– Japanese garden with traditional elements such as raked sand garden, wooden bridge, zen sculptures, koi pond and bamboo plantings

– Stone garden with gargoyles, arches, columns and statuettes

– Exotic garden with cacti, succulents and foreign trees

– Rose garden

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– Provençal garden with olive trees, herb and lavender plantings

– French garden with topiaries, urns and the musical fountain that performs every 20 minutes

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– Sèvres garden

Best time to visit the gardens? Between May and July when spring/summer flowers are blooming, and the heady scents of the pines, Mediterranean olive trees, lavender and herbs drift on the breeze. The garden would appeal during all seasons due to the large number of trees, shrubs and water features. I would like to visit again on a rainy day as I believe it would exude a lush tropical ambience.

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What do you think my favourite garden was? I loved the Spanish garden with it’s water feature grotto, striking ‘bird of paradise’ plants bordering a central fish pond, a pergola with a stone bench shaded by the vines, and stunning pink bougainvillea crawling along marble columns. Just stunning, don’t you think?

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Béatrice wanted the Villa built in the Italian Renaissance style, and I think the pink hue highlights the impressive design. I also liked the fact the Villa exterior is not ‘perfect’ – there is peeling paint on the pink exterior which lends to the idea it was a lived-in homestead in a coastal location subjected to temperamental winds and salt air, rather than just a display museum.

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The interior will appeal to fans of Moorish and French Louis XV and XVI-style, with patterned, painted, upholstered, golden, brocaded, and decorated everything. It is definitely a visual overload that may not appeal to everyone. For those visitors who are not aware of the prestige and craftsmanship of the Villa’s exhibits, I recommend the free audioguide to learn the history behind the exhibits and glimpse into Béatrice’s personality and family put the Villa into perspective in a modern world.

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The Villa holds regular events during the year including Rose Festivals, costumed theme days and garden seminars so check their website under ‘Events’ if you have any special interests.   You can even have your wedding reception there – can you imagine how gorgeous the wedding photos in the gardens would be?

Did you know? The Villa was used in interior scenes to portray ‘Palmyra’ (Largo’s base in North Africa) in the 1983 Bond movie ‘Never Say Never Again’. Exterior scenes for Palmyra were filmed at the Citadelle in nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer.  Read more about Villefranche-sur-Mer here https://accessriviera.wordpress.com/tag/things-to-do-in-villefranche-sur-mer/

image copyright from James Bond Locations

image copyright from James Bond Locations

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Opening hours:

The Villa is open every day.

February to October : 10am-6pm (peak season months July and August the opening hours are 10am-7pm)

November to February: Weekends and school holidays 10am-6pm / During the week: 2pm-6pm

Last admission is 30 minutes prior to closing time.

detail in one of the Salons

detail in one of the Salons

Cost (current as at June 2014, subject to change):

Regular admission: 13€

Reduced admission: 10€ (children 7-17 years, students, holders of Education Pass, jobseekers)

Free admission: Children less than 7 years of age, journalists and tourism industry professionals (on presentation of identification)

For more tips on other reduced admission prices, continue reading below in my section ‘Other tips’.

Admission notes: There is no reduced admission price for either seniors, or persons of physical/intellectual disability.

How to get there:

By car: Access is via the Basse Corniche (N98). There is free onsite carparking at Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, though limited numbers. There is no designated disabled carparking space for those persons with reduced mobility, however you can drop off at the gate at the top of the driveway near the ticket office and persons with reduced mobility can enter via the vehicle gate.

By bus: From Nice or Beaulieu-sur-Mer, you can take bus number 81, get off at the stop ‘Passable’ which is directly across from the entrance driveway to the Villa. This bus also has stops for the Beaulieu-sur-Mer train station, and Villa Kérylos if you also intend to visit there. Timetable (current at June 2014, but subject to change) is here ligne 81 (au 10 02 14)

From Monaco, Roquebrune-Cap Martin, Eze-sur-Mer or Menton, take bus number 100, get off at stop ‘Pont St Jean’ and the Villa is 10 minutes walking distance.   This bus has a designated stop for Villa Kérylos too. Timetable (current June 2014, subject to change) is found here 100

By train: Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is located 25 minutes walk from the Beaulieu-sur-Mer train station. Follow the coastal pathway Promenade Maurice Rouvier (flat, paved path with no stairs), then you will see the brown sign to turn right up a side street. The last 10 minutes is uphill through residential streets. It is not strenuous but bear in mind Beaulieu has one of the highest sunshine hours on the Côte d’Azur so take a bottle of water on hot days, and also to exercise caution if you have a baby buggy/stroller or you are wheelchair-bound as there are no footpaths on the residential streets. Villa Ephrusssi de Rothschild is situated on the hill-top, you can’t miss it.

promenade Maurice Rouvier to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild (flat, paved path with no stairs)

promenade Maurice Rouvier to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild (flat, paved path with no stairs)

My other tips :

– For maps and information about the local area, the Beaulieu Tourist Office is located right outside the Beaulieu-sur-Mer train station. Or, you can visit the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat Tourist Office located at 59 avenue Denis Semaria, 06230 Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.

blue shutters, local house

blue shutters, local house

– When you purchase your entry ticket at the Villa, ensure you receive the free audioguide (it is available in 9 languages – French, English, Italian, German, Spanish, Dutch, Russian, Japanese and Chinese). It is excellent for providing background information on the Baroness Rothschild, her exhibits and rooms at the Villa and brings the Villa to life. The audioguide is a hand-held unit and it’s easy to use for any techno-phobes not confident with technology, and the best part is you can wander the Villa in your own time and listen to only the commentaries of exhibits that interest you. Bear in mind, the Villa is a popular attraction and if there are cruise ships berthed at nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer it is often a day-trip destination for cruise passengers so if you visit the Villa in the late afternoon there may not be any audioguides available.

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– There is an onsite tearoom at the Villa. Menu samples – 2,80€ for an espresso; tea and a pastry of the day 9,50€; salads average 16€ – the view from the tearoom and adjoining terrace is magnificent. The tearoom opens at midday for full lunch and ‘a la carte’ service, but if you want to stop by for a coffee or cake only you have to wait until after 3pm as preference is given to sit-down lunch patrons. Note: The tearoom has the same opening hours as the Villa, except between November and February the tearoom is open only on weekends, school holidays and bank holidays. I don’t have a photo of the tearooms unfortunately because the day I visited it was very busy and I didn’t want to disturb other patrons.

– If you are arriving by train to Beaulieu, there is a supermarket on the way from the train station to the Villa that sells sandwiches, fruit, snack foods, cold drinks. It is located on avenue des Hellenes, it is a ‘Casino’ supermarket (a French chain of supermarkets).

– There are accessible ground level toilets in both the grounds and interior patio of the Villa. You will receive a map of the Villa and grounds when you purchase your entry, and toilets are clearly marked on the map.

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– For a discounted entry price to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, there are a few options:

– Offre famille: Free entry for the second child (7-17 years) with 2 adults and 1 child paying. Free child ticket must be used the same time as the other paying family members.

– If you also intending to visit the Villa Kérylos, you can purchase a combined entry ticket for both Villas (‘Pass 2 Villas’). The usual admission would be 24,50€ to visit both attractions separately, this combined entry discounts the price to 15,50€. You have one month to visit both Villas (single visit to each Villa only) from the first date of purchase (all pricing and conditions subject to change). Ask at the ticket counter.

– If you have arrived to Beaulieu by train using a local train (TER SNCF) from any origin along the Côte d’Azur using either an unlimited daily ‘Zou pass’, or a stand-alone sector ticket, show them your validated train ticket at the Villa’s ticket counter and ask for the discounted entry price. You must visit the Villa on the same day as your train travel.

– A ‘Carte Privilége’ is an annual pass you can purchase for unlimited entry. Costs €55 for a single, €95 for 2 people to share a pass (conditions apply).

– The Villa has Free Wifi. Also, you can download their mobile applications on the App Store and Google Play for iPhone / iPad / iTouch and Android. The mobile applications have commentary and interactive maps, though the only language offering is French at this current date.

mobile application (image copyright from Google Play)

mobile application (image copyright from Google Play)

– Free activity booklets are available for children visiting the Villa. Aimed at children aged 7-12 years, they have games and treasure hunt clues that educate about the Villa and gardens with the help of a mascot, a little mouse named Filou. I forgot to ask for a copy so I’m unsure if they offer this booklet in a language other than French? Will update this post when I find out.

free activity book for kids at Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

free activity book for kids at Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

– One of the exhibit rooms at the Villa has Fragonard drawings (with ink and wash). Jean-Honoré Fragonard was a French painter and printmaker born locally in Grasse, and Béatrice had a likeness for his artwork. Interestingly, Fragonard completed over 500 paintings in his career, of which only 5 are dated. In 1926, a perfume factory in Grasse took the name Parfurmerie Fragonard in honour of him. If you’re visiting the region and intend to stop by the Fragonard factories at nearby Eze Village or Grasse, you can obtain a 10% discount in the Fragonard perfume shop by showing them the Fragonard perfume leaflet obtained at most local Tourist Offices.

Closing comments:

I highly recommend a visit to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. Whether you are interested in history, Renaissance architecture, art, furniture, you are sure to be dazzled by the Villa interior. I know I felt quite privileged to view the collections there.

The gardens, statues and sculptures are beautiful, and being a popular tourist attraction there may be crowds but sit in the gardens, soak up the views and enjoy the experience.

I hope they expand their mobile applications to be downloadable in more languages, and I hope also that one day people who have restricted mobility can enjoy the experience as much as an able-bodied person like myself. Perhaps one day they will incorporate something similar to the amazing Norio robot in operation at the Château d’Orion.

Have you visited Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild yet?

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4 thoughts on “ST JEAN CAP FERRAT (Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild)

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