A Visit to the Fabulous Gardens of Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
One of the more challenging aspects of moving to France for my wife was losing her garden. In Nashville, where we lived for almost twenty years, we had an acre of property with lots of room for her to plant multiple gardens. Here in Vence, we live in an apartment with no yard. We have a small terrace (she was adamant our apartment must have one), and she has filled it with all kinds of flowering plants. It’s not the same as a plot of land where she can dig her hands into the dirt, but at least it’s something.
I make it a point to search out gardens here in the south of France which we can visit and explore. There’s certainly no lack of them. From Menton to Marseille, countless beautiful gardens are open to the public. Because of our excellent climate, many of these gardens are available year-round. One of our favourites is the Villa and Gardens Ephrussi de Rothschild on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, home to some of the most expensive real estate in the world. In addition to the magnificent gardens, the exquisite villa is an absolute treasure. This garden is one of the “must see” destinations on the Côte d’Azur.
Villa Ephrussi History
Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild was born into the famous Rothschild banking family in 1864. She married young, and when her marriage fell apart after twenty years, she discovered Cap Ferrat, a favourite vacation spot for European high society in the early 1900s. She purchased 17 acres of land and spent five years building her dream villa.
The estate is built on a high point of land near the top of the Cap. It was conceived and constructed to resemble the deck of a ship. If you stand on the second-floor balcony of the villa and look out over the gardens, you see the ocean on both sides, just as you would on a huge ocean liner. The gardens stretch out before you like the stern of the ship. Béatrice called her home “Villa Île-de-France” after a trip she took on a famous cruise ship of the same name.
The French Ministry of Culture classifies the gardens as one of the “Notable Gardens of France”, and you’ll find nine themed gardens on the property. The two largest ones are situated next to each other on the eastern side, while the other seven are arranged in a line on the western side.
Visiting the Gardens
If you follow the recommended path, you’ll start at the Sèvres Garden, which is a lovely introduction to the estate and features a wide variety of plants, paths, a long pool, and a horseshoe-shaped staircase fantastic views of the Bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer.
The Spanish Garden, the Florentine Garden and the Stone Garden follow. Covered patios, shaded courtyards, fountains, aromatic plants and small ponds are just some of the treats that await you there. The Stone Garden features a large assortment of various statues, arches, canopies, gargoyles, columns, bas-reliefs and other remnants of ancient and medieval buildings.
The Japanese Garden and the Exotic Garden continue the string on the western side. As the name implies, the Japanese Garden reflects centuries of Japanese culture and tradition with a little wooden bridge, basins, lanterns and a small pavilion. The Exotic Garden was once known as the “Mexican Garden” due to its collection of cacti and other rare succulent plants.
For some, “Le Roseraie” (The Rose Garden) is the highlight of these gardens. At the top of a modest hill sits a small hexagonal temple with a large statue surrounded by marble columns. A huge field of rose bushes, Béatrice’s favourite flower, lies below. The prominent colour is pink, her favourite colour. The flowers are in full bloom from May to June, and if you have the opportunity to visit the gardens during this period, you’ll find the air filled with a magical scent as the fragrances rise from the earth towards the sky.
The first of the two extensive gardens on the east side of the estate is the Provençal Garden which primarily contains plants native to Provence. Olive and pine trees border numerous paths and trails, with lavender and agapanthus growing alongside them.
The estate’s crown jewel is the French Garden (photo above), which sits directly in front of the villa. It feels like a large park, with palm trees, fountains, statues, ponds and a long basin. At the far end of the garden, a replica of the Temple of Love at the Petit Trianon in Versailles sits on a small hill from which water flows down a long stepped basin that eventually ends in a large pool with fountains.
Inside Villa Ephrussi
The gardens are just one part of this magnificent estate. Once you’ve finished your visit there, you’ll want to visit the villa and explore this unique treasure built between 1907 and 1912. There are two levels open to visitors, the ground level and the first floor. The number of beautiful decorations, furniture, carpets, and art is simply astonishing. In particular, the Great Reception Room and the Lesser Reception Room are elegant examples of 18th-century elegance and luxury.
Beatrice spent years filling the villa with a tremendous amount of art and cultural treasures, almost all of which remain on display. As you walk through the rooms, you’ll see a fantastic collection of unique furniture, paintings, sculptures, tapestry and other art objects. One of the highlights is her prized collection of rare porcelain.
When you visit the Villa et Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild, give yourself plenty of time. This site is not a place you want to stop for a quick “look-see.” We were there for almost four hours, and I still felt like there was a lot I didn’t get to see.
Villa et Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild (website)
1 Av. Ephrussi de Rothschild,
Buy your entry tickets online to save time.
Villa Ephrussi photos by ©Steve Wilkison are listed in the order below:
1. The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
2. The French Garden at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
3. A horseshoe-shaped staircase in the Florentine Garden at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
4. A bas-relief statue in the Stone Garden at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
5. Bamboo in the Exotic Garde at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
6. A pot of roses in the Rose Garden at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
7. The Grand Patio at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
8. Rare porcelain plates, part of the extensive collection of porcelain at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.