The imposing pink and white Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, also known as Villa Ile-de-France, occupies the narrowest part of the entrance of the Cap Ferrat peninsula and it is a splendid Belle Époque mansion built to house the art collections of the Rothschild family.
Built between 1905 and 1912, Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild has been maintained more like a lived-in mansion than a museum and is a definitive homage to Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild (1864-1934), the flamboyant daughter of Baron Alphonse de Rothschild, a Governor of the Banque de France and wife of wealthy banker, Maurice Ephrussi.
Aside from a spectacular mansion decorated with exquisite antiques, fine carpets and rare porcelain, the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is surrounded by 9 distinctive gardens based on different themes: Spanish, Florentine, Stone, Japanese, Exotic, English, Provencal, French Traditional and Sèvres.
Bespoke Yacht Charter highly recommend visiting Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild as one of the finest historical attractions on the French Riviera and have compiled some background information and a few inside tips to help you get the most from your visit to the villa:
Extravagant and Eccentric Béatrice de Rothschild
In 1905, she competed with King Léopold II of Belgium who owned adjacent land for the 7 hectares of land which she dreamed was the ideal location to construct her perfect villa. Creating a villa for someone with exceptionally specific ideas was a difficult task – Béatrice dismissed at least 10 architects on her quest to build a villa combining Venetian, Florentine, Spanish and Moorish architectural styles.
Béatrice de Rothschild was theatrical and iron-willed, accustomed to parading in one of her 50 wigs and dressing head to toe in pink including her silk parasols and pink crocodile skin handbag. She wanted to receive her husband’s guests at the villa with the grandeur and ostentatious pomp of Marie-Antoinette and allowed exotic animals to roam the grounds such as parakeets, mongooses, monkeys and flamingos.
She barely stayed at Villa Ephrussi, preferring her other properties in Monte-Carlo or her suite of rooms at the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo which she rented yearly. The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild was completed in 1912 however after the death of her husband in 1916, she never lived there again.
In 1934, the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild was bequeathed to the Académie des Beaux-Arts and it is managed today by Culturespaces.
Gardens of Dreams
The gardens at Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild are classed as one of the most beautiful gardens in France and worthy of a photograph or two with some of the most outstanding sea views on the French Riviera from all corners of the property. In particular, you can enjoy wide panoramic views from lookout points at the Florentine and English (rose) gardens across to Villefranche-sur-Mer and the large French garden across the Baie des Fourmis.
The gardens are intended to be a voyage around the world with hundreds of exotic and sub-tropical plants thriving; a testament to 30 gardeners who were employed to maintain the rocky and windswept grounds – bougainvillea, magnolias, pomegranates, palms, papyrus, cacti, honeysuckle, thyme, lavender, eucalyptus, water hyacinth, water lilies and pines.
Starting at the Spanish garden with covered patio, pond, trailing vines and columns, you continue to the Florentine garden with its horseshoe-shaped staircase enrobing a statue of Adonis standing among lavender and water hyacinth.
The quirky, small stone garden is dotted with moss-covered arches, chipped Renaissance reliefs and stone gargoyles that Béatrice couldn’t find a place for inside the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.
Designed by Professor Shigeo Fukihara, the Japanese garden was restored in 2003 thanks to the patronage of Nippon TV. The garden incorporates traditional Japanese elements such as bamboo, trickling water and koi pond, stones, a bridge and wooden pavilion.
You also pass an exotic garden of cacti, aloe and agaves before reaching the rose garden, Béatrice’s signature flower of which she has one of the 100-plus varieties named in her honour. From here, the fragrant scent of olive trees, lavender, rosemary and Aleppo pines of the Provençal garden lead toward the largest garden and undoubtedly the showpiece of her botanic dreams, the French garden.
The French garden at Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild has an exact copy of the Temple de l’Amour in the Petit Trianon at Versailles and even the gradient of the cascades of the fountain was specifically designed so the water looks brighter as it descends. This garden was designed to resemble the deck of a ship with the Temple at the bow as it reminded Béatrice of a trip she enjoyed on the cruise liner Ile-de-France. At parties, Béatrice requested that staff wear sailors’ uniforms to enhance the illusion. The French garden is decorated with Italian urns, topiaries and it has musical water fountains that play every 20 minutes.
Picnics are not permitted anywhere in the grounds, however the Tea Room (Salon de Thé) at the villa set in Béatrice’s former dining room is a lovely spot to pause for an afternoon break and has a superb view of the Bay of Villefranche; the terrace is particularly lovely in fine weather. The Tea Room is open during the villa opening times (every day from mid February to October / Only on weekends, school holidays and bank holidays from November to mid February). Lunch consists of light meals such as salads, quiches etc from noon to 3 pm and coffee break is between 3 pm to 6 pm (7 pm in July and August).
Highlights of the Remarkable Collections at Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is a showcase to the eclectic collections acquired by the Rothschild family who travelled themselves and also despatched experts all over Europe to snap up the treasures on display. Béatrice spared no expense acquiring her pieces including having rare artworks and furniture delivered by train to Beaulieu so she could decide to buy them right there on the station platform.
Painted ceilings by Gian Domenico Tiepolo and Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, pewter and gilded tables by Compigné, Chinese silk bed covers, Meissen chandeliers and porcelain – the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild’s collections feature extraordinary objects and artworks.
The patio: The internal patio with Verona marble columns is where Béatrice held her receptions and was inspired by Italian Renaissance villas, churches and convents. The decoration on the Hispano-Moorish arches was copied from a Venetian palazzo. The patio was used as a filming location for interior scenes to portray Palmyra (Largo’s base in North Africa) in the 1983 James Bond movie ‘Never Say Never Again’. There is free Wifi access in the patio area with no roaming data charges for international visitors.
Béatrice’s boudoir: Used for writing, this room’s two centrepieces are the 18th century writing desk which once belonged to Marie-Antoinette and an octagonal table decorated by Sèvres and crafted by a master cabinetmaker.
The Fragonard room: A superb collection of 18th century furniture alongside wash drawings by Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
The Grand Salon – Louis XV-XVI: Facing the Baie des Fourmis, this lush room is decorated in chairs upholstered in 18th century Aubusson tapestries, wood panelling from the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, Savonnerie carpets from Versailles and the Louvre and a gaming table which once belonged to Marie-Antoinette. At the end of 2015, a campaign was launched by the Académie des Beaux-Arts for public donations to aid 300,000 euros worth of restoration work to the 18th century furniture, bronzes, fireplaces, carpets and sculptures in this room. If you would like to contribute to restoring these exceptional pieces, donations can be made online via the official Fondation du Patrimoine website.
Salon des tapisseries: Decorated with rare Louis XV commodes, armchairs upholstered with Beauvais tapestries and Gobelin wall tapestries.
Cabinet des Singes (Monkey room): Béatrice owned 2 pet monkeys and her eccentricity finds a home in this room with tiny Meissen porcelain monkeys and screens painted with monkeys recreating orchestral scenes.
Dressing room and Salon d’art Extrême-Orient: Chinoiserie cabinets and lacquered screens were very popular in the 17th and 18th century; here you’ll find precious objects from China including tiny shoes, Mandarin robes, lacquer and gold panels from the Beijing Imperial Palace and rose quartz and jade of the purest examples reserved for the Emperor.
Porcelain collections: The Porcelain Room is one of the highlights of the villa. Here you will find platters, dining sets and urns from the royal factories of Sèvres and Meissen porcelain. The antique vases and yellow porcelain are very rare items.
Opening Hours / Entry Fees
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is open 365 days a year from 10 am to 6 pm, except:
July and August: from 10 am to 7 pm
From November to January: Monday to Friday opening hours are from 2 pm to 6 pm / weekends and holidays from 10 am to 6 pm.
Last admission is 30 minutes prior to closing.
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild can be visited year round, though optimal months are between May and July especially when the flowers and rose garden is in full bloom. During warmer months the villa’s gardens provide a venue for concerts and cultural events such as a Rose Festival and themed days with costumed actors. Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is also a extremely popular location for evening wedding receptions.
Adult ticket : €13.50
Reduced ticket : €10.50 (Children aged 7-17, students, Education Pass holders, teachers and jobseekers on presentation of written proof).
Free entry applies for children under 7 years, journalists, tourism professionals (with I.D), handicapped persons
There are special concessions to receive discounted entrance :
1) If you want to visit nearby Villa Kérylos as well, and pay €15.50 instead of €20; this is called ‘Pass 2 Villas’ and you can purchase it at either villa.
2) If you arrive by TER SNCF train to Beaulieu-sur-Mer, show your validated train ticket at the entrance at Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and receive discounted entry of €10.50 instead of €13.50. This also applies to the ‘Pass 2 Villas’; the offer applies to any TER SNCF customer with a valid train ticket dated the day to Beaulieu-sur-Mer. The visit of one or other of the two villas is to be held on the day of use of the TER ticket. If you choose ‘Pass 2 Villas’, you get within 7 days to visit the second villa.
3) If you want to visit the Jardin Exotique at Eze as well, and pay €10.50 instead of €15.50; you can purchase it at either location.
4) Privilege Card is a card that allows one year’s unlimited access to the villa, its gardens and the Tea Room year round. The cards can only be purchased online via the official Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild website or via post. Cost: Solo €38 / Duo €70 / Youth under 26 years €20
5) Family discount: Families can receive free entry for the second child aged 7 to 17 when two adults and one child ticket have been bought.
Other Tips for Visiting Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
Bespoke Yacht Charter recommend using one of the free audioguides available in 9 languages (French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese and Russian) that give preparatory information about the Baroness and her collections. The audioguides are not offered immediately to all visitors so ask at the ticket office though be aware that availability can be limited in summer when the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is popular with large groups from cruise ships that stopover at Villefranche. Alternatively, you can download the free smartphone app available on iOS and Android with maps and a guided tour covering 42 points of interests (the download links are found at the end of this article).
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is a popular sightseeing excursion combined with Villa Kérylos in nearby Beaulieu-sur-Mer. There is a bus (number 81) that links both villas, or you can walk between them via the pleasant Promenade Maurice Rouvier pathway that follows the edge of the Baie des Fourmis. Don’t forget to buy a ‘Pass 2 Villas’ if you intend to visit both Villas.
If you would like to read more about Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, the gift shop at the villa sells a number of beautiful publications including architecture journals and a special edition magazine ‘Connaissance des Arts’ for €21 that describes Béatrice’s love for 18th century art and gardens.
How to get to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is located at 1 avenue Ephrussi de Rothschild, 06230 Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, France
By yacht : For yacht charter guests berthed at Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is located just 30 minutes’ walk from Beaulieu port and is easily reached by following the signage from the Promenade Maurice Rouvier pathway at the western end of Beaulieu. Alternatively, bus number 81 travels from Beaulieu to a stop ‘Passable’ outside the villa.
By car: Access the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild by taking the N98 (RD6098) Basse Corniche to Saint Jean Cap Ferrat peninsula. The GPS coordinates are latitude 43°6945937 – longitude 7°3292327. Free car parking is at the entrance to the villa on the uphill entrance road.
By train: The nearest train station is Beaulieu-sur-Mer from where there is a bus (number 81) that travels to the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. If you choose to walk from Beaulieu-sur-Mer train station, it is approximately 30 minutes’ walk on paved paths. It should be noted that as you near Villa Ephrussi you should exercise caution as there are no pavements on the residential streets, also the route leads uphill with no shade which can be very hot in the height of summer therefore it’s advisable to take water with you.
By bus: From Nice, you can take bus number 81 and stop at the ‘Passable’ bus stop at the road entrance to the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. From Monaco direction, bus 100 (Nice-Menton line) bypasses Saint Jean Cap Ferrat peninsula, you need to get off at stop ‘Pont Saint Jean’ and walk 15 minutes from there.
Useful Web Links
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild’s official website: www.villa-ephrussi.com
This article was written by Rebecca Whitlocke, who with over 10 years travel industry experience loves to share ‘must-do’ destination tips and hidden spots to discover in France and beyond.
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