A visit to the Côte d’Azur should include a stop to see the remarkable gardens of France at Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild—there are 9—even in winter. It is located on a peninsula in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, not far from Nice and Monaco.
Table of contents
1. Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild Remarkable Gardens And Villa
History Behind The Estate
You’re likely familiar with the Rothschild name—-the prominent banking family in Europe. (Charlotte) Béatrice de Rothschild (1864-1934) was a member of this family and wife of banker, Baron Maurice de Ephrussi. They were married for 21 years and divorced in 1904.
It was her inheritance from her father (Mayer Alphonse James Rothschild) that brought her great wealth, and the ability to pay for the construction of her villa located on the Côte d’Azur coast. She combined her love of art with the beautiful natural surroundings by having an elaborate mansion designed with a French formal garden. It was called Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.
French architect, Jacques-Marcel Auburtin was hired to do the design of the mansion. Landscape architect Louis Marchand took charge of the themed gardens. Construction began in 1907 and the French garden and additional gardens took 7 years to complete.
Before dying in Switzerland in 1934, Béatrice bequeathed the Villa to the Académie des Beaux-Arts and in 1991, Culturespaces was given the job to manage, renovate, and restore the villa and gardens. In 1996, the villa was designated a historic monument in France.
2. Multi-sensory Experience Visiting The Ephrussi Gardens In Winter
1. Recognized As A Remarkable Garden of France
The mansion is immense and so are the gardens, so much so that they are classified as one of France’s Remarkable Gardens. The “Remarkable Garden” classification is given by the Ministry of Culture to gardens “whose design, plants and maintenance are of a remarkable standard, which they are private or public, protected or not….” (Parc et Jardins France).
This label “distinguishes parks and gardens of cultural, esthetic, historical, or botanical interest whether public or private”.
2. Overview Of The Gardens
Visiting the Villa in the winter (in my case, early March) did not disappoint. Although there was a brief rain shower, the greenery was lush and the gardens were lovely and well-manicured. While not all the flowers will be in bloom, the gardens are still worth visiting.
Throughout the property, there are olive trees, cypress trees and lots of greenery, interesting paths, statues, terraces, and monuments on various levels. The views of the Mediterranean Sea (and the Bay of Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Bay of Villefranche) are to die for.
3. Highlights Of The 9 Themed Gardens
What is fascinating is the layout of the gardens. If you are standing on the loggia of the house, you can see the gardens in front of you, much like being on the bridge of a ship. Supposedly, Béatrice was inspired by her voyage on the Ile de France ship; hence the other name that the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is referred to, “Villa Île de France”. And because of the pink facade, today many people call it the Pink Palace.
Combined with the splendid scenery and scents from different flowers and plants, you certainly have a multi-sensory experience through the 9 gardens where you’ll encounter fragrances of the rose garden and the bright purple lavender in the Provence garden.
1. Formal French Garden (Jardin à la Française)
The French Garden is the largest, situated just in front of the Villa. The area has a large basin that has flowers lined on each side. It is populated by statues, palm trees, Italian Renaissance urns and vases, fountains, and a variety of trees, including many cypress trees.
The Temple of Love is at the highest point of the gardens and was designed in the same fashion as the Temple of Love from Versaille’s Petit Trianon Palace.
Water cascades down numerous steps into the basin.
One of the highlights of the visit is witnessing the fountain show, which takes place here on the southern facade of the villa every 20 minutes and is timed with classical music.
2. Provence Garden (Jardin Provencal)
In addition to the lavender which is synonymous with Provence, the Provencal Garden has olive and pine trees.
3. Florentine Garden (Jardin Florentin)
The Florentine Garden has a horseshoe-shaped staircase with a marble statue of a young man (ephebe) in the grotto.
4. Spanish Garden (Jardin Espagnol)
In the Spanish Garden, channels of water weave their way around the area with ochre tiles and arches and surrounded by trees and a pergola of flowers and plants.
5. Japanese Garden (Jardin Japonais)
The Japanese Garden (Cho-Seki-Tei) is beautifully designed with peaceful elements—-a pond with a bridge, lanterns, birdhouses with Japanese writing, and a torii which is a Japanese gateway that typically leads into a shrine.
6. Exotic Garden (Jardin Exotique)
The Exotic Garden has many cacti, succulents, and rare plants. It was originally a Mexican Garden and the frosts of 1985 in the area almost wiped them out.
7. Rose Garden (La Roseraie)
At the highest point at the Villa’s gardens is the Temple Of Love and La Roserie, a large area containing several varieties of rose bushes. The Rose and Plant Festival in May would be the ideal time to see and smell the luscious, fragrant roses.
8. Stone Garden (Jardin Lapidaire)
The Stone Garden was the most amusing area due to the numerous gargoyles, gnomes, and bas-reliefs. March is the perfect time to visit this garden because various plants such as Rhododendron and Azalea shrubs are at their best.
9. Sèvres Garden (Jardin de Sèvres)
The Sèvres Garden is the smallest garden and runs along the side of the Villa and the Salle à Manger de la Baronne tea room. One begins the tour of the gardens here.
4. Villa Ephrussi Interior
The Villa was constructed with Italian marble and when you first enter, you walk into the main area called the “Patio”, which is reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance.
It is said that the decor throughout the villa (ie. Patio, the state apartments, and Béatrice’s apartments) is in the “Rothschild style”, which means that it is an eclectic style comprising of different eras—the Italian Renaissance, Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI.
The Tapestry room is situated on the first floor and has tapestries from the royal Gobelins Manufactory and furniture from the 18th century. There is also a tric-trac table (similar to a backgammon table) as La Baronne Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild enjoyed games. Also on this floor is an extensive collection of Meissen porcelain, a Chinese room, and Monkey room. There were no “live” monkeys kept at the villa; monkey motifs were in vogue in the 18th century.
Also on display are precious antiques, paintings, sculptures, works of art, and an extensive collection of porcelain. There is also furniture that belonged to Marie Antoinette.
5. Special Events At Villa Ephrussi
1. Brunch At The Villa
The Villa has a tea room and restaurant which overlooks the Bay of Villefranche. You can have a light meal (yes, they serve wine) and when the weather is good, dining can be on the terrace. There are also days when special brunches are held in the Salle à Manger de la Baronne, often on the first Sunday of the month. The cost is around 50 € and includes your entrance, brunch, and a glass of champagne.
2. Roses And Plants Festival
During the weekend of May 14 and 15, 2022, the Villa hosts a rose and plant festival with 30 exhibitors. There are displays, demonstrations, professionals giving advice, tours, concerts, and even fashion shows with floral dresses,
6. Location and Opening Hours
(a) How To Get To Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild From Nice And Monaco
Villa Ephrussi is only 10km east of Nice and 13 km west of Monaco so it makes for an easy excursion.
Address: 06230 Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
- By car: access by RD6098 (There is free parking on the site)
- By train: travel to Beaulieu-sur-Mer station and then walk about 30 minutes south to the Villa
- By bus: Line 15, “Pasable-Rothschild” stop or Line 100, “Point Saint Jean” stop (with a 15 minute walk)
(b) Opening Hours
The Villa and those remarkable gardens are open every day from 10-6 pm (and in July and August 10-7 pm).
A free audio guide is included with your admission. If you’re looking for more things to see and do on the Côte d’Azur, check out my 34th trip to France: Itinerary #34
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SueJanuary 28, 2022 at 10:43 am
What a great post Jan, thanks! We’re dreaming of a return visit to Nice and had never heard of this estate and gardens. Since our bucket list includes visiting beautiful gardens in Europe, this ticks several boxes. Who knows when, but at least we know where :). Happy 2022, hopefully a travel year.