Bonjour les amis,
Les vacances are going smoothly here in my little corner of the French Riviera. The weather is ideal, around 85F during the day, and a balmy 70F at night. I could not ask for more. Nice is a gift that keeps giving. The city itself has enough to keep anyone busy and entertained, and I have tried to make the most of it, walking around for hours, capturing hundreds of photos, regrouping in my cozy apartment when I get tired, shopping, and more.
As if this weren’t enough, I can get anywhere in the Nice area thanks to the amazing public transportation system. For the ridiculous price of 3 Euros round trip, city buses take me to other cities along the coast, or inland, to perched villages in the Alps foothills. Last year, I visited Eze-Village, St. Paul de Vence, and Villefranche sur Mer, all wonderful day trip destinations. If I want to go faster, I can also ride the local trains. In short, Nice is the perfect base to explore the southeastern part of France – and let’s not forget Italy is just an hour away.
Today, I decided to get out of town for a few hours, and caught bus #81 to the Cap Ferrat peninsula. Cap Ferrat is an apt illustration of the opulence and exclusive lifestyle enjoyed by the Happy Fews on the French Riviera. Behind closed gates and high walls, lavish estates are kept out of sight, only visible from the water. For a few Euros, tour boats enable the rest of the world, vous et moi, to take a peek. But today, I walked.
As I was following one of the trails on the peninsula (the paved section between the quaint village of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and the seaside town of Beaulieu-sur-Mer,) I could not get enough of the unobstructed marine views – Ah, la Méditerranée! – and admired several sumptuous properties along the way.
|Promenade Maurice Rouvier|
|Sir David Niven, you had great taste!|
Truth be told, I considered inviting myself over to Paul Allen’s exclusive estate. The Microsoft co-founder (and fellow Seattleite) has owned a house on Cap Ferrat for many years. I decided against it, and opted to visit one of the peninsula’s most popular attractions instead: La Villa Ephrussi de Rotschild. The 1905 villa showed me what a creative person can do with a lot of time, good taste – and let’s not forget – a wad load of money. At Villa Ephrussi, Venice, Versailles and the French Riviera meet in a breathtaking ensemble consisting of a Belle Epoque mansion – the dominant color theme is pastel pink – and no fewer than nine themed gardens.
The former owner, Béatrice de Rotschild, was a banker’s daughter who inherited a colossal fortune when her father died. She loved the French Riviera, and like many of her wealthy contemporaries, elected to spend the winter here. The construction of the Villa and gardens on the rocky terrain was challenging and took seven years to complete (1905-1912.) When Béatrice died in 1934, she was determined to preserve the special place she had enjoyed with her friends and family. She did not have children and donated the property so it would become a museum. La pièce de résistance, the 9 themed gardens, were completed after her death.
|Villa Ephrussi, from the French Garden|
The mansion was not my favorite part. There were lavish tapestries, antique furniture, art, rare china. The best feature were the breathtaking views from every window in the building. The famous shutters found all over Nice traditional façades were prominently displayed at Villa Ephrussi. They have proved to be an efficient cooling system, one Béatrice and her friends must have enjoyed on hot days.
Like other visitors, I could not wait to get out and tour the prestigious gardens. Today was a special day: Local painters and artists (amateurs, mostly,) had been invited to visit the Villa for free so they could paint, or draw, at leisure. Late afternoon, Champagne would be served as their creations were on display. I arrived early in the morning (a trick I learned when I visited Nice during the peak of the tourist season,) and only met artists as I walked through the magnificent grounds. Designed in the shape of a ship (Béatrice was a fan of ocean liner trips,) the gardens are spectacular. From the majestuous French garden and its waterworks, to the peaceful Japanese garden, the fragrant rose garden, or the Mediterranean garden, I could not believe my eyes. What a special place. In the background, the insistent song of les cigales (cicadas,) reminded us we were in Southern France.
|A painter in the Japanese Garden|
|Artists by the “Temple of Love” gazebo|
|The Rose garden|
|Villa Ephrussi and the French garden|
It was time to get back to reality. After a leisurely lunch in the quaint port of St Jean-Cap-Ferrat, I caught the bus back to Nice and spent the next couple of hours editing photos and writing this story.