Some people believe the more one travels, the more it takes to dazzle and inspire. Reader: they’re wrong. I’ve been globetrotting professionally for more than two decades and continue to experience things that take my breath away. One such event is the nocturnal evening programme at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on the Côte d’Azur. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced but hope to again and again.
Access is what makes a visit to this stunning villa (well, it’s more like a palace) and gardens different than others. The house and gardens are open year-round, with an exceptional calendar of programmes, from a rose and plant festival, to musical evenings and brunches. But, it’s the summer evening programme that’s truly magnificent. On Monday and Tuesday evenings during July and August (check website for exact dates), the villa and gardens are open until midnight allowing guests to step back into the Belle Epoch era, awash with all the aura of high society. Imagine being a guest at one of the ultra-glamorous parties during one of the heyday periods of the Cote d’Azur…cocktails on the lawn, candle-lit dinners with views of the sea in the distance, and fantastical displays of lights, and ballerinas dancing to Mozart in the gardens…all set against the backdrop of a beautiful flamingo-coloured property carefully designed, decorated and curated with masterpieces.
Set in Cap Ferrat, about halfway between Nice and Monaco, the Villa Ephrussi is the former home of socialite, Beatrice de Rothschild. After divorcing her husband, a Russian associate of her financier father, Beatrice set about creating a haven for herself and her close coterie, building the villa and gardens between 1905-12. She was among the first to discover this stretch of coastline in the 19th century. Today, it is the only villa in the area open to the public, thanks to her bequest to the Insitut de France, which continues to maintain it.
Nine themed gardens with fountains and statues populate the grounds: Japanese, Florentine, Provencal, Spanish, exotic, French, rose and rock; all designed by some of the best landscape artists Ms. Rothschild could find.
Exploring the house and gardens, it feels like nothing is off-limits. A well narrated audio tour provides fascinating insights about Ms. Rothschild and her fellow members of high society.
For the very reasonable price of 22 euros a ticket (food and drink not included), guests can enjoy several hours walking in Ms. Rothschild’s glass slippers. Arrive at 7:30pm and the light allows for enjoyment of the gardens before nightfall, when hundreds of candles illuminate the grounds. Sip champagne from the pop-up bar on the lawn, and dine at the restaurant, which remains open late, serving simple, but well-sourced charcuterie and cheese plates. A selection of patisserie is available for dessert, but we’re won over the over-sized ice cream sundaes; indulgence appropriate to the environment.
I’ve made many trips to the South of France, but this has been my first to the Villa Ephrussi. I rarely make personal recommendations in reviews or editorial pieces, but I can not recommend this special place highly enough. From a 10-day trip packed with unique experiences, this shares first place with swimming from one island to another off the coast of Cannes.
Villa and Gardens of Ephrussi de Rothschild, 1 Avenue Ephrussi de Rothschild, 06230 Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France.
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 01 33 09
Insider Tip: Stop for a drink at Villefranche-sur-Mer, just two towns away on the bus or train. From there, it’s a short drive by taxi to the Villa.
Amy Guttman is a freelance journalist and broadcaster based in London regularly reporting for PBS Newshour, BBC and Forbes, focusing on current affairs and entrepreneurship.
Photographs and video courtesy of Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild