How it all began
As you know, I love a spot of property porn. So picture this. It is 1905. The extravagant Béatrice de Rothschild is captivated by the still sparsely populated Cap Ferrat and buys seven hectares of land there. The panorama was certainly breath-taking, but the chosen terrain was ungrateful, rocky and often windswept. Yet fiercely determined and with bags of money to spare, Béatrice takes advice from the best architects and landscape designers. By 1912 the work has been completed: a fabulous villa and splendid gardens on the most cramped part of the Riviera.
Born in a private mansion overlooking Place de la Concorde in Paris, Béatrice de Rothschild never experienced anything but luxury, growing up amidst gilded woodwork, master paintings and furniture crafted by the best artisans. In 1905, she was 40 years old and separated from her husband, the Russian banker Maurice Ephrussi. Their differences had been immediately apparent. Without children, she had just inherited a colossal fortune. There was nothing more in her life than time to think and the means to carry out whatever projects her heart desired.
Her contemporaries said she was not very accommodating. According to her cousin Elisabeth de Gramont:
Beatrice’s destiny was to thwart the stupid laws of common sense […] requiring flowers to grow even under the Mistral.
To achieve this, she blew up the rock, levelled the land and brought in tons of soil.
A villa to showcase for her collections
After all that Beatrice barely stayed in Cap Ferrat. Instead she preferred her two Monegasque residences, closer to the gaming tables that she loved so much. She died in 1934 in Davos, where she went for tuberculosis treatment. She left her villa and all her collections to the Institut de France, with the wish that her villa should become “a museum with the look and feel of a living room”, the atmosphere of an inhabited residence. Wish granted.
A huge patio serves the rooms of this “salon”, all sumptuously furnished with Louis XVI furniture, painted woodwork, Gobelins tapestries, Meissen and Sèvres ceramics, drawings and paintings by Tiepolo, Boucher and Fragonard. And always with beautiful views of the surrounding gardens. Beatrice had imagined the garden extending her villa like the bow of a boat.
When the house was inaugurated in 1912, the gardens were not finished, as Beatrice had prioritised the one directly by the side of the house. The nine gardens that visitors can walk through today (Spanish, Florentine, Japanese…) are the result of successive works and daily maintenance. Various events – musical evenings, plant festival – permeate the soul of this enchanting spot.
You can see why I recommend people to visit!
All images courtesy of Villa Ephrussi website