Review: Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, France
As part of my policy to visit a fancy home in every country I visit, Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild was definitely up my alley.
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
This seaside villa was built against all the odds and frankly against all advice from the whims of Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild from the years 1906 to 1912.
Beatrice came from the Wealthy (with a W) Jewish Rothschild family. At 19 she married 34 year old Jewish Russian Maurice Ephrussi in 1883 primarily because the Rothschild family wanted to enter the Russian market, but the marriage quickly became disastrous and Beatrice caught a disease from her husband which caused her infertility.
Being an extremely wealthy person in the 19th/20th century Beatrice dealt with things the way all wealthy people dealt with unhappy marriages at the time; travelling as much as possible and buying expensive trinkets; she of course ended up with quite a collection of artwork befitting of her family’s eccentric habits.
Her family ultimately took Maurice to court for a separation when his gambling debts piled up and they divorced in 1904.
How is this relevant to the villa?
Becoming a free agent unfettered by a husband and coming into a substantial inheritance upon her father’s death, Beatrice was inspired by the gorgeous French Riviera to build Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. Her ultimate vision was for the villa to feel like a ship in the sea; a reminder of a happy childhood on liners cruising the Mediterranean. This illusion was helped by the grounds being surrounded on three sides with the ocean and facing a prow like structure in front.
She proceeded to employ and fire every notable architect she could find and was the ultimate rich client. The land on which the villa was built was absolutely inappropriate for construction but through the power of pure money Beatrice managed to build her Venetian villa/ship of her dreams and filled it with her collection of mainly 18th century pieces.
Ultimately she only stayed a few years when construction finished preferring to spend her time on her other projects in Monte Carlo, before leaving it along with all furnishings and art to the Institut de France upon her death in 1934.
This is what I call the ultimate rich person move.
Was Beatrice filling a void deep inside with copious wealth and random projects? Was she just an eccentric rich person?
Who knows? I enjoy guessing the motivations of a random rich lady as much as the next person, but I came to gawk at fancy houses.
And I certainly did that.
Visiting the Villa
After climbing up the winding path past several other villas in the area, purchasing my tickets in the shop and passing parts of the building under construction…
I certainly gawked at the patio with its verona marble and Italian Renaissance metalwork, where some of the columns were metalwork imitating marble veins. Unfortunately the high ceiling was no longer painted like the sky but it was certainly still impressive.
In one corner was the rotunda where Beatrice had a sitting area with cute little chairs for her dogs.
Next we were in the dining room overlooking the Villfranche bay which connected to the Porcelein room. Both rooms contained Beatrice’s extensive french porcelein collection which we were repeatedly told was very impressive, especially the vases of three ages.
I admired the comfortable Blue room with its French and Italian furniture.
The Directoire bedroom had painted wood panels inspired by Pompeiian architecture.
The delightfully named Monkey room was filled appropriately with monkey decor, they were pretty much everywhere.
Of note was the monkey orchestra porcelain set in the display cabinet, caricaturing the court of Saxony. For example, the conductor with the biggest wig represented prime minister von Brühl. These figures were seen as treasures and were very scandalous at the time, a bit like controversial political cartoons in newspapers but more expensive.
I then admired the tapestry in the Tapestry room, one which included the scene of Ariadne throwing her crown in the air for some reason, and I focused on the juxtaposition of the pretty feet of a rich lady against the gnarled monstrous trotters of a peasant woman in one particular image.
I then rushed through the Chinese room because I’d seen similar items before and just wasn’t as interested.
The grand salon was the most impressive room in the Villa and perfectly illustrated Beatrice’s interest in 18th century style including the carpets and furniture with distinctive tapered legs.
Beatrice was a gambler, often went to Monte Carlo for their casino and often played games with friends in this room as could be seen from the gaming tables.
The Petit Salon oversees the French garden, contained a fire screen which belonged to Marie Antoinette and displayed several 18th century tapestries. Of note was the painting on the ceiling depicting the son of the sun god, helios, being struck down before he and his chariot.
Unfortunately Beatrice’s bedroom and bathroom weren’t open to the public, but we were allowed to see her boudoir where she hung out with her closest friends.
We didn’t visit France during the nicest weather so the restaurant area along with its patio was closed and we made do by exploring the villa’s nine gardens. I wished I had a garden, so was very keen to see the collection.
The French garden was shaped like a ship’s deck and offered beautiful views of the villa exterior. The fountains could play music and shoot water from the pond.
The Spanish garden was a covered patio with a channel filled with greenery.
The original Florentine garden had mostly been removed since its construction with only a dramatic horseshoe staircase and an angel remaining. is the only remnant of the huge Italian garden that Béatrice had planted.
The Stone garden had…well…a lot of stones. The gargoyles and bas-reliefs mixed with the greenery really gave a romantic vibe like Beauty and the Beast. I really need to consume more renaissance or media from other time periods else all my comparisons would be limited to Disney movies.
The Japanese garden was very tranquil and managed to contain every aspect of a traditional Japanese garden without appearing busy with its bamboo, raked stones and plentiful water features. The garden was actually recently restored by Nippon TV of Japan in 2016.
The exotic garden was full of Cacti, but unfortunately I’d just been to a larger Exotic garden with frankly better views in Èze village so I pretty much sped through this section.
I saw no roses in the Rose garden and frankly didn’t really notice the Provencal garden. That is all.
We had a good wander through the meandering paths.
We finished the day by visiting the cinema room and seeing a 15 minute film of Beatrice’s life. I learnt that she was as eccentric as I could ever hope for with her two monkeys and a mongoose and habit of wearing a different outfit for the morning, afternoon, tea and evening. There were also rumours that she may be a lesbian so she totally met my expectations for a rich person.
I really enjoyed my visit to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild as it was such a unique home with an interesting history. Unfortunately I chose a very windy day during off-season so some rooms were closed and I was very wind-blown, but It was still worth a visit and the high winds weren’t negotiable considering the building was on top of a mountain. Fans of 18th century french art would definitely be impressed and be willing to pay the relatively steep entrance fee.
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
Address: 1 Avenue Ephrussi de Rothschild, 06230 Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France
Feb – Jun, Sep – Oct: 10:00 – 18:00
Jul – Aug: 10:00 – 19:00
Nov – Jan: Weekdays 14:00 – 18:00
Weekends and holidays: 10:00 – 18:00
Full rate: 15,00 EUR / 12.66 GBP
Senior rate: 14,00 EUR / 11.81 GBP (+65 years old)
Reduced rate: 12,00 EUR / 10.12 GBP (students, Education Pass holders and unemployed)
Youth rate: 10,00 EUR / 8.44 GBP (7-25 years old)
Family rate: 44,00 EUR / 37.12 GBP (for 2 adults and 2 children aged 7-25 years old)
Free for children under the age of 7, journalists, disabled visitors and accompanying person.