The rocky cliffs of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat seem to me to be the flawless backdrop to the sophisticated châteaus that dot the peninsula. At the start of the twentieth century the monarch of Belgium, attracted by the cobalt waters and sapphire skies, purchased an ornate residence on the southeast coast of France and introduced the region to a slew of royalty, millionaires, and socialites who followed in his wake. Beatrice de Rothschild, married to wealthy European banker Baron de Ephrussi, came to the French Riviera in the early nineteen hundreds and fell in love with the scenery she discovered. Madame de Rothschild quickly bought up a rocky portion of Cap Ferrat promontory and proceeded to outdo her neighbor, King Leopold II of Belgium, in creating one of the most stunning mansions in the area. An avid fan of sailing trips, Madame de Rothschild constructed her property to resemble the prow of a ship, her château forever looking out onto the marvelous waters of the Mediterranean. Particular in everything she owned, Madame de Rothschild was not only fanatical about how her house should be designed, but also a keen gardener. Madame de Rothschild’s property is an extraordinary complement to Cap Ferrat’s beautiful landscape and her house and gardens added to my excitement of the region.
Though many people are quite taken by the rose-colored confectionary that is the Ephrussi de Rothschild mansion, it is the nine gardens intricately designed by the baroness herself that appeal to me. The French garden with its lengthy pond and exclusive jetting fountains turns the entire estate into a sophisticated aristocrat. Along its side, the Florentine garden and the Spanish garden provide the intimate, dark grottos, and romantic hidden alcoves required for inspiration. The Stone, Japanese, and Exotic gardens give the Rothschild estate a modernity and far-flung atmosphere that reminds me how much its owner enjoyed her own lifetime of travels. The Provençal and Rose gardens furnish the ultimate in beauty and floral splendor to the entire landscape design. Wandering through each of the gardens is an indulgent exercise, as there are not only plenty of plants and flowers to admire, but also architectural features and outdoor artwork. I believe in many ways, the nine gardens of Ephrussi de Rothschild surpass the decadent and saccharine design of her mansion, taming its candied appearance with a fresh yet subdued character. Whether admiring the terraces of multihued roses, discovering the mystery of darkened bowers, or finding peace seated near stone goddesses and cupids, Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild’s nine gardens will sustain every beauty lover’s fantasy.