Monday, July 15, 2013

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

Perched elegantly in what feels like the center of the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula is Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and its magnificent gardens.  So immense is this estate, it can be seen from miles around.

The villa’s prominence on Cap Ferrat can be attributed to the character of the individual who built it, the wealthy French socialite, Baroness Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild.
In short, at the end of a rocky marriage and after the death of her father in 1905, she and her brother inherited a fortune estimated at €700 million.

This helped enable her passions for art and architecture as she saw fit, so between the years of 1905 and 1912 she had the villa constructed (painted in her favorite color - flamingo pink) with its surrounding gardens laid out to look like that of a luxury cruise liner.

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

Beatrice even insisted her gardeners wear blue naval berets when working on the grounds so that they resembled sailors working on the decks of a ship.  Given the different levels of the gardens, from the upper balcony of the villa one can see how she imagined this for herself.
Eccentric is not a big enough word for this interesting woman yet the estate is surprisingly well decorated for the time period and not as ostentatious as one might expect, each room seems to have a defined meaning and purpose behind it.
Beatrice died in April of 1934 at the age of 69 from tuberculosis, having no heirs she left everything to L’Institut de France which then made the estate permanently open to the public.

Stepping on to the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild estate is like stepping into a fairy tale land.  Views alone from this vantage point on Cap Ferrat are worth the small price of admission.
Beatrice was obviously a woman with an artistic vision.  If you are a historic architectural buff like me, you will notice immediately the many minute design nuances that are delicately integrated within the impressive structure, especially when you take the time to learn about the process in which the villa was built to Beatrice’s exacting measurements.
The open air courtyard in the middle of the villa lets you imagine what it must have been like back in the day at one of her social events and where now one can rent out part of the villa for weddings and other such events.  Even in the main garden, small musical festivals are a regular occurrence on a summer evening.
While exploring the estate you can listen to an audio guide about each room that you enter, one thing that is not mentioned in the audio but is still well known today in the French Riviera is that although Beatrice was married at one point, it is also believed she was a lesbian given her vast collection of Greek and Roman goddesses so be sure to see what exactly her collection represented.

They say this was her way, back in the day, of expressing herself and stating, “I’m a woman on equal footing.”
Surrounding the villa is nine exquisite gardens built on what was once a very rough terrain; you will find the gardens suit everyone’s taste.  Provencal, Japanese, Florentine…even the rose garden has 100 different varieties of roses.

All these lush gardens nicely intertwine and are dotted with classical statues and grand stairways, the manicured trails are a lovely way to explore the grounds.
The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild estate is easily accessible by car and there is also a bus stop right outside the grounds as well.  If coming by train, I would go to the Beaulieu-sur-Mer train station and walk the couple of blocks down towards the coast as the estate is only a pleasant 25 minute walk away, just follow the posted signage.

Make sure to give yourself more than an hour to visit the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild estate as there is a lot of area to cover, it makes for a great afternoon and feels as though you are in a wonderful bygone era.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Cap Martin Trail

As anyone who reads this website knows, I kind of have a thing about the walking (or hiking) trails in the French Riviera.  I find the trails to be a great way to discover the region from a different vantage point and they all have breathtaking scenery.

Although most are on the edges of small towns and cities, they can still be very peaceful and a relaxing way to get some exercise.

I personally call this trail, the Cap Martin Trail, although it’s actual given name is ‘Promenade Le Corbusier’ after the famous architect who lived in the area and who died of a suspected heart attack while swimming at Plage du Buse at Roquebrune Cap Martin.

Unlike the Saint Jean Cap Ferrat trail or even the Eze Nietzsche trail, this walk is by far one of the easiest.  Having said that, still wear proper footwear and bring enough water and refreshments.  If you wanted, there are some wonderful, almost hidden places along the way where you could also enjoy a picnic with friends.

For this trip, I took the train through Monaco to the Carnoles train station in Menton, it is the first station after Roquebrune Cap Martin train stop and before the Menton train station. 

I consider myself a fast walker but on trails I tend to stop to take pictures and in general go at a slower pace to take in the surroundings.

My usual plan for the Promenade Le Corbusier is to walk back to Monte-Carlo and it usually takes me about 1.5–2 hours to walk around the peninsula itself, with about another 35-45 minutes to walk into Monte-Carlo.

It might sound like a long time but once you get going you will be surprised how fast the time goes and almost wish the trail was longer because of how pleasant it all can be.

Once you get off at the Carnoles train station in Menton, exit down to Avenue Francois de Monleon which runs underneath the station and walk towards the sea about a block or two away until you reach the beach and where you will come across the Josephine Baker sculpture.
Turn right and walk along the sea towards the Cap Martin peninsula with the rest of Menton and the coastline of Italy in the background.
During this part of the walk you will pass many apartment buildings, hotels and beach side restaurants with the sparkling blue water and breeze coming off the sea.
Before you know it you will be at the Le Corbusier sculpture, this is the trail mark that means you are now at the beginning of the Promenade Le Corbusier trail, just keep to the left following along the seaside.
You will know immediately that you are at the tip of the Cap Martin peninsula because now you will get an expansive and stunning view of the whole of the Principality of Monaco in the distance.
Along the trail you will be able to catch glimpses of some very expensive, historic and secluded villas hidden amongst the greenery.  Many of these estates run right down to the sea but with the Cap Martin trail being open to the public you will still be able to pass through and get a small look into just how the other half live in one of the most picturesque areas in the French Riviera.
The path will continue to wind its way along the coast with the occasional set of stairs going either up or down but nothing too strenuous and there are benches and other places to stop along the way for a rest.
People also tend to use some of the very short, marked trails off the main path down towards the water to relax and even suntan on the flat areas of the rocks as well.
There is only one section on the path, closer to Roquebrune Cap Martin where the trail forks out, stay closest to the water and cross the train bridge to continue on towards Monte-Carlo otherwise the other trail takes you back up within the Cap Martin community.
Within minutes you will pass Le Corbusier’s famous Le Cabanon and practically next door is Eileen Gray's E.1027 villa that is currently being lovingly restored back to its former glory.
From here, enjoy the beach below in Roquebrune Cap Martin or continue on through towards Monte-Carlo, which also along this trail takes you to the ‘secret’ Gay Nude Beach of Monaco on the edge of Monte-Carlo.
The Cap Martin Trail is an inspirational place for a short day trip, take it all in and enjoy your time.