Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, French Riviera

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is a commune of the Alpes-Maritimes department in southeastern France. It is located on a peninsula next to Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Villefranche-sur-Mer and extends out to Cap Ferrat. Its tranquillity and warm climate make it a favourite holiday destination among the European aristocracy and international rich.

The territory of the town is located between Villefranche-sur-Mer and Beaulieu-sur-Mer. You can get there by car or bus from Pont Saint-Jean on the Basse Corniche (M6098). Cap Ferrat forms two “Y” branches, one covering almost the entire area of the Cap Ferrat peninsula, the other located on the east coast of the latter, a well-defined strip of land but narrower, which extends to Pointe Saint-Hospice, about 250 hectares.

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat has a mild Mediterranean climate. Average temperatures range from 9 °C (48 °F) in January to 23 °C (73 °F) in the summer. There is very little rainfall in the summer. Although occasionally the Mistral winds arrive, it is more sheltered by the mountains than for example St. Tropez, so the winds are not as strong.

The history of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat shows that the town was known to the ancient Greeks as Anao, the site of present days Cap Ferrat was first settled by Celto-Ligurian tribes, then by the Lombards at the end of the 6th century. Sant Ospizio (or Saint Hospice), a hermit friar, is said to have inhabited a tower on the Eastern part of the peninsula.

Middle Ages
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat had once been known as Cap-Saint-Sospir after a sixth-century monk who had lived in the area. In the 8th century, the history of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat changed when the Saracens occupied the site and used it as a base for pirating until the 11th century. By 1388, the territory of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat with the entire County of Nice was given by treaty to the Dukes of Savoy (see also History of Villefranche-sur-Mer).

The history of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat tells that Duke Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy built a fort at Saint-Hospice in 1561 in an effort to secure the coastline from invaders. The fort was destroyed in 1706 by the Duke of Berwick when Nice was occupied by the French armies of King Louis XIV.

During the 18th century, the history of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat changed when the area – officially part of the Kingdom of Sardinia – was occupied off and on by the French. It was returned to the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1814 after Napoleon’s abdication.

In 1860, the County of Nice was finally ceded by treaty to France and the peninsula became a magnet for kings and wealthy visitors, a new era in the history of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. The small fishing village of Saint Jean developed and by 1904 was established as a self-standing commune with the rest of the peninsula, separated from nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer.

Belle Époque era of economic prosperity
At the beginning of the 20th century, King Léopold II of Belgium owned an estate on Cap Ferrat and built several houses and an artificial lake. The main residence is the Villa des Cèdres, which has been owned by Marnier-Lapostolle (the founder of Grand Marnier) since 1924 and is now in part a botanical garden called the Jardin botanique Les Cèdres.

In 1905, Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild chose Cap Ferrat to build a Tuscan-style palazzo, now known as Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild museum. This very scenic location can be rented under special conditions to host galas and events in the lush park and gardens.

Today Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat has probably some of the most expensive real estate in the world, and continues to attract the rich. Current residents include theatrical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Some of its Italianate and belle époque estates have hosted a plethora of heads of state, aristocrats, and personalities: King Leopold II of Belgium, Baroness de Rothschild, Charlie Chaplin, Rainier III, David Niven, Somerset Maugham, Jean Cocteau, Lady Kenmare and Roderick Cameron, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Pierre and São Schlumberger, Hubert de Givenchy, Rachel Lambert Mellon, Mary Wells Lawrence, Isadora Duncan, Winston Churchill, French prime ministers Maurice Rouvier and Raymond Barre. Major Berkeley Levett, an English aristocrat and witness in the infamous Royal Baccarat Scandal, lived there with his brewery heiress wife, the former Sibell Bass.

Culture and heritage

Civil buildings:

The Villa Ephrussi-de-Rothschild, museum and botanical park
In 1883, Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild married billionaire Maurice Ephrussi. In 1905, she acquired seven hectares of land on the isthmus connecting Cape Ferrat to the coast, on which she built a sumptuous and luxurious palace. She gathers all the decorative elements of the xv th century to the xix th century, it has gathered during his travels. The Villa Île-de-France (or Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild), its gardens and its art collectionsbequeathed to the Academy of Fine Arts of the Institut de France in 1934. The villa was opened to the public in 1937.

Several patrons including the Academy of Fine Arts, the General Council of the Alpes-Maritimes and the Association of Friends of the Villa ensure the development of the villa and the gardens.

Les Cèdres botanical garden
Les Cèdres is a French botanical garden located on the peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (Alpes-Maritimes). It is a private institution located in a 14 hectare park on the edge of Villefranche bay. It maintains more than 14,000 species of tropical plants, the most fragile being kept in twenty-five heated greenhouses. Formerly owned by King Leopold II of Belgium, the garden of the villa Les Cèdres houses an important collection of plant essences.

Villa Maryland and its park
The villa “Maryland” was built in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat in 1904 at the request of the Briton Arthur Wilson, friend of Edward VII. The villa hosts the entire English colony of the Côte d’Azur for receptions.

The domain is today the property of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. A botanical park created by landscape architect Harold Peto and planted with tropical and Mediterranean essences surrounds the Florentine villa which hosted Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in 2008. The villa has a cloister-patio surmounted by a terrace supported by columns of red marble,

Villa Sylvia – Baïa Dei Fiori
Formerly the property of the American artist Ralph Curtis Wormeley built for his daughter by architect Harold Peto English early xx th century, it was bought in 1960 by the Egyptian pasha Hussein Ilhamy, husband of the mother-of King Farouk, who gave it its current name. Its pleasure garden is renowned.

Grand Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat
The Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, became “Palace” in 2011, only one of its kind in south-eastern France, is a luxury hotel built in 1908 in the heart of a remarkable garden of 7 hectares which is home to some 400 different species.

The zoo
The Zoo du Cap-Ferrat, closed down in 2011 had an impressive collection of fauna and flora. There were over 300 varieties of plants, including succulents and cacti. There were also eucalyptus trees that were over 100 years old. A variety of animals also resided in the zoo.

The lighthouse and the semaphore
Cape Ferrat has always been considered as an important point for navigation in the vicinity of the Nice coast. A fire tower thus occupied the site of the current lighthouse to signal the presence of Cape Ferrat to navigators. The Sardinians built a lighthouse there in 1827; this work was destroyed by the German army in 1944. The current lighthouse was rebuilt between 1949 and 1951 by the Ponts et Chaussées. 71 meters high, the structure (which can be visited) has a range of around 45 kilometers.

Cape Ferrat also has a semaphore. It was built in 1862 by decision of Napoleon III, who wanted to establish a chain of transmission on the coast. Today it is under the control of the French Navy. Its current missions include regulating maritime traffic, but also monitoring fire starts on the coast.

The Villa Santo Sospir
Villa Santo Sospir is a villa built in 1931 for Marital Houzez in a Mediterranean regionalist style, located on the western slope of Cap Ferrat. In the middle of the xx th century, it was bought by the rich heiress Francine Weisweiller. In 1950, inside the villa, his friend the poet and painter Jean Cocteau “tattooed” the walls, ceilings and door leaves of graphics evoking the themes of the Mediterranean with his fishermen, the sun or inspired by the Greek mythology. Two films, one medium-length film, La Villa Santo Sospir in 1951, and a feature film, Le Testament d’Orphée in 1959, pay tribute to the artist’s work.

The entire property is listed in the additional inventory of historic monuments by decree of April 17, 2007. “Santo Sospir” is a variant of St. Hospice hermit who retired on Cap Ferrat in the vi th century.

The Château Saint-Jean
Built in 1899 by architect Charles Bermond on the order of the Italian-German banker Karl Wedekind in a Venetian neo-Gothic style, the estate then passed into the hands of the Hungarian princess Vilma Lwoff-Parlaghy and was acquired by l ‘Gloria Thompson. This residence was more recently the property of Rosemarie Kanzler.

Tower of Saint-Hospice
The tower of Saint-Hospice, also known as the Genoese tower, was built next to the chapel of Saint-Hospice.
To ensure the defense of the coasts of the County of Nice after the siege of Nice in 1543 had been built a defense system which included the strengthening of the castle of Nice, the fort of Mont Alban, the citadel Saint-Elme de Villefranche-sur-Mer and the fort of Saint-Hospice, at the tip of Saint-Hospice. For lack of funding, this last fort was probably only built in 1608, probably before 1616. It was destroyed, like the castle of Nice, in 1706, on the orders of Louis XIV.

A tower replaced it around 1745 or 1750. The tower of Saint-Hospice includes a ground floor serving as a guardhouse and kitchen for the garrison, a first and second floors for its accommodation. The tower could accommodate 40 men. The tower was classified as a historic monument in 1931. A statue of the Virgin was to be placed on the tower, but opposition from the military prevented this operation. This statue is located next to the chapel.

Religious buildings:

Church of St. John the Baptist
Dating back to the xix th century, it replaces a primitive church xi th century located at a place called Ad Crottas. The presbytery dates from 1846. The organ organ built by Agati is 1829.

Chapel of Saint-Hospice
Located on the tip of the same name, built in the xvii th century on the ruins of the tower that housed St. Hospice. A bronze statue of the Virgin, 11 meters high, adjoins the chapel. There is also the Belgian military cemetery.

Chapel of Saint-François-de-Sales
Chapel of Saint-François-de-Sales, Built in 1726.

War memorial
Monument to the dead, Commemorated conflicts: 1914-1918 – 1939-1945.

Natural heritage:
Several hiking trails crisscross Cap Ferrat; one of them, the customs officers’ path, goes around the cape by the seaside. This route, using sometimes steep passages, was popular with smugglers and traffickers, but also customs officers, hence its name.
Paloma beach southeast of the port, on the north side small peninsula (St Hospice). Being on a northeast-facing shore and at the base of some tall cliffs. The location is about a 5–10 minutes walk from the port.

Passable beach is on the northwest side of the main peninsula, past the Office de Tourisme and past the zoo (parc zoologique). It’s west-facing, with a view across the Rade de Villefranche.

Cro de Peï Pin is the biggest beach, located just north of the port at the Anse Lilong (the bay between the main peninsula and the smaller Ste Hospice peninsula), facing eastward into the Baie des Fourmis and the Tete de Chene. There’s a public parking lot alongside the beach.

During the Belle Époque the Cap-Ferrat was already the vacation resort of the world elite: the great names of this world came there, during winter, to profit from its climate and the quality of life. In his song “I Went to a Marvellous Party,” Noël Coward included the lyric Living in error/With Maud at Cap Ferrat/Which couldn’t be right.

Musée Île-de-France
The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild (or Musée Île-de-France) is an Italian-style villa built between 1905 and 1912 on the request of Baronness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild. It contains a large art collection and fine furnishing. The villa grounds have an extensive set of seven gardens designed in different styles: French Traditional, Florentine, Spanish, Exotic, Lapidary, Japanese, and Provençal. The villa is located at the northern end (entrance) of the peninsula.

Les Azuriales Opera Festival
The Les Azuriales Opera Festival, founded in 1997, takes place each year in August in Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.

Local cuisine
With its coastal location, cuisine in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is based around seafood. Dishes include escalope de mérou au citron, which is sea bass steaks in lime; salmon tournedos with truffles; cod and vegetables in garlic sauce; and skate with capers. Meat dishes include estouffade de sanglier (wild boar) and fillet de beef rossini cooked with foie gras.

The territory of the municipality is occupied by 500 villas, most of them very luxurious, drowned under flowers, palm trees, Aleppo pines, olive trees. Among the famous villas, there is the villa Ephrussi-Rothschild donated to the Institut de France in 1934. The site is classified and new constructions are closely monitored. This did not prevent, since the early 2000s, the wealthy owners from carrying out multiple works with or without authorization and sometimes in disregard of the law of the coast.

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat presents the following paradox: the peninsula is an arboretum with unique species “imported” by the residents who built houses and parks. The original site was covered with wild grasses, hence its Latin etymology ferus that is to say wild, uncultivated. The village hall overlooks the port. The media library is halfway between the church and the port.

French Riviera
The French Riviera is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France. There is no official boundary, but it is usually considered to extend from Cassis, Toulon or Saint-Tropez on the west to Menton at the France–Italy border in the east, where the Italian Riviera joins. The coast is entirely within the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France. The Principality of Monaco is a semi-enclave within the region, surrounded on three sides by France and fronting the Mediterranean. Riviera is an Italian word that corresponds to the ancient Ligurian territory, wedged between the Var and Magra rivers.

The climate of the Côte d’Azur is temperate Mediterranean with mountain influences on the northern parts of the departments of Var and Alpes-Maritimes. It is characterized by dry summers and mild winters which help reduce the likelihood of freezing. The Côte d’Azur enjoys significant sunshine in mainland France for 300 days a year.

This coastline was one of the first modern resort areas. It began as a winter health resort for the British upper class at the end of the 18th century. With the arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century, it became the playground and vacation spot of British, Russian, and other aristocrats, such as Queen Victoria, Tsar Alexander II and King Edward VII, when he was Prince of Wales. In the summer, it also played home to many members of the Rothschild family. In the first half of the 20th century, it was frequented by artists and writers, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Francis Bacon, Edith Wharton, Somerset Maugham and Aldous Huxley, as well as wealthy Americans and Europeans. After World War II, it became a popular tourist destination and convention site. Many celebrities, such as Elton John and Brigitte Bardot, have homes in the region.

The eastern part (maralpine) of the Côte d’Azur has been largely transformed by the concreting of the coast linked to the tourist development of foreigners from North Europe and the French,. The Var part is better preserved from urbanization with the exception of the agglomeration of Fréjus-Saint-Raphaël affected by the demographic growth of the maralpin coast and the agglomeration of Toulon which has been marked by urban sprawl on its part West and by a spread of industrial and commercial areas (Grand Var).