The villa is surrounded by nine gardens, each on a different theme: French, Spanish, Japanese, Florentine, Provençal, exotic, a stone garden, a rose garden, and a garden de Sèvres. They were created between 1905 and 1912 under the direction of landscape architect Achille Duchêne. The entrance to the gardens offers a view of the harbor of Villefranche-sur-Mer. In addition to the “French”, lapidary, Japanese and rose garden gardens, there are also the Spanish, Italian, exotic, Provençal gardens, reminiscences of the Baroness’ travels.
The garden was conceived in the form of a ship, to be viewed from the loggia of the house, which was like the bridge of a vessel, with the sea visible on all sides. It was inspired by a voyage she made on the liner Île de France, and the villa was given that name. The thirty gardeners who maintained the garden were dressed as sailors, with berets with red pom-poms.
The garden à la française is the largest and occupies the area behind the villa. Next to the villa there is a terrace with a formal French garden and topiaries. Beyond the terrace is a park with palm trees and a long basin, ornamented with fountains, statues, and basins with water lilies and other aquatic plants. On the far end of the park is a hill covered with cypress trees, surrounding a replica garden of the Temple of Love at the Petit Trianon palace in Versailles. The slope below the temple has a cascade of water in the form of a stairway, which feeds into the large basin.
A stairway from the French garden descends to the circle of gardens on the lower level. The Spanish garden features a shaded courtyard and fountain, with aromatic plants, Catalan amphorae, and a Gallo-Roman bench. The Florentine garden, facing the rade of Villefranche-sur-Mer, has a grand stairway, an artificial grotto, and an ephebe of marble. Beyond the Florentine garden is the lapidary, or stone garden, with an assortment of gargoyles, columns, and other architectural elements from ancient and medieval buildings. The Japanese garden has a wooden pavilion, a bridge, and lanterns. The exotic garden features giant cactus and other rare plants. A rose garden with a statue surrounded by columns adjoins it, where pink, the favorite color of the owner, is the predominant color. On the east side of the villa is a garden of native plants of Provence and a garden with decorations of Sèvres porcelain.
The French Garden
The “French” garden, visible from the lounges, occupies the central part of the gardens. It is composed of a central pond and is surrounded by lateral basins and symmetrically arranged plantations. The pools are decorated with water hyacinths. It is dominated by a temple of love and a stepped waterfall.
Béatrice designed this main garden in the shape of ship’s deck, decorated with waterfalls and ponds, with the Temple of Love at the bow. And, as she could see the sea on either side, she could imagine being on board the steamship “Ile de France”, which is the name she gave to the Villa in memory of an unforgettable voyage. From the loggia, Admiral Béatrice could survey her team of thirty gardeners, all wearing berets with a red pompom!
Trees such as hundred-year-old olive trees, cypress hedges and Aleppo pines have been given pride of place in the garden. During the night, cleverly arranged lamps lit up their foliage and also the large pond. This meant that Béatrice could also admire the spectacle from a distance as she returned from her baccarat parties or from the casino at Monte Carlo.
This garden comprises a high flowerbed in front of the Villa, lawns decorated with flame-topped urns and large Italian Renaissance urns called “cardinal vases”, a large oval flowerbed with a channel and ornamental ponds, and an exotic touch provided by palm trees and the scent of agaves.
To add to the fairytale feel, musical fountains spring from the large pond like a grand aquatic ballet.
The Villa’s gardens have been cultivated according to the principles of organic cultivation in recent years. All the chemical treatments have been replaced by:
ozone treatment of the basins
the use of ladybirds to eliminate aphids on roses,
rapeseed oil treatments for the orange trees,
biostimulants for the boxwood,
and a treatment for roses using a lemon- and savory-based product.
The Spanish garden is made up of a cool cave, a pergola and a canal filled with aquatic plants, philodendrons, papyrus and bordered with strelitzia, pomegranate trees and daturas.
The Spanish garden takes the form of a covered patio, crossed by a narrow channel filled with plants and surrounded on the three other sides by fine Corinthian arcades. The ochre walls and the arches create an oriental ambience. In the summer, datura, arum lilies and honeysuckle give forth their heady perfumes. The Mediterranean pomegranate trees give way to strelitzia reginae, otherwise known as bird of paradise, with their strange spiked blue and orange petals that resemble the heads of tropical birds. Around the ponds grows papyrus from Egypt and the huge perforated leaves of Monstera deliciosa, commonly called the “Swiss-cheese plant”.
The Florentine garden with its horseshoe staircase concealing a wet cave decorated with a marble ephebe. The staircase is extended by a cypress alley which overlooks the harbor of Villefranche-sur-Mer. This alley is bordered by abelias, Streptosolen, lantanas, senecios, raphiolepis. A magnificent jacaranda flowers in the heart of summer.
The Florentine garden is the only remnant of the huge Italian garden that Béatrice had planted. A large horseshoe staircase contains a neoclassical marble angel in its niche. Philodendrons and water hyacinths grow in this garden.
The stone garden showcases, in the shade of a camphor tree and a cinnamon from California, reliefs and gargoyles from civil or religious buildings. Azaleas, japonica camellias, rhododendrons, fuchsias, anabelle hydrangeas and solandra flower from February to April.
A shady enclosure in the shape of a quadrilateral, the stone garden features bas-reliefs and gargoyles originally from civil or religious buildings, shaded by a camphor laurel and a California bay tree. It is an unusual sight that unfolds before your eyes here, an exquisite combination of works of art from diverse origins and eras. It is a disparate collection of works of art that did not find a place inside the Villa: arches, fountains, canopies, bas-reliefs from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, monstrous gargoyles, stone grotesques, carnivalesque gnomes from Provence. A rampant dwarf fig tree winds around the columns and there is an ambience of the undergrowth here. The best time to visit this garden is from February to April to see the azaleas, Japanese camellias, rhododendrons, fuchsias and the unusual solandras.
The Japanese garden, restored in spring 2003, includes its dry garden bordered by green and black ophiopogons, azaleas, cycas revoluta and gardenias. Around the waterfall flowing into a basin populated with koi carps is surrounded by different varieties of acer palmatum.
The Japanese garden is known as “Cho-Seki-Tei”, which means “garden where one can calmly listen to the pleasant sound of the waves at twilight”. In this “zen world”, water is everywhere. The garden also features soothing motifs traced in the white sand. Designed and created by Professor Shigeo Fukuhara, this garden features the traditional wooden pavilion, bridge, lanterns and basins which echo over a thousand years of Japanese tradition. A pond with a pebble shore contains beautiful koi carp, which are highly revered in the land of the rising sun. The garden was fully restored in spring 2016, thanks to the intervention of a sponsor, Nippon TV.
The exotic garden, completely restored in 1987, is cut meandering paths winding through succulents and cacti (phormium, candles, aloes, agaves, ferox, echinocactus grusonii 4, dasylirions, euphorbia.
Formerly called the Mexican garden, the exotic garden was nearly destroyed during the heavy frosts of 1985. It is the kingdom of succulents and gigantic cacti. The various species of agave, with smooth or prickly leaves, have achieved an impressive size over the years, and so too have the barbary figs that collapse under the weight of their flowers in the spring and the echinocatus with their spiny barrels known as “mother-in-law’s cushions”. The clusters of orange flowers on the aloes accentuate the flamboyant character of this garden, a sharp contrast to the subdued atmosphere of the neighbouring rose garden. Its steep and winding paths truly transport you to a different world.
The rose garden, located at the end of the garden, grows at the foot of a small hexagonal temple with its roses Baronne E. de Rothschild, Princess of Monaco, Dynasty of Mepitac and its climbing roses Pierre de Ronsard.
Adorning the tip of the rocky outcrop, the rose garden is an enchantment for the senses. Numerous varieties fill the air with their fragrance at this far end of the garden, a special corner with a niche in openwork marble and a small hexagonal temple containing a graceful deity at its centre. There are a hundred varieties of rose growing here, one of which bears the name of the Baroness. The best time of year to visit this part of the garden is May to July, when the flowers are in full bloom and at their most fragrant.
The Provencal garden located on the slope opposite the rose garden, offers a picturesque view with its olive trees and pines bent by the wind. It spreads a pleasant smell with its lavender, agapanthus and bouquets of polygalas. Several small paths join the Temple of Love surrounded by aromatic plants and, from there, the French garden.
The various paths of the Provençal garden are bordered with olive and pine trees bent by the wind, lavender and agapanthus.
The zoo, now gone, housed an aviary where birds including parakeets stayed. Each of the residences frequented by Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild has its aviary.
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, also called villa Île-de-France, is a French seaside villa located at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera.
The villa was designed by the French architect Aaron Messiah, and constructed between 1905 and 1912 by Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild (1864–1934). A member of the Rothschild banking family and the wife of the banker Baron Maurice de Ephrussi, Béatrice de Rothschild built her rose-colored villa on a promontory on the isthmus of Cap Ferrat overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, a sumptuous residence surrounded by nine idyllic gardens in Saint-Jean-Cap Ferrat on the Côte d’Azur, was constructed during the Belle Epoque by Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, an extraordinary woman, whose everyday life and taste for art are forever embodied in the villa.
The Baroness filled the mansion with antique furniture, Old Master paintings, sculptures, objets d’art, and assembled an extensive collection of rare porcelain. The gardens are classified by the French Ministry of Culture as one of the Notable Gardens of France.
The Villa is a collector’s residence, where porcelain manufactured by the royal Manufactory of Sèvres stands beside Gobelins tapestries, paintings by the masters and rare items of furniture. The nine gardens are decorated with columns, waterfalls, ornamental ponds, flowerbeds and rare species of trees.
On her death in 1934, the Baroness donated the property and its collections to the Académie des Beaux Arts division of the Institut de France and it is now open to the public. The role of the Académie des Beaux-Arts is to defend and highlight France’s artistic heritage and promote its growth in all its forms of expression.