It’s all very well to have money in the bank or, if you’re a Rothschild, to own the bank. But unless you have vision and taste to match your cash, you may blow it all buying something silly, like a string of racehorses or another bank.
Baroness Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild (1864-1934) not only had deep pockets and plenty to fill them, but also a passion for travel and an eye for beauty in nature, art and architecture.
We’ve just visited her little pad on Cap Ferrat on the French Riviera.
Widowed early and having no children, she left her fabulous villa to the Academie des Beaux Arts, who in turn opened it up to the public. We were most impressed.
If the Cote D’Azur has long been the playground of the well-to-do, the ‘almost an island’ Cap Ferrat was the hideaway of those who were so famous they needed to escape the paparazzi and hoi polloi. Queen Victoria visited. Charlie Chaplin, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Edith Piaf and Jean Cocteau were regulars. Tony Curtis married Romy Schneider here.
Leopold II, King of the Belgians, owned a good slab of the peninsula and was planning to buy more, until Beatrice beat him to it and in 1905 snapped up a few acres to build her dream home, with uninterrupted views across the bays on both sides.
Her particular taste was for the finer things of the 18th century. She would have made a great shopping buddy for Marie Antoinette. In 1907 she started building herself a house that would also serve as a museum for her eclectic collection of objets d’art.
Most of it is a bit flowery for us; we prefer the simple elegance and reasonable prices of Ikea. The craftmanship is marvellous, however.
Our visit coincided with a rather peculiar wedding ceremony in the garden. The harp and violin did a few practice runs of a Vivaldi passage while an assistant rolled out some white lino. A table was strewn with pink flowers. The rings and celebrant were ready. A photographer lined up countless shots as a radiant bride and groom posed in various glorious locations, accompanied by a bridesmaid in traditional Japanese dress.
The peculiar bit? No guests. This was purely a photo opportunity, it seemed.
The gardens are the highlight. There are nine distinct ‘rooms’, each with its own style. While the classical formal French garden was our favourite, we were also pleased to see an Australian garden too, with grevilleas, Geraldton Wax, callistemons and even a rare Wollemi pine taking root.
Eccentric Beatrice may have been, but she also ensured that we common folk could enjoy her collection by bequeathing it all to the Academie who in turn made it part of the Culturespaces collection. They’ve done an excellent job of keeping it presentable for guests.
Thanks very much to my correspondent and fellow blogger Teresa Maria for visiting this blog and suggesting that the gardens of Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild were worth a look. They certainly were!
To read more about the story of the Ephrussi family, try The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Combined entry to the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and the nearby Villa Grecque Kerylos (more about that in another post) costs EUR19. Bus 81 from Nice passes it approximately every thirty minutes.