The seaside resort of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat lies in a beautiful peninsula on the French Riviera between Nice and Monaco. With a plethora of opulent villas built in an outstanding site, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is primarily a fashionable destination amongst celebrities and millionaires.
Situation of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
Today part of Nice’s suburbs, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is a commune situated in the département of Alpes Maritimes between Villefranche-sur-Mer and Beaulieu-sur-Mer. The limits of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat include the whole peninsula of Cap Ferrat.
There are approximately 2,000 inhabitants in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat called “Saint -Jeannois” and “Saint-Jeannoises”. Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is known for its luxurious villas (more than 500) hidden by a luxuriant Mediterranean vegetation…
Since the 1950s Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat has welcomed celebrities and politicians from around the world: Edith Piaf, Charlie Chaplin, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Jean Paul Belmondo, Roger Moore, Tony Curtis and Romy Schneider (who was married there in 1966), General de Gaulle, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Raymond Barre, Winston Churchill, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin…
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat: a bit of History
In Ancient Times, the peninsula was known to Greeks as Anao.
In the 6th century the peninsula host its first celebrity: St. Hospitius, a hermit from Egypt who lived in a dilapidated tower on the site of today’s Chapel St. Hospice. According to tradition, St. Hospitius was taken prisoner during one of the Lombards’ raids in the region. Working a miracle in their favour he contributed to their conversion to Christianity.
In the 9th and 10th centuries, the biggest threat came from the south with the Saracens occupying the peninsula until their defeat in the 11th century.
Then, the peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat shared the same history as the neighbouring town of Villefranche-sur-Mer as it was part of the same commune. The hamlet of Saint-Jean consisted of small fishermen houses clustered around the church and the harbour.
Between 1793 and the end of the Napoleonic Empire in 1814, Saint-Jean and the County of Nice were occupied by the French. By the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the County was retroceded to the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.
In 1860, the County of Nice was given to France following a referendum.
The first villas began to appear from 1880 along the Promenade Maurice Rouvier between Saint-Jean-Village and Beaulieu.
In 1904, Saint-Jean separated from Villefranche-sur-Mer and became a commune known as Saint-Jean-sur-Mer, later renamed Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
During the Belle Époque, Saint-Jean attracted celebrities and upper-class visitors during their winter vacations who built grand and extravagant villas.
The village centre of Saint-Jean is rather small but has many cafés, restaurants and shops along the quays.
This is where the small fishing village of Saint-Jean started to grow. Between 1840 and 1876, convicts imprisoned in the Villefranche prison worked on its extension and in 1972 a new marina was inaugurated to accommodate 560 boats including 400 at private moorings.
Built in the 19th century, the church replaced a former sanctuary from the 11th century.
On the 24 June of each year takes place a procession during which the statue of Saint John the Baptist is brought by the locals to the pier of the old port.
Saint Hospice Chapel
The Chapel was built in the 17th century on the ruins of a tower which housed the hermit St Hospitius. Next to the chapel stands an 11 metre high bronze statue of the Virgin.
A lighthouse was built in 1732 to replace a former firetower from the 16th century. Destroyed in 1944, it was rebuilt after WW2.
The Semaphore (Coastguard Station) was built in 1862 by order of Napoleon III. Managed by the Marine Nationale (French navy), it controls the movement of shipping in the area and also keeps a watch out for fires starting along the coast.
The tip of the peninsula is occupied by the Grand Hôtel du Cap, a luxurious palace surrounded by a beautiful garden. The hotel was built in 1908 to accommodate a wealthy cosmopolitan clientele. In 2011, it receives the prestigious label ‘palace’ (5 stars).
Overlooking the Mediterranean coastline, the Villa Ephrussi-de-Rothschild is certainly one of the jewels of the French Riviera.
During the Belle Époque, Baroness Ephrussi de Rothschild (1864-1934) bought a 7 hectare hillside overlooking the sea on the narrow isthmus of the peninsula. From 1905 to 1912, she had a villa built there inspired by the Italian Renaissance style with a Spanish influence. Also called Villa Île-de-France, the residence was designed by French architect Aaron Messiah. The new residence was intended to exhibit her impressive collection of more than 5,000 works of art ranging from the 14th to 19th centuries: 18th century furniture, lamps, oil paintings, tapestries, china from Vincennes and the Royal Manufacturers of Sèvres…
The villa is surrounded by nine beautiful themed gardens (Spanish, French, Provençal, Florentine, Japanese, Exotic, Lapidary…) inspired by the travels of Baroness. These elaborate gardens, designed by landscape architect Achille Duchêne, have been listed by the French Ministry of Culture as “Jardin Remarquable”.
View of the villa from the formal garden and its ponds:
View of the gardens from the villa:
The stone garden:
The Spanish garden:
On the death of the Baroness in 1934, the entire estate and its collections were donated to the Academy of Fine Arts of the Institute of France.
Each year, more than 130,000 people visit the domain, making it one of the most popular attractions between Nice and Menton.
Sentier des douaniers
The peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is best enjoyed by walking along one of the three signposted tracks. In addition to the Saint-Hospice walk and the Maurice Rouvier walk between Saint-Jean and Beaulieu, the Peninsula Tour walk is a must-to-see when visiting the region.
Running around the peninsula, the path is known as “sentier des douaniers” and is 7 kms long. It takes approximately 1.30 hrs to complete. The path follows the coast passing in front of and below magnificent villas or through secluded coves with glimmering views of the French Riviera coastline from Italy to the Esterel mountains.
How to get there
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is easily accessible from Nice via the Corniche Inférieure (Lower Corniche or D6098) which follows the coastline around Mont Boron and crosses Villefranche, or via the D6007-D133 roads which give a more direct access.
The railway station of Beaulieu-sur-Mer is situated on the Nice-Ventimiglia TER line with frequent service.
From the station of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, the bus #81 reaches the peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
Nice, France’s third airport after Paris CDG and Orly, is situated only 18 kms from Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
(f) for féminin, (m) for masculin, (adj) for adjective and (v) for verbs
- Alps = Alpes (f,p)
- bay = baie (f)
- beach = plage (f)
- cape = cap (m)
- citadel = citadelle (f)
- county = comté (m)
- duchy = duché (m)
- Greek = Grec (m) / Grecque (f)
- French Riviera = Côte d’Azur (f)
- harbour = port (m)
- hermit = ermite (m)
- hill = colline (f)
- House of Savoy = Maison de Savoie (f)
- invasion = invasion (f)
- lighthouse = phare (m)
- marina = port de plaisance (m)
- Maritime Alps = Alpes Maritimes (f,p)
- Mediterranean Sea = Mer Méditerranée (f)
- mountain = montagne (f)
- peninsula = péninsule (f)
- port = port (m)
- Roman = Romain (m) / Romaine (f)
- villa = villa (f)