Cap Ferrat: Peninsula of Billionaires
Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, or known simply as Cap Ferrat, is one of the most desirable addresses in the region with lush vegetation and magnificent views of the French Riviera from most locations on the peninsula.
Geographically located between Nice and Monaco, the cape is dotted with splendid villas hidden behind stately gates and sub-tropical gardens; a haven in the past and today to the world’s rich and famous including singers, actors, politicians and royalty such as Somerset Maugham, King Léopold II of Belgium, American film director Otto Preminger, Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Cocteau, David Niven and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
Today, the same patches of real estate still manage to keep out prying eyes and the area is aptly crowned the ‘Peninsula of Billionaires’.
Saint Jean Cap Ferrat Port and Village
The former fishing village of St Jean is a small seaside resort with a lovely aspect looking across the Baie des Fourmis to Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Eze, the Tête de Chien and Cap d’Ail. Traditional houses remain and restaurants, many specialising in seafood, are prominent. Though it is smaller compared to other towns, there is enough to see with shops, a Town Hall and various sculptures dotted around the village including some interesting sea-themed sculptures on Quai Lindbergh.
Built between 1840 and 1876 by convicts from the prison at Villefranche-sur-Mer, the Port of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat hosts 560 berths that are well sheltered from the bracing mistral winds. Car parking at the Port is payable except on Sundays and bank holidays.
The peninsula hosts many diverse events throughout the year including a Venetian Night complete with masked ball, American celebrations for Independence Day, a Jazz Festival, open air cinema screenings in summer and a pilgrimage for sailors.
La Goélette is a winner for lovers of seafood offering a portside menu brimming with plates of scallops, oysters, fish, squid, bouillabaisse, and seafood paella or risotto though meat eaters and kids menus are also catered for. Open all year, it’s a casual dining option if you fancy a view of the moorings in front of the restaurant terrace.
Port Saint Jean, 06230 St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Telephone : +33 (0) 4 93 76 14 38
La Table du Royal, situated at the Hôtel Royal-Riviera at the Beaulieu end of Cap Ferrat, is a superb restaurant with a price point to match that anchors fine dining to the peninsula under the careful skills of Chefs Bruno le Bolch and Alain Parodi. Superior service, a marvellous wine list, vegetarian and gluten-free menu choices and a great value ‘Menu Bistrot’ with excellent lunch options for fish and meat (available for lunch excluding Sundays and bank holidays).
La Table du Royal, Hôtel Royal-Riviera, 3, avenue Jean Monnet, 06230 Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Telephone : +33 (0) 4 93 76 31 00
Michelin-starred Le Cap is another restaurant to put on your dining wish list with a menu that allows a gastronomic journey of the Mediterranean paired with wine from the hotel’s 600-bottle selection. Part of the restaurant collection offered at the elegant Grand Hôtel du Cap Ferrat, its open for dinner only – ensure you book in advance and reserve a terrace table in summer with views of the sea and Aleppo pines. The restaurant has a private wine room, the Salons des Collections, that can be reserved for private dinners for up to eight guests. For another option at the Grand Hôtel, Le Véranda is lower on the price scale but also worthy of a meal reservation especially if you can secure an outside table when the weather is fine.
Le Cap & Le Véranda, Grand Hôtel du Cap Ferrat, 71 Boulevard du Général de Gaulle, 06230 Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Telephone : +33 (0) 4 93 76 50 26 / 50 27
Cros dei Pin is the largest sandy beach on the peninsula, located just beside the Port, facing east to the Baie des Fourmis. In summer, you can hire windsurfers and small sailing dinghys and there is a small playground on the beach. There’s a public car parking area adjacent to the beach which fills quickly in summer.
Paloma Beach is located 5-10 minutes’ walk south-east of the village overlooking the Anse de la Scaletta (bay) on the Sainte-Hospice peninsula. From the port, head south and up avenue Jean Mermoz past La Voile d’Or (the first hotel to be built on the peninsula); continue to the junction with avenue Claude Vignon; continue left towards Chapelle Sainte-Hospice for a few hundred metres before turning off to the beach.
The understated ambience of the Paloma Beach restaurant is exceptionally popular in summer where you can hire jet skis, wakeboards or paddle boards, dine from the comfort of your deck chair or anchor your luxury yacht in the facing bay to be collected by the restaurant’s own boat service.
Plage des Fossettes is near the Sainte-Hospice peninsula and is a shingle beach with trees for shade and is a pleasant beach to visit though car parking is sparse. Each year in July and August, there is a marked snorkelling trail of 200 metres to discover underwater life with explanatory panels submerged from buoys.
Plage les Fosses sits in a sheltered bay with swimming pontoons. The beach access is beside the remnants of an old lavoir (wash house) which is unique!
Passable Beach is a popular sand and shingle beach situated facing Villefranche on the northwest side of Cap Ferrat and is comprised of public beach (to the right) and private beach (on the left).
The public beach has concrete pontoons for swimming and a snack kiosk in summer that sells ice creams, cold drinks and the like. The private beach has a seasonal restaurant that hires sun loungers and water sports equipment.
Car parking is pay parking on chemin du Lido and chemin de Passable; beware – due to the popularity of Passable Beach the Municipal Police pass by frequently in summer to catch out motorists flaunting the pay parking regulations.
Passable Beach is famous as a filming location where it was used to film the scene of Foussard death in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 film ‘To Catch a Thief’.
Aside from the beaches detailed above, Cap Ferrat has many small coves and concrete sunbathing platforms including Crique Crau Nao and plage de la Cuisse reached via the coastal pathway, though the sea is only accessible via rocky steps and sometimes ladders therefore exercise caution at all times.
Cap Ferrat Walks
Cap Ferrat is a wonderful place to go walking with a number of well-maintained pathways following both residential roads and the coast past parasol pines, bougainvillea and olive trees. The peninsula’s walks allow views of the sea and glimpses of the spectacular real estate and peninsula hotels.
Here are some of Bespoke Yacht Charter’s favourite walks:
Pointe Sainte-Hospice is an easy 3.8 kilometre walk starting at the village that offers wonderful views across the sea to Beaulieu, Eze, La Turbie, Cap d’Ail and Cap Martin, though don’t expect to see much of the luxury villas on the route which remain scarcely visible behind their well-manicured hedges or fencing.
At the tip of the peninsula, you’ll find a historically-listed Chapel and Genoese tower, an 11-metre high bronze statue of the Virgin and Child and a Belgian cemetery. The cemetery is so named because it holds the graves of victims from World War I that died at King Léopold II of Belgium’s property after it was converted to a hospital. Read More
The popular Chemin des Douaniers / Tour du Cap Ferrat coastal pathway skirts around the cape past a number of inlets, impressive mansions, the Grand Hôtel du Cap Ferrat and the Malalongue lighthouse; it’s a wonderful walk year round for discovering the cape’s scenic beauty and landscape. Exercise caution in times of bad weather and high winds because the waves are volatile and it can be dangerous. Read More
Promenade Maurice Rouvier stretches between St Jean port and plage des Fourmis at neighbouring Beaulieu. It is a flat paved path and an easy walk with no stairs and offers wide views across the bay to Cap d’Ail and Villa Kérylos. It can be combined with a visit to the stunning Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild situated at the top of the peninsula. Read More
13 of the Best Cap Ferrat Villas and Mansions
The peninsula has always attracted nobility from the time when Duke Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy built a fortress in an effort to deter pirates.
From 1860, after the County of Nice ceded to France it gained momentum as a peaceful place of seclusion with a mild climate and therefore gained popularity among the wealthy.
There are around 600 mansions on the peninsula with the top few commanding staggering real estate sale prices close to 500 million euros!
Here’s a profile of 13 of the peninsula’s famous villas and mansions:
- Pink hued Fleur du Cap, previously known as La Scoglietto or ‘little rock’ in Italian, is surprisingly easy to see from Place David Niven on the Promenade Maurice Rouvier pathway and is best known as the former home of Charlie Chaplin then actor David Niven.
- Villa Baia dei Fiori, christened as Villa Sylvia after the daughter of the original owners Barry and Lisa Curtis, is famous for its green tiles and ornamental garden. Facing the bay of Villefranche, the Curtis family entertained U.S Marines who were anchored in the bay during World War I. The property was bought by His Excellence Ilhamy Hussein Pasha in the 1960’s, a Turkish nobleman who met his second wife when he stayed at the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo. He lived in Villa Baia dei Fiori until his death in 1992, after which time his extensive collections of rare antiques and art were auctioned.
- Villa Les Cèdres, formerly known as Villa Pollonnais, is regarded as fitting among the peninsula’s grandest properties.It was bought by King Léopold II of Belgium who originally purchased Villa Iberia near Passable Beach so he could moor his private yacht there. After he acquired Villa Pollonnais he built another villa onsite (now Villa Radiana) to house his mistress, Baroness Vaughn. The King subsequently went on to own most of the western side of Cap Ferrat, instructing Jules Vacherot who was the Head Gardener for the city of Paris including the gardens of the Eiffel Tower to rework Les Cèdres’ garden to make way for a tea room and a horse riding area so he could ride the length of the property without onlookers. In 1924, Les Cèdres was bought by Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle, the producer of the Grand Marnier liqueur. His son nurtured an interest in developing the garden and today it has over 20,000 plant species. From 1976 onwards, it has been owned by Société des Produits Marnier-Lapostolle, which grows plants used for its famous drink in greenhouses on the estate.
- La Vigie is one of the most unique mansions in the region being an oval/circular shape. It was built in 1898 on the site of a former grain mill by Lyonnais industrialist Emile Crozet-Fourneyron and has a beautiful reception room with 5-metre high windows affording magnificent views. It is frequently mistaken for other villas of the same name in Monte Carlo (Karl Lagerfeld’s ex-residence) and Juan les Pins (next to Hôtel Belles Rives).
- Villa Maryland is the spectacular villa owned by Microsoft co-founder, billionaire and philanthropist Paul Allen who anchors one of his megayachts Octopus at nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer. Unfortunately, despite having two helicopters on his yacht the local council doesn’t permit him to land on his own lawn in case it creates a flood of similar requests from other homeowners.
- Villa La Mauresque located facing avenue Somerset Maugham, was christened ‘Mauresque’ due to its Moorish architectural style and has had a colourful history being built by a personal chaplain to King Léopold II of Belgium and then purchased by novelist W. Somerset Maugham in the 1920’s. For nearly forty years until his death, he hosted every literary and celebrity figure of the day who came to the French Riviera including T.S. Eliot, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Rudyard Kipling and Winston Churchill. Maugham employed renowned American architect Barry Dierks who is well known for landmark properties in the French Riviera region including Villa Hier and Villa Aujourd’hui on the Cap d’Antibes, Château de l’Horizon in Golfe Juan and his own home, Villa Le Trident in Théoule-sur-Mer. Although most of the North African architectural elements were removed from La Mauresque, you can still see the North African symbol Maugham put on the gateposts to ward off the evil eye that became his insignia on all his books.
- Built by Countess Therese de Beauchamp in 1917, La Fiorentina remains one of the largest properties on the peninsula with two swimming pools, forest and gardens still covering a colossal 30,000 m2. Inspired by a Florentine palace, the mansion sits on the far edge of the Sainte-Hospice peninsula with commanding views across to Cap d’Ail, Monaco and Italy. The Countess sold the property to Sir Edmund Davis, a diamond magnate with mines in South Africa and he was influential in building the coastal pathway round Cap Ferrat. Various owners have renovated the property over the years, as well as stayed at a smaller residence nearby named Le Clos Fiorentina owned by Count Hubert de Givenchy. The public is still permitted to walk outside the perimeter due to the French Coastal Law so security is maintained via cameras, radars and six full-time guards year round. The current owner is Curt Engelhorn, a German pharmaceutical heir.
- A curvaceous vision of retro luxury built in 1968, Villa Nara Mondadori designed by Brazilian modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer stands out among the more classical mansions for its flowing lines and tiled pool house with amoeba-shaped swimming pool.
- Château Saint Jean, built in 1899 for an Italian-German banker is a neo-gothic Venetian villa with its own private harbour and boathouse. It was originally called Château Wedekind but was renamed Château Saint Jean when it was purchased by the Hungarian princess Wilma Lwoff-Parlaghy in 1909.
- Villa Primavera was constructed in 1880 by Ernest Cunard, founder of Cunard shipping. Today, this prestigious mansion located on the strip of land separating Fossettes and Fosses beaches is owned by Russian oligarch Gavril Yushvaev who earned his fortune from a range of investments including real estate, casinos and gold mining.
- Award winning British architect Lord Norman Foster’s La Voile is a strikingly modern architectural imprint on a landscape decorated with Belle Époque columns, porticos and entranceways. Look for the huge arches and shade sails if you follow the Chemin des Douaniers coastal walkway.
- Historically listed Villa Santo Sospir, so named in honour of a 6th century monk who lived on the peninsula, was purchased after World War II by Francine Weisweiller. She invited French playwright, poet and artist Jean Cocteau to stay and he lingered for 11 years. Over that time he decorated the Villa’s walls, ceilings and entrance patio with mosaics, frescoes of Greek mythology and Mediterranean images. Guided tours (€12 per person) can be arranged by reservation. Cocteau also decorated the Chapelle Saint Pierre in nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer and the Salle des Mariages in Menton, which is also the location of Musée Jean Cocteau, a beachside museum containing over 1000 of his works.
- Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild occupies a prime site that allows wide panoramic views to the east and west of Cap Ferrat and it is a splendid Belle Époque homage to Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, the daughter of the Governor of the Banque de France. Visitors will be charmed by her opulent mansion of Venetian, Florentine and Spanish influence displaying antique furniture, porcelain, and an immense art collection. The villa is surrounded by beautiful themed gardens designed in traditional style: Spanish, Exotic, Florentine, French Traditional, Japanese, Lapidary, and Provencal.
The Musée des Coquillages (Seashell Museum) located at the Vieux Port is unique in Europe with collections of over 6000 seashells including exotic shells, coral specimens and many world record shells. Open 7 days including weekends and bank holidays, entrance is a bargain (€2 adults; €1 children) to see the interesting displays.
‘Pecheur à l’épervier’ (fisherman with a net) is a statue at place Clemenceau donated to St Jean village in 1890 by the sculpturess Claude Vignon.
Jardin de la Paix (Peace garden) at the start of the walk to Pointe Sainte-Hospice is so named after two fountains were set there by the Coexist foundation who aim to promote exchanges between religions. The gardens host concerts during summer.
Sources : Villa information kindly supplied courtesy of the St Jean Cap Ferrat Office de Tourisme. Images of Villa Santo Sospir reproduced from the Villa’s website and public domain. All other images: French Ministry of Culture, public domain.
This article was written by Rebecca Whitlocke, who with over 10 years travel industry experience loves to share ‘must-do’ destination tips and hidden spots to discover in France and beyond.
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