Friday, 17 July 2009

Musical fountains & sailor-suited gardeners!

I've been planning this trip for a few weeks now as I'm due at a wedding in Nice tomorrow! But I couldn't possibly visit this part of France without dropping in on a few of the magnificent gardens that I'll be sharing with you in the next couple of days. The climate here in the south of France means that there are plants and vistas that you wouldn't find back home and combine that with the opulence of the area and you've got some pretty exotic gardens.

My first stop today was the world-famous Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild at Cap Ferrat, just outside Nice. My initial response was "Wow"! The villa was built for the Baroness Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild in 1912 and she had an entire hill removed so that the gardens could be laid out on flat ground; she named the villa after an ocean liner and insisted that all 35 gardeners who worked there wore sailor costumes; and then she divorced the Baron and moved to Monaco, leaving her extraordinary villa and garden behind!

In fact, this is probably one of the most unusual gardens I have seen anywhere in the world. It is
composed of nine different garden areas, which include French, Japanese, Exotic and Rose Gardens; and combined with its unique position overlooking the Mediterranean and with fine views of Villefranche and Beaulieu, this will surely feature as one of my top garden choices when I get around to writing the definitive book of gardens to visit worldwide, along with Majorelle in Morocco (see entry for 14 June) and Iford Manor, which I wrote about last week.

I had only heard the story about the gardeners being dressed as sailors before I left to see the garden today, so it was quite apt that there should be a huge cruise liner lying in the bay at Villefranche that was clearly visible from the Villa Gardens (above right).

Although the Baroness was responsible for the design of the villa and the areas of garden closest to the house, the credit for most of the planting and landscaping seen there today should go to Louis Marchand, who took over the garden when the villa was bequeathed to the nation in 1934. He was responsible for the Exotic Garden, with its huge bamboos and cacti and also the Japanese Garden.
The Rose Garden (left) is another striking feature of the landscape here - a huge area of pink roses planted in memory of Beatrice Ephrussi, because this was her favourite colour. I am told that this makes a staggering display when all the roses are in bloom!

But perhaps the most impressive sight of all here in the garden is the "musical" fountains in front of the pink villa (below). I say musical because they start up every 10 minutes, and for a short time, the wedding-cake villa is the backdrop for a theatrical fountain display that halts most visitors in their tracks! If you get to this part of the world, don't miss this villa, with its incredible gardens - it's open year round and it's certainly worth making a detour for!



19 comments:

  1. Tiggerlot~~

    Such grandeur. Talk about impressing your friends! I can't begin to comprehend being wealthy enough to have a mountainside removed for my garden, thirty-five sailor suited gardeners [bordering on eccentricity here?] and then to up and leave it all? I guess it proves that grandeur doesn't buy happiness. The villa is magnificent--I'm a huge fan of pink too. Thank you again for a fantastic tour. I look forward to your next destination.

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  2. What beauty and grandeur! I could bask in that garden for days and still not get sick of it. What a treat and blessing to be able to visit such lovely gardens around the world. BTW, I put you in my blogroll on my site!

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  3. Wow the musical fountains must have been amazing in that setting in person. Maybe some day I'll be so lucky to visit a place like that. -Jackie

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  4. Oh my word...that pink villa! Wow. The gardens are perfectly quaint...and quaintly perfect! What a glorious spot to explore. Thanks for the informative and interesting tour. :)

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  5. I'm going green Charlotte! :-) I used to live in Cannes as a teenager. I loved it out there. Are you going to Grasse? Is there still a perfume factory there? Lovely post on this garden and isn't the house superb! Val

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  6. It looks wonderful. I suppose potty, rich, aristocrats can have their uses!

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  7. Amazingly beautiful! Thanks for giving some of us a glimpse of what we most likely will never see in person!

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  8. I just love visiting these gardens with you. The villa is so gorgeous.I would love to cross the pond on the stepping stones and wander around the gardens. Just beautiful.

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  9. Another wonderful garden review, enjoy the weeding...oops fredian slip there!! Wedding!! : )

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  10. Is that ever beautiful! I hope I do find myself in that part of the world, and soon. I'd love to see some of these gardens in person.

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  11. That first photo in pink is to die for! You picked the best spot to share with us this amazing place! I'd love to visit here...one of these days!!
    Lynn

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  12. Les Azuriales Opera Festival (www.azurialopera.com), an Anglo-French venure, takes place in the Villa covered courtyard each year in the last 2 weeks of August. Last Year one of the productions was Handel's Partenope in which Partenope, the Queen of Naples, was portrayed as Baroness Ephrussi, and the stage hands as the ssilor suited gardeners! This year one of our productions is a staged performance of Berlioz's Les Nuits d'Eté in the gardedns and the audience will promenade with the performers - the firt time in 13 years that we have performed outside - otherwise the audinece has wandered in the gardens with a glass of champagne or dind in the moon light after the performance. Mark Holford

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  13. What a fascinating garden and story.

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  14. Enjoying your young blog very much. What's this about a book on global gardens? I love it. I just spent years researching intenational garden design as part of a garden / environmental memoir, so I know that something like what you are perhaps doing is most needed (if it's clear, precise, helpful visiting tips, etc).

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  15. Charlotte, that is stunning! Would love to see the musical fountain. And the sailor suit clad gardeners! :-)

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  16. It is such a delight to visit your blog and gallop about with you to such extraordinary gardens. The first photo is grand.
    Donna

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  17. You may have a soulmate in Kathryn of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy because of her Scarf Iniative for Pakistani girls.

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  18. If only I could be a fly (a butterfly that is) on your shoulder :-)
    BEAUTIFUL!!!!!

    Michelle

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  19. Thank you so much for sharing this with us! These gardens are SO inspiring, aren't they? The work that must go into them to sustain them and keep them looking so wonderful must be significant. The buildings are stunning too, and the stories behind it all are very interesting!
    Plant Lady

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