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!
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!