Saint Jean Cap Ferrat Historic Estates
The historic estates of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat are an uncommon source of wonder. For a glimpse into the history of decadence and luxury, very few places in the world can match the Cap Ferrat Estates. A few of these villas are open to the public, though we recommend you contact the estates individually before arrival, to avoid disappointment.
This private property on Pointe Saint-Hospice was built in 1919 by Thérèse Vitali, Countess of Beauchamps. Architect Aaron Messiah and landscaper Harold Peto were instructed to evoke the spirit of Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola's "Palazzina della Vigna" – a task to which they rose admirably.
With interior and gardens designed by Fernando Bac, he and Peto drew additional inspiration from the gardens of Villa Cypris. This influence can be seen in the cypress alley with its seabound marble steps, the Moorish garden and the cloisters. Named in honour of her father, Count Vitali, and his palace in Cannes, the villa has accommodated Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor, and Frank Sinatra – during the 1950s and ‘60s Fiorentina was the venue for high society gatherings. Currently owned by the Count of Kenmare, other owners have included Enid Lindeman, and the Viscount Furness.
Villa Les Cèdres
This remarkable residence was constructed in 1830, and houses the largest private botanical garden in the world.
Villa Les Cèdres was sold by the estate of David-Désiré Pollonnais (mayor of Villefranche-sur-Mer) to King Leopold II of Belgium in 1904. Leopold didn’t reside at Les Cèdres, preferring instead to accommodate his good friend Caroline Delacroix in the villa, who later became his wife.
After Leopold’s death, Les Cèdres was purchased in 1924 by Alexandre Marnier-Lapostolle, the originator of Grand-Marnier liqueur, and owner of the Château de Sancerre vineyard. Alexandre began the process of creating the arboretum for which the villa is now renowned.
Villa Les Cèdres now has 25 heated greenhouses, containing 20,000 varieties of plant species, including 14,000 tropical plants. Until recently, the villa was owned by the Société des Produits Marnier-Lapostolle, a subsidiary of the Campari group, who also used the arboretum to cultivate the special plants used to create the blend of flavours in Grand-Marnier.
Villa Santo Sospir
Santo Sospir, translated from the old Niçard dialect rooted in this region, means ‘sacred sigh’. One of several names for the Cap Ferrat peninsula, the ‘sigh’ was a reference to the relief felt by fisherman in times gone by when they saw the lighthouse at Pointe Saint-Hospice.
Built in 1930, the history of the villa is inextricably entwined with the story of the Weisweillers, a wealthy Jewish family with connections to the Rothschilds.
As Alec and Francine Weisweiller, pursued by Nazis, hid amongst the fallen leaves, Alec promised Francine that he would buy her the house of her dreams should they survive. 5 years later, when sailing round Cap Ferrat, Francine spied Villa Santo Sospir, and the couple’s dream was realised.
Francine was bohemian in her outlook, and Christian Dior and Coco Chanel were numbered among her friends. In 1949 she met Jean Cocteau, an encounter that would prove to be hugely consequential both for Francine and for the Villa Santo Sospir.
Cocteau and his adopted son became regular houseguests. One day, out of idleness, Cocteau began to draw the head of Apollo above the fireplace. Gripped by an artistic frenzy, and encouraged by Francine, he proceeded to redecorate the entire villa with drawings and paintings that he called ‘tattoos’.
These ‘tattoos’ are still in evidence today, perfectly preserved, and the villa opens seasonally for public viewing.
La Fleur du Cap
Built by Alfred Bounin, an olive oil merchant, in 1880, the villa was originally known as Villa Lo Scoglietto, then Isoletta, before it was renamed for the last time. ‘La Fleur’ was most famously used as the setting for the 1983 film, ‘Curse of The Pink Panther’, when the villa belonged to David Niven.
Other owners have included Charlie Chaplin, King Leopold III of Belgium, and the Duchess of Marlborough, nee Vanderbilt.
This splendid Venetian neo-Gothic residence covers over a hectare of landscaped gardens, and has a private harbour and boat shed. Created in 1899 for the Italian-German banker, Carlo Wedekind (and originally named Château Wedekind), the property was purchased and renamed by the Hungarian princess, Vilma Lwoff-Parlaghy.
Among the many extravagant features still retained today is a swimming pool bathtub, 3 metres wide and 1.6 metres deep.
Villa "La Vigie"
Villa La Vigie was built in 1898 on a site that had previously contained grain mills by Emile Crozet-Fourneyron, industrialist and secretary general of the Loire during the war of 1870.
With its distinctive oval-based design, one of the villa’s most original and striking features was a rotating roof terrace mounted on a rail, that rotated in line with the sun, one metre every hour. Unfortunately, this innovative design was destroyed by the Nazis during the Second World War, who used the villa as an observation point.
The house was owned until the late 90s by Karl Lagerfeld, who described it as ‘the safest place in the world’.