Saint Jean Cap Ferrat

The little fishing village of St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat is located on a pair of peninsulas in the Mediterranean between Villefranche and Beaulieu, 8km away from Nice. This beautiful location has the sparkling blue water of the Mediterranean that surrounds it, quiet and isolated beaches, and some staggeringly lucrative real estate. To call the area “up-market residential” is like calling New York a place with “fairly high buildings”. It is not uncommon for the private villas, with exquisite and well maintained gardens and often their own private beaches, to fetch in excess of €100m. Part-time residents include Roman Abramovich and Bill Gates.

The village is not large; it is, in fact, quite small. The tranquillity and warmth of the place and the people, as well as their respect for the privacy of their guests, make it a favourite vacation spot for the wealthy and aristocratic of Europe, America, and even Asia. Despite this, it is still very accessible to everybody with around 15 hotels and plenty of rental accommodation available.

The best way to appreciate the village of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is to tour it on foot. Only while walking can one see the subtle beauty of the port, villas, gardens, zoo, and architecture that make this small village of the French Riviera unique, beauty that is missed if watching it from the windows of a car.

There is one museum on the peninsula. It is located at the northern end, or entrance, to the peninsula. It is the Ephrussi de Rothschild, also known as the Villa Ile de France. The building and the furnishings, including a fine collection of furniture, lamps and carpets, could be a museum all by themselves, but they are joined by a 5,000 piece art collection. As if this were not enough, the grounds hold seven different gardens each in a different style. The garden styles include: French Traditional, Florentine, Spanish, Exotic, Lapidary, Japanese, and Provencal. The Baronness found these gardening styles on her travels through the world, and recreated them for her enjoyment at her home, preserving them with her estate so that we could enjoy them also. Plant lovers will find themselves wandering the well-maintained garden paths in a state of bliss for hours, surrounded by the beautiful blue sea and the lush green plant life. The museum is open every day, year round, though the hours are slightly better during the tourist season.

Animal lovers will not want to miss the Jean Cap Ferrat zoological park on the north-western part of the peninsula, between the office of tourism and the Passable Beach. The zoo is home to 300 animals that live in near freedom in the Mediterranean and tropical vegetation. Some of the animals include crocodiles, lemurs, big cats including tigers, monkeys, macaws, exotic birds, and even a petting zoo with little goats. The newest addition to the zoo is the bear habitat, which allows the great beasts to frolic in a setting very like their natural home. There is also a snack bar and an outdoor playground for the comfort of the guests. The zoological park is open to visitors every day.

Other things that may be of interest to the visitor of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat include:

  • The port, which is opposite of the wharf, attracts many guests nearly every day. This port was once just a humble fishing port but it has now morphed into an upscale harbour for yachts and pleasure craft. The marine minded or lovers of luxury will be interested in the expansive yachts that rest there, while others will be more drawn by the cosy little cafés that invitingly line this street.
  • Chapelle St Hospice is another point of interest for tourists, especially those with a sense of recent history. The chapel itself is a product of the early nineteenth century. It is also interesting for the military cemetery, which is attached to it, the final resting place of Great War heroes and local soldiers who died between 1914 and 1918. This site also includes an impressive bronze statue of the Madonna and child.
  • The Cap Ferrat lighthouse is a place of both interest and natural beauty. The shores around it are rocky, contrasting with the beautiful, sparkling blue of the Mediterranean Sea. The lighthouse has saved many passing ships which would otherwise have ended up on the rocks themselves.
  • Summer in the village of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is a time of various local cultural festivals.

Of course, one of the main things that draws tourists to the village of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat are the three lovely beaches, all of which promise fun and sun, as well as sand, swimming, snorkeling. Following is a short summary of each beach:

  • Paloma Beach is only about a 10-minute walk south of the port. It is a north-east facing beach at the base of several tall cliffs. These cliffs provide a wind block and some protection from the hot afternoon glare of the sun.
  • Passable beach is just a little ways beyond the zoo on the north-west side of the peninsula. It faces west across the Rade de Villefranche. It is a good place to tan, build a sandcastle, or play in the water.
  • Cro de Peï Pin Beach is just north of the Anse Lilong port. It is the biggest beach and the only one with a large public parking lot. It faces east into the Baie des Fourmis and the Tete de Chene. Families may come here to enjoy the surf and the sand, play in the water, or tan on the beach.

Tourists can enjoy various water sports in season. These may include skiing, swimming, boating, fishing, snorkelling, and scuba diving. There is one diving club in the area called WaterWorld, and divers will see a wide array of marine life.

Besides these water sports, St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat offers 14 kilometers, or nearly 9 miles, of coastal walkway to hike. In fact, next to the beaches, hiking is the most touted activity on the peninsula of St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat. There are three hiking trails: the tour of Cap Ferrat, the pine-forest, and the Maurice Rouvier walk. The paths are clear, often almost sidewalk though sometimes dirt or even rocks, and have large map signs at important points along the hike. It is not marked in the less interesting parts of the trail. The path rises up and falls down often enough to give a reasonably in shape person a moderate workout. The views will vary depending on the weather and the time of day, even the direction of the wind, but overall, the scenery is beautiful takes in many of the points of interest of St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat including Paloma Beach and St. Hospice Chapel. In fact, one can take in the whole island on foot, which enables one to be closer to the beautiful plant life.

Restless tourist will appreciate St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat’s proximity to many of the other cultural wonders of France. Villefranche is just over a mile away, and beyond that is Nice. Just over a mile in the other direction is Beaulieu, and continuing that road will take you past Eze and into Monaco. Just one warning: there is no train service and the bus drops you off on the outskirt of the peninsula about 15 minutes walk from the village.

If you want to stay in or explore one of the most exclusive areas on the face of the planet, and Monaco is a little urban, then your trip to Cap Ferrat is almost inevitable.