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The Cape of Good Times in Cap Ferrat

It was King Leopold II of Belgium who, in the early 1900s, first cottoned on that it would be a shrewd idea to buy up land on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (known to most simply as Cap Ferrat). He snapped up the region’s grandest house — Villa Cedres, built in 1804 — which he embellished with botanical gardens and tunnels that ran to the homes of several mistresses. It is set high on the cliffs, and blushes pink in the midday sun. In 2020, it was sold for a rumoured $221 million, so no wonder it looks a little embarrassed. And the location? Cap Ferrat — found between Nice and Monaco on the Cote d’Azur, covering 494 acres between the towns of Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Villafranche-sur-Mer — is now France’s most exclusive holiday destination.

Indulgence Yesterday and Today

For an insight into Cap Ferrat’s hedonistic heyday, two historic villas that are open to the public (a third, the home of artist, writer, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, is under renovation). Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is our first destination, built by heiress Beatrice de Rothschild in 1907. Here it’s easy to conjure up the extravagance of the era while wandering through the villa’s opulent salons such as the villa’s centerpiece — a grand atrium — where lavish parties were held. Beatrice furnished the villa with rare furniture and objet d’art and indulged her love of horticulture in the creation of nine gardens of varying designs from Provencal to Japanese. In the French Garden, musical fountains spurt to life at regular intervals making it impossible not to break into a waltz as you explore. Villa Kerylos, a little further along the peninsula, is possibly the finest example of a wealthy man living his dream. Theodore Reinach, a 20th-century scholar of Ancient Greece, was so obsessed by his specialist subject that, in 1902, he created his very own Greek villa, complete with columns made from….

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Kate Wickers is a British journalist and travel writer. Her work includes travel, food, and culture features for many British and international publications, including The Telegraph, The Scotsman, The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Australian, Suitcase, Luxury Travel, and The Globe and Mail. Her family travel memoir, Shape of a Boy, will be published in January 2022.