Nearly equidistant between the bustle of Nice and the glitz of Monaco, the quiet peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat remains what locals call the last gem of the Côte d’Azur. The peninsula is part of the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals, a protected area jointly managed by France, Monaco and Italy, making it a prime spot for diving and whale and dolphin watching. On land, strict architectural guidelines have spared this pristine maritime village from overdevelopment common on the French Riviera. A walk along Cap Ferrat’s rocky coastline or through its narrow streets reveals little more than sea views occasionally obscured by thick vines of jasmine, flowering oleander and bushes of pink bougainvillea.
Grand Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, A Four Seasons Hotel, one of the region’s most celebrated hotels, occupies 17 acres (7 hectares) on the tip of the peninsula. Designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) in 1908, it has hosted the likes of Winston Churchill and Elizabeth Taylor, and continues to earn accolades such as the “Palace” distinction, which is exclusive to France and supersedes the five-star rating. But for all its fame and fortune, Cap Ferrat emanates an unassuming kind of elegance – one where glamour means sandals on sailboats and watching the sunset with a good glass of wine.
Surrounded by Mediterranean vistas and rolling gardens, you may find little reason to leave the Grand-Hôtel, but Cap Ferrat is well worth exploring. If you have only a weekend to spend, seek out the best of the area – and be sure to take time to enjoy the scenery.
Early afternoon, 1:00 pm: Board the glass funicular and ride down the jagged hillside to Club Dauphin. The 30s-era, infinity-edge swimming pool – Olympic size when it was constructed – is perched just above the Mediterranean shoreline. This may be Cap–Ferrat‘s best view, so opt for lunch at the restaurant or tapas and cocktails on the Lounge Terrace. Fight the urge to while away the afternoon in one of the plush white lounge chairs, and book a swimming lesson with Pierre Gruneberg. This legendary swim instructor has been teaching at the Grand Hôtel since 1951. His former clients include Somerset Maugham, Ralph Lauren, Elie Wiesel, Brigitte Bardot, a few Kennedys and Paul McCartney.
Photography Martin Morrell
Gruneberg is a living encyclopedia of Cap Ferrat history, with plenty of stories to tell as he perfects your swimming technique. He may even offer you a glimpse of his “Livre d’Or,” which includes autographs from his famous clientele and drawings by frequent Club Dauphin visitors Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau.
If you are a strong swimmer and wish to skip the lesson, take the plunge during an afternoon diving excursion led by Cap Ferrat Diving. The local school is known for its fine instruction and knowledge of the area’s best dive spots.
Evening, 8:00 pm: Choose a table on the terrace at the Michelin-starred Le Cap restaurant, where our Chef Yoric Tièche prepares French Mediterranean food with seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. The menu changes regularly, but highlights have included roast rack of Allaiton lamb in an olive and parsley crust, and sole with candied aubergines.
Photography courtesy Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
Morning, 7:30 am: Wake up early and follow the walking path that runs along the peninsula’s shore. At this hour, you’ll likely have the path to yourself, save a jogger or two. From Club Dauphin, turn left to head towards the small village of Cap Ferrat. When the path ends, wind your way to the heart of town for coffee at any of the restaurants lining the marina. (Hint: Take a map from the Concierge, as the roads in town can be tricky to navigate.)
If you turn right out of Club Dauphin, you’re in for beautiful views of Villefranche-sur-Mer, a medieval village that was once the region’s main port.
Late morning, 11:00 am: The Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa and Gardens alone are worth a visit to Cap Ferrat. Start in the gardens and follow the labyrinthine paths around the ponds, flower beds, sculptures and waterfalls that surround the early 20th-century home. Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, who scrupulously oversaw the design and construction of the home and its gardens, was an avid traveller with a reputation for eccentricity. During her time in residence, the nine themed gardens were maintained by 30 men dressed in sailor uniforms.
Photography S. Lloyd
Don’t be shy about ducking into the shady corners of the Japanese Garden or following narrow paths beneath flowering cacti in the Exotic Garden. All roads lead to the pièce de résistance: the French Garden and fountains that the Baroness designed herself.
You can enter the pink Italian Renaissance-style villa from the gardens and walk through the ornate marble reception hall to begin exploring the interior of the home. The apartments of Madame Ephrussi are a highlight, showcasing her sophisticated aesthetic and modern sensibilities regarding utility and comfort.
Afternoon, 12:30 pm: Stay for lunch at the villa’s tea room and restaurant, which offers a light menu of salads, quiches and pastries. The interior of the restaurant was Madame Ephrussi’s own dining room, a breezy, sun-filled space overlooking the Bay of Villefranche. If the weather is nice, take a seat on the terrace, which is shaded by a thick canopy of orange trees.
Late afternoon, 2:30 pm: The Villa Santo Sospir is one of Cap Ferrat’s local secrets. The private estate was home to the socialite Francine Weisweiller, who quickly became close friends with writer, filmmaker and artist Jean Cocteau. Upon visiting Weisweiller at her Cap Ferrat estate, Cocteau remarked that her walls appeared bare and offered to paint a mural above her fireplace. Over 13 years, he adorned most of the villa’s floors and walls with mosaics and frescos, prompting Picasso, also a frequent visitor, to add a bit of his own work. The home is a lesson in 50s-era art, but the real draw is guide Eric Hammer, who became Weisweiller’s caretaker well before her death and remains the property manager today. Hammer’s oral history of Santo Sospir, and the cast of characters entertained here, is as intriguing as Cocteau’s work.
Photography Martin Morrell
Evening, 5:30 pm: See the Côte d’Azur from a different angle by chartering a sailboat for an evening cruise around the Lérins Islands, Cannes, Antibes, Nice, Cap Ferrat, Eze or Monaco. Take an evening swim in the Mediterranean before climbing back aboard to watch the sunset and dine on a gourmet picnic of French Riviera cuisine and regional wine.
Late morning, 11:00 am: Live music accompanies the scenery and Mediterranean cuisine during Sunday brunch at La Véranda (available during spring and autumn). Fuel up on fresh-caught fish and seasonal plates along with home-made pastries.
Afternoon, 1:00 pm: The medieval seaside village of Eze is less than 20 minutes from Cap Ferrat. Explore the narrow and well-preserved streets that climb the steep cliff to the ruins of a 12th-century castle and the Jardin Exotique d’Eze, a botanical garden on the Place du Général de Gaulle known for its varieties of succulents.
Skip the shopping in Eze – most of the boutiques caters to tourists. Instead, visit the Parfumerie Galimard, where you can tour the factory. Galimard’s larger and better-known perfume house is in Grasse, but this smaller location has its own charm.
Evening, 7:30 pm: Finish your day in Eze with dinner at La Chèvre d’Or, a Michelin-starred restaurant, where the Chef Arnaud Faye celebrates the authenticity of an exceptional terroir, stretching from the rocky foothills of the Mercantour to the intense blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. His decadent menu is inspired from these contrasts, magnifies the products of the Riviera and the up-country.
If you are able to extend your stay at the Grand-Hôtel beyond the weekend, add one of these stops to your itinerary.
Saint-Paul de Vence
An hour’s drive from Cap Ferrat, this picturesque village was favoured by artists such as Matisse, Léger and Chagall, who is buried in the town’s cemetery. Spend the morning exploring the medieval walled city by foot, and duck into the church at the top of the hill.
Lunch at La Colombe d’Or restaurant is a feast for art lovers: The hotel has a history of hosting talented guests, many of whom traded their work for rooms. The restaurant alone boasts pieces by Picasso, Miró and Braque.
A visit to the nearby Maeght Foundation can fill an afternoon. The exquisite collection, which includes a Miró sculpture garden, is displayed in both indoor and outdoor spaces; plan to visit when the weather is fair.
This town on the Mediterranean is home to a marvellous Provençal market. Vendors pack up their stalls by 1:00 pm, so browse in the morning when fresh fruits, vegetables, olives, meats and cheeses are on full display. The covered market spans about two blocks in the centre of Old Town, positioning you for an easy walk to the Picasso Museum.
Formerly called the Grimaldi Museum in honour of the family who resided there during the 15th century, this chateau on the water was Picasso’s home for six months in 1946. Among the 245 works in the collection, La Joie de Vivre and The Goat are the best-known.
Le Restaurant de Bacon on Cap d’Antibes is an unbeatable choice for lunch. The restaurant specialises in seafood, so select from the menu of fresh-caught fish.
Sail to Saint-Tropez for a day of wine tasting. This area produces some of the best wines in Provence, and several local vineyards offer tastings paired with gourmet lunches. If you’d rather see the region from above, travel by helicopter. Whether you sail or fly, plan for a full day.