is a vision in blue -- top down, an intense azure from sky to sea.
Surrounded by peaceful mountains, adorned with pine trees and palms,
this is a vista that would turn even the most
indifferent visitor into a rosy-cheeked believer.
Yet somehow this famously exclusive town had eluded my wandering eye
for years, tempted by an overabundance of competing sights nearby.
Nearly fifteen years ago, I made a brief stop
at the edge of town with just one sight in mind.
The dramatically luminous Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild did not disappoint,
its Italianate pink walls and lush gardens as rewarding as just about
anything I'd ever seen on the Cote d'Azur.
It was pure fantasy; confidant I had seen enough, I moved on,
mistakenly thinking Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat was just another rich man's
paradise -- an over-the-top mini-Monaco, drowning in la-ti-da
vanity, missing the down-to-earth ambience I look for in French villages.
Knucklehead mistake, I was dead wrong.
In reality, Saint-Jean is a cozy little port town -- chic for sure, but
lacking in pretension -- as unassuming as you reasonably can be with
an array of million dollar yachts swaying in your harbor.
Up & coming socialites may be swarming but
that's not what you'll take home from this experience.
bistros to get your bearings and bask in the fresh air.
Treat yourself to a lovely rosé and peruse the specialty menu.
You'll notice locals and tourists alike, each enjoying the view
as if it's the first time they've seen anything quite like it.
Calm and romantic, you can almost picture David Niven or Liz & Dick
stopping in for their traditional bonnet de nuit -- ritual nightcap.
In 2012, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat's real estate was named second most
expensive in the world, just behind next-door-neighbor Monaco.
Microsoft's co-founder Paul Allen has a home here, allegedly a retreat
for Brad and Angelina when they were still making the circuit as a couple.
Musical theater magician/composer Andrew Lloyd Webber calls Saint-Jean
home -- pretty impressive for what used to be just a small fishing port on the Med.
Yes, this place belongs to the rich & famous -- but would you believe it
if I told you it doesn't feel remotely snobby or intimidating -- no need
to wear your Sunday best, just your favorite sunscreen.
Yet still, one wonders what goes on behind those beautiful gates...
Are their lives that different from ours?
Well sure, you can bet on it.
But likely it's the little things that offer the most pleasure
to these lucky fat cats -- enjoying time with friends,
planning the next dinner party, afternoons by the pool,
bolstering their local art galleries and boutiques...
Will it be polo or the casino today?
As for me, I'll take the view, thank you.
so inclined, to the nature trail (which includes the beach) in hopes
of digging deeper into the heart of this seaside community.
As you drink in the saltwater air, perfumed by local jasmine, oleander
and bougainvillea, you may be reminded of all those self-help books you've
waded through, those preachy tomes that speak of "gratitude and joy."
Well finally, those words hit home.
This is exactly what they speak of -- a happy-to-be-alive nanosecond in time.
Indulge in the moment -- it's literally a walk on the wild side of nature.
The Sentier Littoral is a rocky coastal path that's pretty easy to follow.
You'll spot signage and a few fellow explorers along the way.
The trail is a mostly a mix of packed dirt, gravel and rocks so it's
advisable to wear good walking shoes -- though we saw a few fashion
enthusiasts looking as if they just walked out of a designer boutique,
their impractical footwear teetering up uneven stairsteps
and over the somewhat slippery rock-strewn path.
Grab a barstool and order something refreshing because -- let's face it -- you're
in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat -- where idleness is the devil's workshop (in a good way).
Named after perfume princess Paloma Picasso, daughter of Pablo P. and
Francoise Gilot, this romantic little spot of sand will inspire you to
turn off your phone and absorb the romance of the Riviera.
If the greatest artist of the 20th century enjoyed this beachy getaway,
you can rest assured it's filled with the sun and sexuality he often painted.
The renowned intense blue of the Mediterranean, who can resist it?
From pirates to kings to Hollywood legends -- this neck of the Cote d'Azur
has been loved and lusted after for centuries.
"Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more.
If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough."
La Chapelle Saint-Hospice et la Vierge Noire -- Chapel of Hospice St-Jean
and Bronze Virgin Mary -- is the most charming little chapel
in the middle of nowhere that I've ever seen.
Just off the coastal path, this little landmark brings a sense of history and
spiritual awareness to an otherwise happy-go-lucky wandering.
The story goes that around 1400 years ago,
a Benedictine monk lived on this site.
Leading a humble and repentant existence, he hoped
his heavy penance would lead the way to heaven one day.
When invading Lombard warriors showed up ready to conquer and kill
anyone in their path, the hermit-monk's attacker was stopped cold in his tracks.
The friar's life was spared when the murderous soldier-of-fortune
was paralyzed, the near-death event dramatized near the chapel's altar.
Call it whatever you wish -- divine intervention, angels in our midst --
a legend that day was born.
As the monk's celebrity grew, the site's prestige swelled.
By the 11th century, local followers began work on a commemorative chapel,
right on top of the ruins of the old sanctuary.
Hundreds of years later, this monk mythology continued to spread its wings
and the chapel slowly evolved into a holy place of pilgrimage.
In 1904, a bronze virgin was placed just outside the tiny house of God,
a breathtaking sculpture that consummates the work of eight centuries.
Nearly 38 feet high, the reverent tribute to the Madonna is a
her spiritual presence looming over the tiny chapel.
of amazing paintings to represent the hermit-monk's life.
Charmingly displayed much like a storybook tale, the brightly hued
illustrations recount the miracles that followed him through life.
Almost cartoon-like in character and imbued with brilliant colors,
this is a captivating walk into the history of a long ago time and place.
one good thing in his life that no one can dispute.
Though he savagely murdered thousands of Africans in his quest
to exploit the Belgian Congo, the king took care of his own, first caring
for and finally burying the Belgian soldiers who fought and gave
their lives to their country in WWI.
Just behind the Chapel Saint-Hospice lies the sacred cemetery, a poignant
tribute to the fallen servicemen who gave all for their country.
A resting place fit for a king, the startling beauty of the Mediterranean
cushions the sad sanctuary and serves as a reminder that
peace for the fallen is at last on the horizon.
Just below the sacred plot of heroes is a local cemetery, further
blessed by the splendor of this irresistible nature preserve.
rest assured you get a lot for your money.
Romance, history, nature, celebrity worship, spiritual renewal,
coastal cuisine -- the possibilities are endless....
The entire peninsula is effortlessly elegant where even the most casual
exploration offers an indefinable wow factor every step of the way.
You know you're in good company:
Somerset Maugham, Winston Churchill, HG Wells, Virginia Wolf,
Rudyard Kipling, Gregory Peck, Bill Gates, Roger Moore, Charlie Chaplin,
rock stars -- gadzooks, even the Pink Panther showed up here for one of his movies.
The Rolling Stones cut one of their most famous albums* just across the bay.... and
I half expected to see James Bond every time I turned around.
*"Exile on Main Street"
Is it little wonder?
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat provides the sort of light painters wish for
and the kind of shelter and calm the famous live for.
True, it caters to the rich & famous but it's right as rain for you and me as well.
I like that. And who wouldn't?
"My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view
A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold."
Carole King, "Tapestry"
check out their multi-day music event.
Jazz lovers flock to the Saint Jazz Cap Ferrat Festival, THE place
to listen to live music and party amongst the millionaires.
Or maybe you're into diving …. or sailing …. or saving marine life*…
or you just love pretty sunsets.....it's all here.
*The Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals has provided cover for area sea life,
shielding this area from overdevelopment, now officially designated a protected zone.
But if it's a different type of art you're chasing, making a reservation
to see Villa Santo Sospir, the Saint-Jean home French artist/playwright/director
Jean Cocteau famously "decorated".
The celebrated bon vivant, a frequent houseguest, drafted fantastic wall
illustrations -- which he called tattoos -- creatively spacing them throughout the home.
Too late, I tried to book a tour, missing a chance to see the home that
"Town & Country Magazine" called "a psychedelic fantasia of Greek mythos
drawn and scrawled in special pigments he made with raw milk."
Despondent to miss such a unique sight, the villa remains high on my wish-list.
But on second thought, that's not such a bad thing....
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is the kind of place where a return visit
ranks high on a long list of travel priorities.
After all, how many times in your life can you say
a Billionaire's Playground made you feel so at home?