Day Trip to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is just a short bus ride from Nice, and offers spectacular walks, stupendous villas, excellent lunch choices, and an award-winning beach; plus you can stop in Villefranche-sur-mer on the way back.

The bus fare to get to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat from Nice costs just 1.70€ a trip, but the day trip itinerary I’m proposing takes the bus 3 times plus a short train ride at the end, so plan ahead and either load 3-4 trips to your rechargeable bus/tram card or just load the 7€ day pass.

You can buy and load your rechargeable card Le Carte in the ticket machines at any tram stop. Note that your bus/tram ticket gives you unlimited transfers in Nice for 74 minutes, so if you take the tramway to get to the bus stop, the bus will not cost extra.

The Bus #15 Port de Saint-Jean leaves from under the MAMAC arches, just off Place Garibaldi.  It runs every 20 minutes during the week, 30 minutes on Sundays and French holidays.  This bus passes Villefranche-sur-mer and then does a loop around the Beaulieu train station, passes the Villa Kerylos and Villa Rothschild, before arriving into the town of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.

The bus route from Nice to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

First stop: Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

Get off at the Plage de Passable/Rothschild stop; all the stops are announced and marked on the screen so you can’t miss it.  This is the first stop because if you come in the morning it will be less crowded and you might have the place almost all to yourself.   The villa opens at 10am and is open every day.

The villa as seen from the fountains and gardensA little backstory: After Beatrice, the Baroness of Rothschild, married into the ultra-rich Bank of France Ephrussi family, she needed a creative outlet.  Upon seeing her husband’s cousin’s Greek-inspired Villa Kerylos, she decided to build her own show-stopping Venetian-style palazzo nearby (which I’m sure must have thrilled her cousin no end…)  Combining her love of art and pink roses, she created and curated the villa and gardens herself.  A bit on the flamboyant side, often dressing in pink head-to-toe, she used her favorite flower and color as major motifs in her very personal creation.

Wallpaper in the Monkey RoomThe full two floors of the opulent pink villa are open for your exploration, including Madame’s private suite and boudoir.  Perouse the Louis XVI furnishings, priceless paintings and sculptures, a celebrated porcelain collection, the tapestry room, the Fragonard salon, …and the surreal monkey room dedicated to her two beloved primate companions… did I mention that Baroness Beatrice was a wee bit eccentric?

Every 20 minutes the dancing fountains put on a little choreographed show to classical music. Now head for the sumptuous manicured gardens that will make you feel as if you’ve just stepped into a Bronte novel,  The immense estate is covered with 9 lovingly cultivated rosaries and themed gardens.

Tickets are 16€ for adults, 15€ for seniors over 65, 11€ for children ages 7-25, 13€ for students of all ages with student ID, and there is also a family pass for 45€ which is good for 2 adults and 2 children under 25.  Tickets are available at the door or online via the website, and include audio guides.   Admission to the Villa Rothschild is also included in the French Riviera Pass.

Millionaire’s Walk

Now get back on the bus #15 but going in the other direction; you want to backtrack to get to the start of a marvelous walk.  Remember the bus comes every 15 minutes, and you can time it perfectly using Google Maps/Directions.

Get off at the Pont Saint-Jean stop (again, the stops are clearly shown on a screen and announced as well, so you can’t miss it.)

From here you just walk down to your left to the  Royal Riviera Hotel beach and you will see the start of the path right away.  It’s a marvelous 20-minute stroll into town on the flat and paved footpath, with fabulous views on one side and peeks into millionaire’s villas on the other.  You will pass by David Niven’s former home, a rose-hued villa marked with a plaque, but the other residents of Saint-Jean are much more discrete… here is an article on Billionaires Peninsula with stories of its illustrious celebrity past.

The Village of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

With some of the highest property values in the world, naturally its tiny village is packed with upscale boutiques, high-end art galleries and gourmet restaurants, and its port is packed with super-yachts.

If you happen to be around at Happy Hour, head to the port where Madame Pizza does a true Italian-style aperitivo, meaning that for the price of a cocktail, you get offered a generous platter of appetizers on the house.

Paloma Beach: voted best on the French Riviera

Just past the town you will see beautiful Paloma beach, which was voted one of the two top beaches on the Riviera. There is a big public beach with gravelly sand (so bring a straw mat for under your towel), or splurge for a sunbed on the private beach.  The gentle waves make swimming easy thanks to the protected cove.  Enjoy the seaside restaurant for a leisurely lunch or just pop by the bar/snackbar for a beachside break.

The Famous Walk around the Point of Cap-Ferrat

From the far end of the beach, you can pick up the trail (look for the sign ‘sentier du littoral’ coastal walking path) to do one of the most magnificent walks on the coast: an easy loop around the windswept cape with peeks into hidden estates that can only seen from the sea.  After about 30 fabulous minutes you will see a sign to return to Saint Jean.

Once back in the village you can catch the bus 15 to go back, making a stop in Villefranche-sur-mer on the way back.

The seaside path along Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat…But if you choose to continue the rest of the way around the point, the paving stops and the trail gets a bit more rugged, but you will be rewarded with secluded pristine beaches and stunning views back on the bay of pastel-hued Villefranche-sur-mer.  You will need good shoes, a hat and water, as this trail gets full sun in the afternoon.  This final portion is 10k and will take an a couple of hours, and you will end up back near to the Pont Saint-Jean bus stop to get the bus #15, or you can keep walking another 15 minutes to get to the beach at Villefranche-sur-mer, where there are public showers to cool you off.  One little benefit of walking the final stretch to Villefranche is that you can peek through the gates of Villa Nellcote, where the Rolling Stones raised hell in the 1970’s and recorded Exile on Main Street.

Side trip to Villefranche-sur-Mer

On the way back, make a side stop to what is easily the most picturesque village on the coast, the fishing village of Villefranche-sur-Mer.  From the bus #15, get off at the Octroi stop.  Look for the Tourist Office in the gardens and just follow that road downhill into the village.

Explore the imposing medieval fortress which is open to the public and now houses military relics plus galleries and exhibits.

Next wander through the streets that traverse this most unique cliffside town, and don’t miss the mysterious hidden street that runs through the town, rue Obscure.

At the seaside you can visit the the tiny Fishermen’s Chapel painted inside by the artist Jean Cocteau.  This 16th century chapel was dedicated to Saint Pierre, the patron saint of fishermen,  but was being used to store fishing nets during the period when Jean Cocteau was a regular visitor to the village.  The artist decorated it inside and out, and when he was done he dedicated his gift to his friends, the local fishermen. It’s not always open, really tiny, and not free (3€ for adults) but quite unique, especially if you are an impressionist art fan.

Finish at this charming little wine bar, La Grande Cave, on the steps leading up to the church.  Opens at 5pm, closed Monday and Tuesday.  2 rue de l’Eglise

Getting Back to Nice

Your legs are probably tired by now, so to avoid walking back up the hill to catch the bus, I would recommend just taking the train back, which is easily accessible from the village and probably the most beautiful train station on the whole coast. The train comes roughly every 30 minutes, takes 3 minutes back to Nice, will cost just 2€ from the machine.

Photo Credit: Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat courtesy of The Blue Walk European Walking Vacations.  Villa Rothschild and Monkey Wallpaper by Best of Nice.

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