Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is one of the best-kept secrets on the French Riviera. It’s an intimate hideaway blessed with natural beauty.
This glamorous peninsula may be compact but it offers all ingredients for a relaxing Côte d’Azur getaway: scenic coastal trails, delectable seafood, some of the best beaches on the French Riviera – Paloma beach for one – and the renowned Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is home to some of the most exclusive resorts on the French Riviera. But while the accommodations are chic and sophisticated, the peninsula itself feels surprisingly unpretentious and low-key.
It’s the perfect addition to your French Riviera itinerary, whether you plan it as a day trip from Nice or explore it at a more relaxed pace.
Are you ready to discover the best things to do in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France? Let’s dive in.
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Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat’s history and atmosphere
After Belgian King Leopold II bought Villa Les Cèdres in 1904, the former fishing village of Saint-Jean transformed into an alluring winter destination dotted with several beautiful mansions. By the 1920s, it had become a magnet for aristocrats who had the most palatial great estates built on the peninsula. And a few decades later, artists and celebrities found their way to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat as well.
To this day, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat real estate is among the most expensive in the world. The majority of these opulent villas are tucked away behind lush vegetation. The ones with a private beach can sometimes be spotted from the coastline.
Despite all that wealth, the atmosphere on the peninsula is remarkably laid-back and understated. It feels worlds apart from more ostentatious French Riviera cities such as Saint-Tropez. Its slow pace of life is exactly what makes Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat so appealing.
Where is Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is located on a peninsula in the South of France between Villefranche-sur-Mer and Beaulieu-sur-Mer or – more specifically – between the Baie de l’Espalmador in the west and the Baie des Fourmis. A privileged Côte d’Azur location to say the least.
This French Riviera gem is located about 20 minutes by car from Nice and about 30 minutes from Monaco.
Where to stay in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
If you’re looking to splurge on a French Riviera vacation to remember, then Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is the place to do so.
The Cap Ferrat peninsula is home to no more than 3 noteworthy hotels. Therefore, especially in the peak summer season, the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat hotels are incredibly pricey. But if you’re staying in the shoulder season, you might find the exquisite service affordable enough to treat yourself to a luxurious stay. Here’s an overview of the best hotels in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
Because of the limited hotel inventory, and despite the high rates, the hotels in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat book out pretty quickly. Therefore, booking early is crucial to secure a room at one of these exclusive pieds-à-terre.
In case you prefer the comfort of a home-away-from-home, then you could consider renting a villa or an apartment in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Here are some suggestions:
Best things to do in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
Whether you’re looking to explore this hidden gem on a day trip from Nice or as part of a French Riviera road trip, here are the best things to do in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
Visit the iconic Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
The pink-hued Florentine and Venetian-style Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild dates from the early 1900s. It was the winter residence of Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, a French Riviera socialite, and avid art collector. Shortly before she passed away, she bequeathed her estate, the gardens as well as 5 000 pieces of art to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. It’s now a Historical Monument.
The Villa et Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild are open to the public 365 days a year. They’re a must-visit for anyone exploring the French Riviera. The views are sensational, from inside the villa as well as from the gardens. That’s thanks to the estate’s location high on a narrow part of the peninsula, overlooking both the bay Villefranche-sur-Mer and the bay of Beaulieu-sur-Mer.
Inside the villa, you can admire an eclectic art collection including rare porcelain, tapestry, wash drawings, paintings by the Great Masters, and more.
Outside, you’ll find 9 gorgeous gardens, each inspired by a destination that reminded Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild of her travels. There’s a French Garden, a Spanish Garden, a Florentine Garden, a Stone Garden, an Exotic Garden, a Japanese Garden, a Provencal Garden, a Rose Garden, and a Sèvres Porcelain Garden. The French Garden is the most formal of them all and connects directly to the southern facade. It features ponds, a musical fountain, and a Temple of Love. Viewpoints galore in the gardens, one more spectacular than the other. And even at the patio of the onsite tearoom, the panorama steals the show.
Check out our dedicated article on Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild for more background and photos of our visit. The opening times of this gorgeous estate can be checked here.
Relax at Paloma beach
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is blessed with a handful of scenic beaches.
The one that’s since long been regarded as one of the best beaches in the South of France is Paloma Beach. And with good reason, because its sheltered location and crystal-clear waters are indeed a sight to behold. It’s the kind of place you’ll want to linger. Paloma beach is semi-private. A like-named beach club is nestled in the middle of the beach and offers non-stop service from May to September. You can also rent sun loungers at the Paloma Beach club or try out several water sports.
Other gorgeous Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat beaches include Fossettes beach, Fosses beach, Passable beach, and Cros dei Pin beach. Although that last one isn’t our favorite, to say the least. It may look scenic from a distance but, the last time we visited, the waters were very littered. An inevitable result of the proximity of the marina.
Hike around the cape
There’s a fabulous coastal trail that wraps around the cape. This Sentier du Littoral starts from the Beaulieu-sur-Mer town center, follows the entire eastern coastline of Cap Ferrat, hugs the cape, and ends at Passable beach on the west coast. This is – in our opinion – the most scenic French Riviera coastal trail.
The amazing Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat walk is 8 km (or 5 mi) long and can be completed in 2.5 hours (or 3 if you decide to complete the loop). It can just as easily be split into 3 sections.
The first section runs from Beaulieu-sur-Mer to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat village. It leads along Villa Kerylos, the Greek villa that was once the residence of archeologist and statesman Théodore Reinach. It’s now a Historical Monument, open to the public. This first part of the trail is the shortest and counts as the most accessible thanks to an even and paved pathway.
The second section starts from the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat village, passes by Paloma beach, and wraps around the Pointe Saint-Hospice headland. This part of the trail involves a short climb up to the 11th-century Saint-Hospice chapel with its bronze Madonna. At the foot of the chapel lies a Belgian military cemetery as well as a maritime cemetery.
The last section is the longest. It starts at the Chemin de la Carrière, hugs the cape, leads along the Club Dauphin of the luxurious Four Seasons Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat with its magnificent heated swimming pool, continues beneath the lighthouse, meanders around several coves and ends at Passable beach.
No matter which section you decide to walk, the views are – once again – breathtaking.
Visit Villa Santo Sospir
The villa was built in 1930 and purchased by the Weisweller family shortly after WWII. Francine Weisweller, the lady of the house, gave the villa its current name, Santo-Sospir, after she found out that this was what the Cap Ferrat peninsula was called in the early Middle Ages. Francine Weisweller was a dear friend of Jean Cocteau, who used to spend many summers in Villa Santo Sospir during the 1950s.
When Jean Cocteau got a bit bored, he started drawing on the walls. The part of the wall above the living room fireplace was the first one he perked up. Encouraged by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, who came to visit, Cocteau sketched on more walls, doors, and even on furniture and decoration objects. The sketches were made in charcoals and finished with colored powder, a technique called frescoes in tempera. Cocteau referred to it as tattooing rather than sketching and so Villa Santo Sospir became known as the Tattooed Villa.
Spend your evening in Saint-Jean village
The village center of Saint-Jean comprises no more than a handful of streets sprinkled with colorful art objects. Bakeries, boutiques, and restaurants complete the picture. Noteworthy sites are the Church of Saint John the Baptist which dates from the 11th century, and the Musée des Coquillages (Shell Museum) with its impressive shell collection.
Clemenceau square is the heart of town. It’s home to an idyllic ensemble of spacious patios that belong to the restaurants that dot the main street. This is such a pleasant place to spend the afternoon or evening. We love La Civette for its delicious ice cream and Mademoiselle for its delectable seafood.
The port is located on the lower level, at Quay Lindbergh. It was built in the mid-1800s by inmates from the prison in Villefranche-sur-Mer. No less than 560 boats can be docked in the marina. The quay is also lined with restaurants and boutiques, offering a beautiful view over the marina. Because it’s located on the eastern side of the peninsula, and a bit tucked away behind the upper Clemenceau square, it’s always shaded at dinner time.
The Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat tourist office put together a pleasant promenade to discover the village. You can find it here.
How to get to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
The closest international airport is Nice Côte d’Azur Airport. From there, you can head to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat either by train or by car.
While the Nice to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat drive only takes about 20 minutes, we’d only recommend heading there by car if you’re visiting in shoulder season. When entering Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, there’s only one main road. Plus, parking is extremely limited.
A better option is to take a taxi or public transport to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
- You can take the train from Nice to Beaulieu-sur-Mer. This train station is located less than 1 kilometer or about half a mile from Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
Looking for timetables and rates? Check Eurail (non-EU passport holders) or Interrail (EU passport holders).
- Alternatively, you could take the bus from Nice to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Line 15 runs from stop Promenades des Arts – Risso or from stop Port Lympia – Arson in Nice to stop Port de Saint-Jean (the marina).
The peninsula itself is so compact that it’s pretty walkable. But you could just as well rent a bicycle to get around in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, especially if you’re staying for a few days. This bike rental agency is located just around the corner from the Beaulieu-sur-Mer railway station.
If you’re looking to visit Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat during a day trip from Nice, then you could just as well join a guided bike tour. Alternatively, you can rent a bike or an e-bike at one of the VéloBleu bike sharing stations in Nice. More and more of these self-service stations allow you to rent a bike with a swipe your credit card. The concierge or receptionist of your hotel in Nice can assist you in finding the bike stations that offer this option.
When to visit Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
Summer season equals crowds and for a small peninsula like Cap Ferrat, that results in congested roads, booked-out restaurants, and packed beaches. Quite the opposite of what you’re looking for on vacation. That’s why we strongly recommend visiting in shoulder season. Only then do you get to experience the slow pace that makes Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat so irresistible.
How long to spend in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
You can see the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat highlights in a day. So, a day trip is perfect to experience its charm. Then again, it’s the kind of place you’ll want to linger, and a perfect travel base to explore more French Riviera gems.
That’s it for this guide on the best things to do in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. We truly hope you’ll be able to experience this French beauty for yourself one day. And if so, we’d love to learn all about your trip!