Think your holiday home budget will stretch to a seven-bed seaview pleasure palace? Get out of town. Mere billionaires would be priced out of the market if the Riviera’s most sumptuous mansion, the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, ever came up for sale.
That’s because it was designed by Béatrice Ephrussi. Part heiress, part spoilt child, she hired seven of France’s leading architects to plan the palace. Then she fired all of them in order to oversee the mansion herself.
What’s it like? Imagine a Barbie house designed by Lady Gaga, and you’ll be halfway there. In the words of one Pebbles renovation contractor, Béatrice would be a “nightmare client”. For the exterior she chose shocking pink. And the interiors? Well, they’re all pink too.
Fortunately, purchasing a prize plot of land on Cap Ferrat was simple a century ago. Outside of Nice and Cannes, the French Riviera was the haunt of olive farmers and goat herders when work began in 1907. Cap Ferrat now boasts the planet’s most expensive land prices, according to the BBC, with properties selling for €42,000 per square metre. Monaco comes a close second. In Nice they average €4,134.
Béatrice had an unconventional approach to land clearance. We’re talking dynamite, and lots of it. Daddy’s money also brought several hundred Italian gardeners whom she dressed in sexy sailor costumes, complete with red pompom-topped berets.
The villa’s modernity puts some properties for sale in Nice to shame. Béatrice installed a lift, central heating, en-suite bathrooms and a telephone. Her direct dial number was the wonderfully unambiguous ‘1-66’.
She then furnished the home with antiques sent down from Paris’ finest auction houses (the Rothschild family part-owned the Paris-Nice railway, so there were no issues there). Béatrice would root through the offerings on Beaulieu train station platform in the manner of a car boot sale. Lesser bargains would be sent onward to her pied-a-terre in Monaco.
Tempted to rob the bank yourself? No need. Nice Pebbles clients can still steal a part of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild by taking a €13.50 tour (or a private after-hours viewing). Mock-billionaires may also sip a €4 café au lait in Béatrice’s Orangerie.
Finally, here’s a salutary lesson to anyone planning to buy above their station. In 2008, the world’s most expensive property, the Villa Leopolda, came up for sale a mile away from Béatrice’s former home. The asking price was a cool half billion Euros.
Sadly, the Russian buyer, alleged to be Mikhail Prokhorov, failed to finance his purchase. Under French law, those who don’t follow through with the deal forfeit their 10% deposit. A Nice court ensured that Prokhorov paid up his €39 million. Ouch. I’ll stick to my two bedroom apartment near Nice Old Town, thank you very much.