Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is a tiny, leafy, Mediterranean peninsula nestled between Nice and Monaco. The once modest fishing village is known today as an enclave for billionaires and a lovely stop for tourists visiting the French Riviera.
Yachts populate the marina, and mansions dot the hillside. But the village is far from flashy. In fact, it retains much of its olden-day charm. Even if you don’t have unlimited funds, the peninsula remains a haven for hikers, walkers, and beach lovers.
As you wander the cobblestone streets and coastal trails, you’ll understand why Saint-Jean casts a spell on all those who stop by.
Human activity on the peninsula dates back to the Ancient Greeks and attests to a turbulent history. In the 6th century AD, a recluse monk, Saint Hospice, sought refuge in the hills, giving the peninsula the name Cap-Saint-Sospir.
From the 8th to the 11th centuries, the area was a pirate stronghold. Battles were fought between rival armies until the 18th century, when this humble fishing village and the county of Nice joined France.
In the 1860s, luxury tourism as we know it today began, with European Royals descending onto the coast for the winter and building the first palaces.
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Things to do in the area
1. Hike amongst the cliffs
There are two major trails that meander around the Peninsula: the 6 km, cliff-top Tour du Cap path hugs the coast, affording views all the way to Cannes on one side, and Italy on the other. If you look down, you’ll see nothing but the glistening Mediterranean. Do be careful, as the trail gets rugged in places!
Then there’s the shorter, but no less beautiful, walk around the Pointe Saint-Hospice. Starting just a few steps away from the port and village, this 2 km trail winds around Saint-Jean’s other, smaller headland.
You will also be privy to views of the coastline and Alp foothills beyond. The trail itself is paved and mostly flat. Leave the path to explore the rocky seashores and hidden caves below (of course, typical caution is advised).
2. Go to the beach
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat boasts several beautiful, although pebbly, beaches. The village beach, right next to the port, is the most easily accessible. If you want to avoid the crowds, go early in the morning.
In July and August, the water should already be warm enough for dips at dawn. Paloma Beach, at the start of the Pointe Saint Hospice trail, offers a bit more space and amenities, such as a bar/restaurant and beach chair rental.
3. Visit Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
If you have ever wanted to visit a billionaire’s mansion, here is your chance. Constructed by the Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild in 1912, the villa is now open for visitors, as well as events such as weddings and other special occasions.
The home was built in the style of the Italian renaissance, it includes many priceless works of art and furniture pieces. There are also 9 elaborate gardens surrounding the villa, that are based on themes: French style, Spanish, Japanese, Rose garden, Florentine, Provençale, etc.
4. Visit the marina
Saint Jean Cap Ferret has a small town center along the marina with an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants. After a day at the beach or hiking around the peninsula, relax at one of Saint-Jean’s waterfront venues.
Whether swanky or casual, the restaurants and bars all have one thing in common: as you toast to your holiday, you’ll be able to hear the water lapping against the shore, and boats chiming gently in the wind.
5. Try the crêpes
While visiting Saint-Jean, you have to try crêpes, thin pancakes that are definitely a much-loved specialty amongst locals and visitors alike! There are a couple of crêpe cafes along the marina.
My personal favorite is the Nutella Crêpe with banana slices and strawberries! Heaven!
Frequently Asked Questions
How to get to Saint Jean Cap Ferrat?
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat sits on the French Riviera, about 16 km from Nice near the Italian border. It is very easy to get to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, whether by car, taxi, or public transportation.
You can rent a car or flag down a cab at the Nice Airport and drive to your destination in about 30 minutes. If you’d like a more budget-friendly solution, you can hop on a bus at the Nice Airport and transfer to the hourly Saint-Jean-bound bus (#80) at Nice’s Central Bus Terminal. This journey takes around an hour, but you’ll be able to enjoy coastal views most of the way.
How many days should you spend here?
If you are planning to visit Saint Jean as a day trip, you should try to avoid visiting on the weekends, or make sure that your stay includes at least one “off-peak” night.
There is only one way on and off the peninsula. On weekends, you will be sitting in traffic from mid-morning to late evening.
If you come during the week, local tourists and day-trippers are back at work, so you’ll be able to experience a much quieter Saint-Jean. If you plan on spending a few days at the beach and hiking, you should reserve 2-3 nights.
Where should you stay?
The hotel options on Saint Jean do tend to be pricey, but are definitely worth it. This is one of the priciest and exclusive areas in France, so the hotel prices are reflective of that.
Everyone from Elizabeth Taylor, Winston Churchill, and Bill Clinton, George W. Bush have stayed in the town.
And one more tip: not everyone is an early riser, but if you can muster up the strength, do set your alarm to wake up before sunrise one morning. The sunrises over the water are simply incredible!
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