St. Jean - Cap Ferrat

Cap (cape) Ferrat curves out into the Mediterranean near Nice.

Less than five miles from Nice in the sunny south of France, a small peninsula juts out into the Mediterranean forming Cap (cape) Ferrat. Occupying much of the area of the cape, the small town of St. Jean is much more laid back than most of its neighbors on the Riveria.

The location on the cape and off the main beachfront highway has isolated St. Jean from most of the bumper-to-bumper traffic that plagues the Riviera in summer. The feeling of tranquility is reinforced by the fact that most of the buildings on the cape are elegant older homes set in manicured gardens.

There is a marina with dozens of boats in front of a small commercial area lying in terraces up a slope. The businesses include a ship chandlers, a small grocery, a deli, a few galleries and souvenir shops, about a dozen restaurants, and two small hotels. The central plaza lies on a terrace overlooking the marina. The rest of the cape is taken up by private homes and a few well located hotels.

The cape is a ridge jutting up out of the water, rising steeply from the sea then sloping more gently to a central crest. This shape means that almost every building on the peninsula backs up to the slope and looks out to the water. The views are spectacular, looking over the water toward Villefranche sur Mer to the west and toward Beaulieu and Eze sur Mer on the east.

Cap Ferrat has beaches. This IS the Riviera, after all. But these beaches are different. They aren't long expanses of sand, but rather short curves of pebbles or gravel, perhaps a few dozen yards long and rarely more than three or four yards wide. Often, the land rises sharply behind the beach, requiring bathers to descend long concrete stairways to reach the water. Two of the small beaches face east, for the morning. The other two, on the opposite side of the cape, face west for the afternoon.

For me, some of the most enjoyable features of Cap Ferrat are the walking paths that follow the coastline around the entire cape. Although the total distance is more than eight miles, the journey can be taken as several shorter hikes.

The walks to Beaulieu and Villefranche sur Mer - the towns on the mainland to the east and west respectively - are paved, mostly level and through residential or commercial areas. The walks along the perimeter of the cape are more rugged and demanding, but reward the hiker with spectacular views of the rugged, wind-swept coast, occasionally punctuated by small coves. These coves are frequently in use by picnicing local families. There are also glimpses of beautiful houses perched along the tops of the rocky cliffs.

While in St. Jean we stay in the Hotel Brise Marine, an old Italianate mansion that has been converted into a charming hotel with about twenty rooms. The rooms on the front of the hotel offer beautiful views over the bay.


Copyright 2001 Harry B. Rowe