She wanted her home to be a paradise on earth. To the baroness this meant erecting a pink frosted mansion with multiple gardens that overlooked the rough-hewn beauty of the Cap Ferrat coast in France. I am here to see what paradise might look like and because I have a fascination for historic houses. To me they are windows into the past, a chance to pull back the curtain and discover how someone else lived and loved. It is obvious that Baroness Beatrice Ephrussi loved the French Riviera because she bought this bit of heaven (cobalt sea, cerulean sky, and sun-tinted cliffs) right out from under the Belgian king’s nose in 1906. It is also obvious that she had an eye for Louis XVI furniture and the works of Jean Fragonard. Yet, as I traipse through her marble Italianate patio and her chinoiserie boudoir I wonder:
“what makes a place a home?”
Is a home where you build a house? Can every house be considered a home? Literally speaking “home” defines a roof over one’s head, but the word has as many connotations as there are types of dwellings. I have seen château homes, modular homes, thatched hut homes, and even corrugated tin-roofed shanty homes. Home for some is where they grew up as a child, for others it is where they are raising their own children. Home can be where the loved ones roost, or where they put you when no one else wants to take care of you. Prowling through the Côte d’Azur, I have found places to sleep and wardrobes for my suitcase, but never felt at home. In attempting to create something resembling a home in this region, I have been subsuming my hotel stays with other options such as farmhouses, cottages, and local apartments. Whilst temporary, these abodes have given me a sense of comfort and being one of the locals: an impression of home yet never my home.
For Beatrice Ephrussi, home was perhaps where she could use her extravagant wealth to accumulate the best of everything: furniture, miniature porcelain, and flawless scenery. Was she happy here? Did she return to this mansion with her palms tingling in anticipation? Was the house more than a stopover on her summer tour? I cannot know the answers to these questions by simply examine Madame Ephrussi’s villa. There is only so much the Marie Antoinette escritoire, Savonnerie carpets, and Meissen chandelier can tell me. I realize as I pass from the château interior out onto the multi-tiered garden that this house reveals more about me than about Beatrice. I am neither an admirer of porcelain monkeys nor blushing facades. I am more at ease among the heat-faded olive trees and whispering Aleppo pines in her gardens than in the company of her lacquer chest and monogrammed screens. I am soothed by the blooming Philodendrons and uplifted by the fragrant pomegranate trees as I walk up the stairs to her airy folly. I am protected in the embrace of undergrowth and broken arch work. After crossing myriad pathways I discover the tranquil melody of a fountain in a hidden grotto of stone and ferns.
“I rest upon the cool bench while time stops and I hear nothing but the gurgle and drip of falling water. I have come home.”
As a wanderer and someone who has a passion for travel, I have often pondered whether I can ever feel at home anywhere. The newness of a place, the fact that it is unlike the previous place I stayed is what attracts me to a traveler’s life. Can someone like me, who has no longing for roots, ever say about a destination, “This is home?” Home for me is far beyond four walls and a curated collection of beloved items. It is more than comfortable furniture, more than a feeling of belonging, more than the house of my ancestors. My home is where I am at peace with my surroundings. My home is where I can be alone without loneliness. My home is where I feel unencumbered. A space which gives me a sense of who I am is a place I can call home, so for this reason I carry my home with me wherever I go. There is no place like home.
Madame Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild was an avid collector of Louis XV and Louis XVI style furniture, but she also acquired for her Cap Ferrat villa times personally belonging to the French sovereigns. These include a writing table and a monogrammed fire screen which were used by Marie Antoinette, a carpet commissioned by Louis XIV, and antique urns belonging to Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour.
Gardens such as the one at Villa Ephrussi inspire painters and poets. See what gardens inspire us in our journal: On Garden Paths.
I love your musings about home and the meaning of home for yourself as a traveler, Atreyee. Thank you for sharing this. I especially love this last part: “My home is where I am at peace with my surroundings. My home is where I can be alone without loneliness. My home is where I feel unencumbered. A space which gives me a sense of who I am is a place I can call home, so for this reason I carry my home with me wherever I go. There is no place like home.”
Would you mind if I linked this to my next Returning home post? It will post on September 3.
I would love to have this linked to your next “Returning Home” post, Cathy! Thank you so very much.
Ok, great, Atreyee. I’m so glad to feature your lovely post. 🙂
I enjoyed reading your article in so many ways. It was wonderful to feel soothed by the blooming Pholodendrones, uplifted by the fragrance of pomgranite trees, and find comfort in the tranquil melody of a fountaine. You worked real magic with your words. Your idea about finding your home in your heart is wonderful. It is not an easy quest for a person, who travels or moves a lot. I think it’s deeply emotional and thoughtful. I am glad you found your home.
I am so thankful you found magic within my words. I have been and continue to be fascinated by the concept of “home” and how its meaning changes for each of us. Wishing you continued wonder and peace at home and in your travels.
A very lovely read, as usual! 🙂 I’m not a fan of that style of decoration either but I do love the spot she picked! When I was staying in Nice, I once attended a cocktail party at a hotel in Cap Ferrat (there were only 1 or 2 hotels there but I can’t bother to google its name, I’ve forgotten). Anyway, such a beautiful part of the coast. If I were a millionaire, I wouldn’t mind staying somewhere in that area myself! (Not Nice, though!) Thanks for reminding me!
Our tastes in landscape certainly agree with a lot of millionaires. 😬 Not only were there a ton of private villas there when I visited, I read that Cap Ferrat is now the second most expensive place to live after Monaco. Thanks for dropping by to read an oldie.
Yes, the hotel was very posh! I heard that people like Elton John had villas in the hills there towards the sea (this was a decade ago). My pleasure reading it! ☺️
I like your new look 🙂 I seem to find homes in lots of blogs these days! Certainly, lots of places close to my heart.
Glad you like the new look, Jo! It was thinking about the blog as my writing home that got me thinking about the concept of home in general. It is pretty amazing that such a virtual thing as an online writing journal can become something so special not just to the person creating it but to those who read it as well! By the way, how was your time off?
Wonderful, thanks 🙂 Poland was amazing (and full of family!) and the Algarve was its usual lovely self.
Good to hear! From your posts they look like such fun places to visit.
This looks unreal! So beautiful, thank you for sharing it and your thoughts with us. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed the story.
Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
I think I have found our next house – well a picture of it certainly. How beautiful. The gardens are magnificent.
The gardens are indeed magnificent Sally! If you ever get the chance, the Villa Ephrussi is a fabulous place to visit. Thank you for the reblog!
My pleasure I could have picked a number of your posts and will keep an eye out each week. Have a great weekend.
That sounds great! Thanks. Have a wonderful weekend as well.
Wow.That is one beautiful house with a breathtaking dream view. My dream home after a hard reality check is where my family is and where I can sleep soundly at night at peace, happy and waking up each day knowing I’m blessed with love. I lost my house and all the things I thought will make me happy but I found myself and all importance things I took for granted. It’s true what they say, “A simple life, is a happy life.” Thanks.
Thanks for sharing your story of what home is Island Traveler! It is very much appreciated. Even though you lost the physical four walls that once made your home, it is wonderful that you still have your loved ones and a peaceful place in which to sleep. The perfect home doesn’t have to be grand or come with a dream view. A simple life is a happy life, though it is often easy to forget that these days. Thanks for stopping by!