Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa and Villa Grecque Kérylos

The  Côted'Azur, often known in English as the French Rivera, is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France, also including the sovereign state of Monaco. There is no official boundary, but it is usually considered to extend from the Italian border in the east all the way up to Saint-Tropez. This spectacular coastline was one of the first modern resort areas. Cote d'azur, (its name translates to "blue coast" referring to the azur blue waters of the area), began as a winter health resort for the wealthy high society Brits at the end of the 18th century. With the arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century, during the Belle Époque era, it became the playground and vacation spot of wealthy British, Russian, and other aristocrats, such as Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. In the summer, it also played home to many members of the Rothschild family. However, one member of the Rothschild family in particular truly set the bar and standard of homes along the Côte d'Azur when she build a dream villa in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, the villa of Baroness  Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild.

Born in 1864, Béatrice was the daughter of the banker and major art collector Baron Alphonse de Rothschild (a title given to Alphonse and his brothers by the Emperor of Austria). Béatrice was known for her beauty (and her wealth) and it was no surprise she had a line of eager suiters. At 19 years old, she married Maurice Ephrussi, a Parisian banker originally from Russia who was a friend of her parents and 15 years her senior. The marriage quickly turned to disaster for Béatrice, as she caught a serious illness from Maurice, which prevented her from having children. Maurice was a big gambler and in 1904 his debts amounted to more than 12 million gold francs, the equivalent of 30 million euros today. Worried about the future, the Rothschild family decided to take Maurice to court to demand a separation. They won the case and, in June 1904, after 21 years of marriage, Béatrice de Rothschild and Maurice Ephrussi were separated. 

The following year, Béatrice’s father died and she inherited a fabulous fortune (700 million euros). It was at this time, age 40, that she decided to build a paradisiacal villa in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. She made this her winter residence from 1912 onwards and came here regularly for over ten years, during which she split her time between Paris, Monaco and Deauville. In 1933, one year before her death, Béatrice bequeathed her Villa and all of her collections to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. 

Today one can visit her Villa and get a sense of who she was and how she lived. Like her father, Béatrice was an avid art collector and assembled a huge collection of furniture, paintings and porcelain from the Eighteenth-Century France, her passion. Her infatuation with the French monarchy ran deep and at the villa you can see her impressive collection which includes furniture and decorative arts etc. that once belonged to the French kings like Louis the IV and Marie Antoinette. As impressive as her art collection is, it is truly the gardens of the villa that are astonishing. One could spend an entire afternoon exploring the incredible one of a kind grounds. The 8 gardens (and temple of love) which make up the estate include a Spanish Garden, Florentine Garden, Stone Garden, Japanese Garden, Exotic Garden, Rose Garden, Provencal Garden and the French Garden. Each one meticulously engineered and entirely unique from one another.  The magic of the gardens is heightened by the musical fountains that bring to life the Grand Bassin. Every ten minutes, the "Great Peacock", the 'Waltz" the "Tulip" and other gyroscopic displays present their memorable choreography of water. And if the gardens don't knock your sock off, the views of the sea will. Due to the location of the villa, one can see the sea from every spot of the house or grounds. Although the Villa is property of the L'Académie des beaux-arts, part of the Institut de France, since 1991 the villa has been managed and promoted by Culturespaces, a company specializing in the management of museums and historical monuments. 

The Villa is open to the public 365 day a year from 10 a.m to 6 p.m, except: July and August: from 10 a.m to 7 p.m. From November to February: from Monday to Friday from 2 p.m to 6 p.m. / weekends and holidays from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. 

Madame Ephrussi's Venetian bed and bedroom
The rotunda of "Madame's room": chairs and 18th century silk window frames. The two smaller chairs  on the floor were for her dogs.
One of the many fountains in the entrance to the the gardens 
Stone garden
"Xaipe" Greek for "rejoice" represents the only instructions given to the visitor arriving at the Kerylos Villa. 
One of Béatrice’s dear friends Théodore Reinach (and cousin-in-law as his second wife was an Ephrussi), was also her neighbor. You can actually see his incredible villa from one of the many windows of the Villa The Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa. Although equally splendid, the two villas could not be any more different.

Known as a man with "encyclopedic knowledge", Théodore purchased a property at Beaulieu-sur-Mer with intentions to construct a villa modeled after the antique houses of Delos in Greece. The adventure in building the villa, which was named Kerylos (a Greek word, "Kerylos" means Halcyon or kingfisher which in Greek mythology was considered a bird of good omen), began in 1902 and cost 9 million franc.

Théodore (1860-1928), a Doctor of Law and Doctor of literature, was also a well-known and highly regarded Hellenist (amongst other things), and was author of the first French translation of The Athenian Republic by Aristotle. He also transcribed and annotated music found during excavations at Delphi. He was the only scholar in France capable of carrying out such tasks as his philosophical culture equaled his vast musical knowledge. As a child, he was considered to be a prodigy. Théodore and his two older brothers, Joseph (a historian, politician and secretary to Gambetta) and Salomon (director of the Le musée des antiquités nationales in Saint-Germain-en Laye) formed a brilliant trio. Their combined initials – J.S.T.- were said to stand for “Je Sais Tout” (“I know everything”). 

The exquisite villa Théodore built was a reinvention of the Greek homes of antiquity however was used as an authentic home with astonishingly luxurious wall decoration and furnishings. The architecture was modeled after the nobles homes on the island of Delos in Greece. The details of the villa are truly extraordinary and the patterns of the painted wall frescoes and the mosaics, as well as the design of the furniture and motifs for the tapestries were inspired directly from antique documents. The scenes of the famous vases are recognizable on the walls illustrating the great legends of the gods and classical hero’s. The rarest of materials were used: antique stucco, various colors of veined marble-commissioned from the most prestigious interior and decorative artist of the time. The Kerylos Villa is surrounded by a garden that includes a harmonious selection of Greek plants. It's no wonder Théodore entertained the likes of Isadora Duncan and Sarah Bernhardt, the space itself was/is surely an attraction. My personal favorite of the two, I could spend the whole day examining every detail of the villa! 

Like the The Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa, the property is managed and promoted by Culturespaces. The Villa is open to the public 365 day a year from 10 a.m to 6 p.m, except: July and August: from 10 a.m to 7 p.m. From November to February: from Monday to Friday from 2 p.m to 6 p.m. / weekends and holidays from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. 

The library faces east, according to the instructions of the Ancients, it is illuminated by 3 tall, wide french windows that open onto a terrace over looking the sea. The central chandelier, replica of the chandelier in the Sancta Sofia Church in Constantinople. 
The Triklinos, or the banquet hall: guests sat at couches woven in leather and dined on tripod tables placed in the middle of the room.
This room was called Ornites (The birds) and is dedicated to Hera, Zeus's wife, goddess of marriage and femininity.  Painted on the walls are symbols of Hera (Peacock feather). This room belonged to Theodore Reinach's wife, Fanny Kann.
Although more Roman than Greek, this shower has a few modern refinements such as the possibility of taking a "rain shower" or "circular shower"
Theodore's room "Erotes" in reference to the wall decoration that represents winged Eros playing among the vine branches and the doves. The bronze and wood bed, modeled after a bed in the archeological museum o f Naples, is severely framed by two grooved wooden columns, painted like everything else in the room in the style and colors characteristic if Pompeii. 
Entrance peristyle: Air and light circulate freely among the rose laurels, while a basin in the center reflects the fundamental role of water as the source of life. On the wall, mythological scenes and shell designs recall the indestructible links between the Greek civilization and the world of the sea. 
View from the east terrace of the house (although the sea completely surrounds the villa and one can see the sea from every location of the villa).

As you leave the villa make sure to check out Gustave Eiffel's villa right next door! (yes Théodore's neighbor was also his good friend, the French civil engineer and architect who built the famous La tour Eiffel).  

Thursday, October 2, 2014

24 Hours in Amsterdam!

Amsterdam, one of my favorite cities in Europe! Originating as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important ports in the world during the 17th Century (the Dutch Golden Age). During that time, the city was the leading center for finance, diamonds and was a head of the curve with innovative developments in trade. Now Amsterdam is recognized as the commercial capital of the Netherlands and as one of the top financial centers in Europe. Many large Dutch institutions have their headquarters in the city and it is home to the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the oldest stock exchange in the world. The city is also rich in cultural heritage with many of the worlds top museums such as the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum, Hermitage Amsterdam, Anne Frank House, and Amsterdam Museum, and more. Even without visiting one of the many cultural institutions Amsterdam has to offer, one can spend their time wandering through the historic canals, visiting the many open air markets, shopping (great clothing and design shops), pop into one of the hundreds of cannabis coffee shops or if one is searching for some excitement, the red-light district always has something going on...  With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder over 3 million people visit the city a year!

I only had 24 hours in Amsterdam so I didn’t want to waste any time. I took a very early train from Paris Gare du Nord to Amsterdam Centraal which takes just over 3 hours. There are about 12 trains a day that run every hour or two from 6:25 to 19:25 from Paris Nord station to Amsterdam Central Station. Train fares vary by the comfort class and how soon you buy your tickets in advance. A one-way ticket starts from 35 euros when you make an early booking. It is up to 130 euros if you make a last minute booking. When you arrive in Amsterdam, it is extremely easy to catch a taxi or take the tram to your destination. Here is what I did once I got into town!

10:00 AM: Hop on a bike!

The narrow, winding streets of Amsterdam's historic 17th-century city center are definitely best navigated by bike. And with up to 400 kilometres of bicycle paths leading just about everywhere in town, it's no wonder that Amsterdam is a true cycling city. In fact, Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world and the majority of its citizens have spent their lives on two wheels since they were infants.  The hotel where I stayed offered bikes to use during my stay so I was able to just drop off my bags and go! There are many places to rent a bike. Alternatively, you can also take one of the many bike tours the city has to offer. Faster and cheaper than public transport, exploring the city on a bike lets you see more in a day, while blending in with the locals at the same time. Plus, if you're inexperienced or nervous about traffic, the expert guides and rental shops can set you up and offer great advice.

11:00 AM: Rijksmuseum 

The Rijksmuseum is a Netherlands national museum dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam. The museum is conveniently located at the Museum Square in the borough Amsterdam South, close to the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and the Concertgebouw. As a national institute, the Rijksmuseum offers a representative overview of Dutch art and history. The museum has on display 8,000 objects of art and history, from their total collection of 1 million objects from the years 1200–2000, among which are some masterpieces by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Johannes VermeerThe museum also has a small Asian collection which is on display in the Asian pavilion.

The Rijksmuseum was originally founded in The Hague in 1800 and moved to Amsterdam in 1808, where it was first located in the Royal Palace and later in the Trippenhuis. The current main building was designed by Pierre Cuypers and first opened its doors in 1885. In April of 2013, after a ten-year renovation which cost  375 million, the main building was reopened by Queen Beatrix. In 2013, it was the most visited museum in the Netherlands with a record number of 2.2 million visitors. 

Self-portrait, Vincent van Gogh, 1887. Painting. Room 1.18
Vincent moved to Paris in 1886, after hearing from his brother Theo about the new, colorful style of French painting. Wasting no time, he tried it out in several self-portraits. He did this mostly to avoid having to pay for a model. Using rhythmic brushstrokes in striking colors, he portrayed himself here as a fashionably dressed Parisian. 
Rijksmuseum, https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/SK-A-3262

 The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1660. oil on canvas, Eregalerij  
A maidservant pours milk, entirely absorbed in her work. Except for the stream of milk, everything else is still. Vermeer took this simple everyday activity and made it the subject of an impressive painting – the woman stands like a statue in the brightly lit room. Vermeer also had an eye for how light by means of hundreds of colorful dots plays over the surface of objects.

Rijksmuseum, https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/SK-A-3262

Research Library 
2:00 PM: Lunch at Rijksmuseum Café

Exploring the museum and taking-in all the wonderful works of art can build up an appetite. I wasn't quite ready to leave the museum yet so I thought I would have a quick bite in the newly renovated Atrium at the Museum's cafe. The new Rijksmuseum Café offers eaters a view of one of the central courtyards. One can enjoy an array of sweet and savory Dutch pastries, soups and sandwiches. Non-alcoholic beverages, Dutch gin and Heineken beer are also available. The Café is open 365 days a year from 9:00 to 18:00 for both museum and non-museum visitors. It is not possible to make reservations but the turnover of people is consistent so you are not waiting long for a table (if you have to wait at all!).

So long Rijksmuseum!

As a California native one would think I would be use to the presence or ability to easily acquire cannabis, but every time I am Amsterdam its ubiquity always astonishes me. Not only was my hotel within a 10 minute walk from Museum Square, but it was directly across the street from a very lovely coffee shop. Coffee shop De Graal is not your seedy red-light district stoner hang out, but serves up an amazing array or teas, coffees as well as cannabis-- all at very affordable prices. Many locals and expats frequent De Graal. Amsterdam Info describes this De Graal as "a thinking man’s coffee shop". Split over three levels the coffee shop provides customers, board games, comfortable seating, a chess set, great music...and awesome wall murals to set the mood. One unique feature to this coffee shop, is the recording studios for those looking to make some music. Simply call to reserve a spot and the rooms, complete all the equipment you might need, are yours for EUR 5 per person per hour. 

I guess there is a reason why the Dutch are so happy! Pipes at the ready since 1668! The Merry Family, Jan Havicksz. Steen, 1668. Oil on canvas.

6:00 PM: Oysters and Champagne 

Because of Amsterdam's positioning to the sea, its no surprise that one can get amazing sea food in the city, especially oysters. One can typically find Dutch flat oysters however many of the Dutch farming organizations grow Pacific cupped oysters. There are many places in Amsterdam where you can find fresh oysters and eat them while enjoying the views of the canals! Oysters are always enhanced with a glass of champagne. 

8:30 PM: Indonesian dinner at Blauw 

The Dutch colonized Indonesia for nearly 350 years and as a result have a strong tie and history with the culture including its cuisine. According to a travel writer for the New York Times, an average Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam is better than the best in the States. So with that said, it is imperative to eat Indonesian while in Amsterdam. 

One of my new favorite Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam is Blauw (which means blue). You can order à la carte but unless you know Indonesian cuisine well you’ll be guessing. A fun way to try an assortment of Indonsean food is to take the rijsttafel option (rice table). This is an equivelent to a tasting menu. After deciding on whether you want meat or not, you will be presented with a dozen or so dishes, many of which you’ll never identify but most of which you’ll enjoy. If you are a vegan, the waiter will also provide you with different options. The waiter will also take your photo, post it to thier website and you can download it the following day. A super bonus to the resturant is they also have a great wine list! If you opt for the rijsttafel option...come hungry!

10:00 AM:  Breakfast at Sir Albert hotel

We decided to take advantage of the wonderful amenities of the hotel and had a late breakfast there. Luckily our hotel, the Sir Albert, offers an amazing buffet style breakfast complete with fresh smoothies, fruit, cheeses, yogurts, healthy toppings, several egg options and the menu goes on and on. This boutique hotel, once a diamond factory in the 1820's, has been re-designed with a very cosy, yet sleek and modern decor thus providing a very lovely atmosphere for breakfast. 

Its breakfast area is near the "library" and has large windows allowing plenty of light (for lunch and dinner this space transforms into one of the top sushi restaurants and hippest bars in amsterdam called Izakaya...reservations to eat required!).

And of course if you are not yet ready to face the day, all the delights from the breakfast buffet can be brought directly to your room. The breakfast in bed option is always a great way to start a new day and a great way to end my 24 hours in Amsterdam! 


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