Luxury living on the French Riviera

19 May 2023

Please note: The external views expressed in this article are not the views of Barclays Private Bank, and forecasts are not a reliable indicator of future performance. Professional advice should always be sought when selling or buying property.

“The French Riviera really does have everything – not only is it one of Europe’s top holiday destinations, it’s also one of the world’s most desirable places to own a property.” So says Alex Balkin, Executive Director of Savills French Riviera. And it’s little wonder why.

Famed for its fine golden sands, good food and, of course, the glitz and the glamour. The Côte d'Azur, as it’s known locally, hugs the warm turquoise seas of the Mediterranean, stretching 550 miles west-to-east. It starts at St Tropez – the sizzling jet-set favourite – before finishing at magnificent Menton next to the Italian border. Along the way, there’s the old town of Antibes, the majesty of Monaco and the stunning views of Villefranche’s iconic bay to take in, to name just a few of the stops on this elegant stretch of coastline.

Move slightly inland from the coastal villas and luxury yachts and you’ll find gorgeous medieval towns, rolling countryside and pristine vineyards – all immersed in rich Mediterranean culture. And just behind lurk the imposing French Alps, the ultimate winter playground for snow enthusiasts.   

All of this is easily accessible from nearby international airports, there’s super-fast internet and international schools aplenty – as well as 300 days-plus of sunshine to factor in. Add in the excellent amenities – the chic restaurants, stylish boutiques and vibrant nightlife – and it all makes for a global real estate hot-spot.

The allure of the French Riviera

Not surprisingly given the above, the Côte d'Azur has a thriving property market and is home to some of the world’s most expensive real estate. Its opulent apartments, villas and mansions are often unique – and worth whatever a buyer is willing to pay.  

For instance, the once-modest fishing village of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, perched on the peninsula between Nice and Monaco, can now lay claim to the priciest per-square-metre sea views in all of France1 – almost rivalling that of nearby Monaco, the most expensive residential market globally2.

“Demand for properties in the region often comes from a global marketplace, with prices tending to follow other top-tier global city markets,” says Stephen Moroukian, Head of Product and Proposition for Real Estate Financing at Barclays Private Bank. “The high-end property market on the French Riviera has been on an upward trend ever since the early months of the pandemic, and this was further intensified by the return of international travel. Although more recently, ongoing geopolitical events are reshaping where buyers are coming from.”

There is also no doubting that more mainstream property markets across the globe are currently feeling the pinch, with mortgage costs rising and uncertainty in the wider economy. But in the prime and super-prime ends of the market, where buyers tend to be cash rich and more able to transact – either using debt on a discretionary basis to suit their circumstances, or having a lower dependence on borrowing – there appears to be less downward pressure on prices. Constrained supply also continues to underpin values on the French Riviera. 

“Côte d'Azur properties have always been in the ‘nice-to-have’ bracket, rather than a ‘must-have’ purchase,” adds Balkin at Savills. “However, these lines are now blurring – because the south of France is seen as an excellent store of wealth historically, and also because bricks-and-mortar purchases are seen as safe in the current climate. In addition, people have been coming to holiday here for the last 150 years and are still coming for the obvious reasons; it’s just that these reasons are now becoming more evident.”

Remote working from paradise

One of these is the work-from-anywhere culture, which is transforming global prime residential markets – turning holiday homes into year-round bases.  

“With this huge shift in workplace behaviour since the pandemic, and video-calling becoming a part of daily life, people can spend more time in their villa in the south of France, rather than sat in their offices in London,” adds Balkin. “Gone is their evening commute; they’re replacing it with a seafront jog.”

However, Edward de Mallet Morgan, Head of International Super-Prime Sales at Knight Frank, as well as being Head of its Private Office for Monaco and the French Riviera region, believes that after a couple of remarkable years, the market is returning to some kind of normality. 

“I think we’ll see some more stock coming back on to the market, especially those homes that COVID-19 stopped or delayed from selling – as they were then used as escapes or boltholes during the pandemic.

“And given what’s been going on in the world, buyers are naturally becoming a bit more cautious – so I expect we’ll see pricing pretty flat on the French Riviera through the rest of 2023, and it becoming something of a buyer’s market. But it’s going to be an interesting summer season, and we still expect to see large transactions, especially in the main markets.

“St Tropez, especially, remains an extremely competitive marketplace with low stock levels, and the return of families to Monaco should also naturally reflect fresh buyers for the eastern Côte d’Azur particularly. It’s probably only the back country – the non-sea views – where the market may become a bit quieter in terms of activity.”

Living the life in Monaco

Set along the French Riviera is the tiny principality of Monaco, which is smaller in area than New York’s Central Park but holds the distinction of being the world’s most densely populated country. And despite its size, Monaco is brimming with things to do. Its harbours are usually magnets for the Mediterranean’s fleet of superyachts, while the principality plays host to many annual events, including the Monaco Grand Prix, Monaco Yacht Show and the Monte-Carlo Masters tennis tournament.  

Known also for its luxurious lifestyle and favourable tax system, in Monaco space is at such a premium that an incredible 99% of the properties there are apartments3 – to house the more-than 40,000 residents4.

“Monaco has evolved from being a location where people simply wanted a ‘bolthole’ required for residency, to families moving to live in the Principality and, as a result, the historically popular requirements for studio and one-bedroom apartments have been replaced by new families requiring two- and three-bedroom larger apartments that are either new or newly renovated,” adds de Mallet Morgan at Knight Frank.

This chronic lack of space has led authorities to extend Monaco outwards, with the spectacular and long-awaited Mareterra waterfront land reclamation project set to open in late 2024. This extension to Monaco will increase its surface area by 3%5, gaining more than 100 new luxury apartments, villas and houses in the process.

“Because of the limits on space, most properties in Monaco are snapped up extremely quickly,” says Irene Luke, Co-Head of Savills Monaco. “For instance, I think there’s just one apartment left to sell on the Mareterra scheme, with properties there setting new price records for newbuilds. 

“Monaco has always been a stable property market. Even today, it’s pretty buoyant when compared to other global cities. There’s a lot of demand and never enough supply; we’ve also been extremely busy with rentals this year, showing that people are well and truly on the move.”

Gérald Mathieu, Chief Executive of Barclays Monaco, agrees: “Demand for high-end property across the Côte d'Azur shows little sign of abating, and nowhere more so than in Monaco itself, which is already the world’s most expensive location to purchase property.

“Outside of Monaco, the stunning locations of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, St Tropez, Cannes and Antibes all continue to have a vibrant market with a mix of international clients from all four corners of the globe.”

Moving to the French Riviera

Acquiring property on the French Riviera is quite straightforward. There are no restrictions on foreigners, who are attracted by its year-round climate, established resorts and high-end city living. Although if you’re not a European Union citizen, you may need to apply for a visa to live on the Riviera. 

“While the prime property market is not immune to economic cycles and can be more volatile than the wider property market, French Riviera property is expected to remain strong,” says Moroukian at Barclays Private Bank. “The main driver is the continued demand from high-net-worth buyers from around the world, who are attracted to the Riviera's combination of luxury, exclusivity and lifestyle. There’s little wonder it remains such a coveted destination.”

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