More than a bolthole: The ongoing allure of the French Riviera


More than a bolthole:

The ongoing allure of the French Riviera

13 August 2021

7 minute read

The French Riviera, or Côte d’Azur, is known for its sunshine, Mediterranean lifestyle, incredible food, and the glitz-and-glamour of the seaside resorts of Cannes and Saint Tropez. Venture inland and you’ll also find delightful towns, medieval villages, and the ski slopes of the Southern Alps.

For these reasons and more, it’s one of the most sought-after second home locations in the world but it’s not been immune to the impact of pandemic lockdowns. Travelling to these idyllic French Riviera hideaways has been unpredictable and complex, especially for foreign homeowners.

As a result, the Côte d’Azur property market has had its fair share of ups and downs in the last 18 months, both for buyers and sellers. The £26.6 million waterfront mansion of the late-actor Sean Connery paints a telling picture - perched on the rocks in the exclusive Cap de Nice neighbourhood, it saw its listing price slashed in half in early 2021 after failing to find a buyer1.

A super-prime place in the sun

Despite this, estate agents have seen French buyers and Monégasques take up the slack – with property prices overall in the Côte d’Azur managing a 1% uptick in 2020, according to Knight Frank2.

“It’s not easy to say if it’s a buyer’s or seller’s market right now,” says Edward de Mallet Morgan, a London-based partner at Knight Frank within the international super-prime sales team.

One thing’s for sure, the pandemic has transformed the way we live. After months of hunkering down, there’s been something of an urban exodus with people wanting a place by the sea to call home, with plenty of space.

‘We’re seeing lots of people looking to implement this dream,” says Nice-based Alex Balkin, Executive Director of Savills for the French Riviera and French Alps.

“They’ve got new values. They want to spend more time with their families. And they want a good experience. After the last year, they know time by definition is ephemeral. They want to savour the moment.”

With high-speed internet becoming more common, people are also realising they can do their jobs remotely. And if you’re only going to be needed in the office three days a week, the appeal of a super-prime Mediterranean base has understandably gone up.

Investing in luxury

Not surprisingly the pandemic-induced ‘race for space’ has seen demand for villas strengthen at the expense of apartments. Given 99% of properties in the principality are either flats or apartments3, the pandemic may have slightly tarnished its appeal. Nevertheless, its property market remains robust.

And Monaco isn’t standing still. A newly-renovated Larvotto beach has recently opened to the public. While next door, an ambitious €2 billion offshore extension project to reclaim 15 acres of land from the sea, known as the Mareterra project and scheduled to be complete in 2025, will add real estate to the Monaco skyline that could potentially go for double the current going rate. The project also boasts a huge array of green credentials.

“Barclays has a long-standing expertise of the local real estate market and we’re currently seeing a strong appetite to finance acquisitions in Monaco, as well as in the French Riviera – an example of which is Mareterra,” says Gérald Mathieu, Head of Barclays Private Bank for Europe and the Middle East, and Monaco CEO.

Younger buyers snap up plush properties

Estate agents are also reporting the emergence of younger buyers in the super-prime property market. The dominant purchasers are no longer in their 50s looking at early retirement. Instead, it’s 30 or 40 somethings with jobs and family commitments.

“A lot of these younger buyers are after ‘turnkey’ properties – ready to use and in a good location,” says Balkin. “They’re not necessarily after contemporary properties, but they all want comfortable, user-friendly open space inside.”

The hottest Côte d’Azur properties have historically tended to be beside the seaside. But it’s now inland hotspots where prices are rising fastest. It’s the lure of cheaper, larger homes with bigger gardens – with buyers heading from the bustle of the coast to the charm and beauty of places like Valbonne, Mougins and Grasse.

“A lot of this shift to house living has simply translated into an increase of those living in apartments in Monaco who are now also considering owning a villa on the French Riviera,” says de Mallet Morgan.

Yet, despite this shift into the Riviera’s hinterland, “the most coveted spots remain in the prime areas of Cannes, Cap d’Antibes, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Villefranche, Saint-Tropez and the like, as well as specific areas adjacent to the HNWI playgrounds”, remarks Balkin.

How things could be different after COVID-19

As borders begin to open and foreign buyers return to France’s ‘Blue Coast’, will things return to ‘normal’ in the property market?

“Buyers on the Riviera, and indeed globally, seem keen to make decisions quickly to buy properties that they intend using a lot, rather than for occasional holidays,” says de Mallet Morgan.

And places like Monaco – long the residence-of-choice for high-net-worth individuals because of its attractive fiscal environment – are now being recognised as prime ‘work from home’ locations in this post-COVID world.

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