Rebecca Russell heads south to the sunny shores of the Mediterranean to discover what lies behind the enduring appeal of the Riviera port town of Antibes
Antibes bustles in the season with holidaymakers and yachties, and you will often find the odd star or two joining the locals in the market or sipping pastis in caf�s.
F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda took up residence in Antibes – more specifically Juan les Pins on the Peninsula of Cap d’Antibes – in the mid-1920s. The Villa St-Louis, where they stayed and hosted memorable wild parties, is now the glamorous five-star Hotel Belles Rives. This part of the Riviera will always be associated with the Jazz Age and Bright Young Things, and in a way the tradition, or indeed the party, carries on.
But away from its slightly hedonistic side with its bars, restaurants and clubs (mainly accommodating the summer influx of British and northern European sun-seekers and yacht crews), Antibes’ charm remains pretty much unchanged.
Old Antibes has that quintessential espadrille and straw basket feel as you meander through the narrow lanes. Its heart is the Proven�al covered market on Cours Massena. Fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers and local produce (honey, olives, herbs, olive oil) are temptingly displayed each day (bar Mondays in winter). Except for a bit of smart packaging, you feel nothing much has changed over the centuries.
Old Antibes is the desirable area for second-homebuyers who are looking for an apartment with charm and history. Surrounded by fortifications dating back to the Roman and medieval times, and with the market and restaurants on the doorstep, this sector undoubtedly has ‘street appeal’. Prices in the old town of Antibes are generally higher than Nice’s old town. A basic, renovated, small two-bedroom apartment will cost around €300,000 to €350,000, rising steeply for more sought-after apartments (including those with views, higher floors and architectural beauty) and larger properties.
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On average, renovated apartments in Antibes are currently priced round €4,800 per square metre. However, in the old town the budget rises to nearer €6,000 to €7,000 per square metre, sometimes more, especially for exclusive and elusive top floors and apartments with a terrace. The property market here is buoyant and due to the limited number of good apartments on offer, prices tend to stay stable. In fact, recovery after 2008 has seen an annual growth of around 4% per year in prices.
For those investors less inclined to the old and quaint, the Albert 1er district in the heart of Antibes has more modern but good -quality residences, although it can be a little noisy. Port Vauban, next to the old town, is Europe’s largest leisure port with bling super-yachts lined up. This part of town also has attractive newer buildings, often with terraces and sea views, which again come at a premium.
SECURE AND EASY
The other demand in Antibes is for brand-new apartments in gated residences. Usually set back from the sea in residential areas, modern apartments offer a more secure, easy maintenance alternative, often with amenities such as swimming pool, tennis court and car parking. However, they can be based in rather soulless neighbourhoods and the buildings themselves vary in construction quality, sometimes with an air of the ‘Costa del Antibes’ feel. For future resale options, it is important to choose wisely when buying a new-build and to weigh up the convenience of the modern with the lack of charm, especially in a historical town like Antibes.
Picasso had a long history with the C�te d’Azur and based himself in Antibes just after the Second World War. Perched on the rocks, Ch�teau Grimaldi where Picasso stayed and painted for several months is now a museum in his honour. As a prime piece of real estate you can’t get much better. But along the coast to Cap d’Antibes there are some tempting alternatives. Like St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the Monaco side, Cap d’Antibes is home to the rich and famous. Exclusivity is its discreet middle name. Most properties on the Cap are big villas with grounds, security gates and staff quarters. The Cap has an east side, with the sandy beach of Garoupe, and a west side, nearer to Juan-les-Pins.
Adding to the exclusivity of the neighbourhood, planning and building on the Cap d’Antibes is highly regulated and sub-division of plots is controlled. Also watched over are any renovations in order to keep the villas in keeping with the surroundings and safeguard the historical architecture.
Entry price on the Cap d’Antibes is around €1.5 to €2 million. Throw in a private beach and boat mooring and as you can imagine the sky is the limit. But according to Damian Tudor, of Riviera Breeze estate agents, there has been no let-up of eager buyers. “Even in a world of uncertainty,” says Tudor, “the luxury-end of the market and buyers for the Cap d’Antibes remain as strong as ever.”
You do not have to be a millionaire, however, to enjoy this part of the C�te d’Azur. There are 48 beaches along the Antibes and Juan-les-Pins coastline. As well as the private beaches with their deckchairs and swanky restaurants, there are many places where you can grab a spot, take a dip, unpack a sandwich and enjoy the carefree Riviera life as Fitzgerald and his privileged circle did back in the 1920s. Some things never change.
Just a hop and a skip away from Antibes – indeed, you can walk there if you wish – Juan-les-Pins is one of those resorts that, as Katie Edwards, of estate agency Attika International, says, “has that old-fashioned, on-holiday-at-the-beach feel”. Part of the commune of Antibes, it was established as a resort at the end of the 19th century. It is now best known not just for its beach and nightlife – with numerous bars and clubs attracting a young crowd – but also for hosting Europe’s oldest annual jazz festival.
Apartments are popular and range from bijou studios to luxurious penthouses. Expect to pay a premium for property in Juan-les-Pins as limited stock and high demand make it competitive. One-bedroom apartments overlooking the sea start at around half a million euros. However, better deals can be found back from the beach.
Rebecca Russell’s company, C�te Abode, finds property for clients on the French Riviera