Riviera is picture perfect all year

With year-long sunshine and stunning views, property prices in the Riviera really know no bounds.

YEAR-LONG sunshine is seen as the province of the Riviera and, with the protection of the Alps to the north and the Mediterranean to the south, the climate is outstandingly mild.

This picture of Antibes shows perfectly the attractions for the first tourists who were fleeing the fog and cold of British and Russian winters. Winters here are mild and, while summers are hot, they rarely hit the highs of more central parts of France.

Even in winter there is an average of five hours of sun a day – but count on eight to 10 days of rain.

The French Riviera – which stretches from Saint-Tropez in the west to the Italian border in the east – has a coastline of about 100km of some of the most expensive real estate in Europe including the three caps of Cap d’Antibes, Cap Ferrat and Cap Martin.

But for less high-flying residents it is also known for its excellent bilingual schools where youngsters can study for the International Bac and go to a university in the UK or elsewhere; its range of sporting facilities – especially watersports and skiing – the exciting cosmopolitan lifestyle, and, unfortunately, the high cost of living in what is still a sought-after area to live.

The land and light that attracted Picasso, Renoir and Matisse still exerts a powerful draw and the property market has not sunk as low as many other places in France – although prices are down on what they were two years ago. With several flights a day heading to UK cities from Nice airport throughout the year, the area has excellent transport links.

Here you can follow in the footsteps of Napoleon as he headed north to Paris after landing near Cannes in 1815 and, perhaps, call in at Grasse, the home of the French perfume industry or head west and find the “Little Venice” in the village of Port Grimaud near Saint-Tropez with its seven miles of canals.

Close to nature with sea and hills right on doorstep

MOVING to the Riviera follows different patterns for different people – perhaps it is a move to a dream job but more often it is the search for sun away from dreary winters.

Debbie Wenn, who lives at St Paul de Vence, says she moved for her husband’s “dream job” but integrating has been hard work.

“It has been a very steep learning curve, trying to learn the language, dealing with builders, paperwork (dictionary in hand), red tape, even shopping,” she said.

Now, however, she says her 14-year-old son is at the CIV international school in Sophia Antipolis and has met great friends and has “blossomed into a great teenager, has no fear, mixes with kids from all nationalities and is generally having a great time”.

Through the International Women’s Club of the Riviera she has met some fascinating and interesting women from all round the world, “each of them having their own reasons for moving here, artists, writers who are famous in their own right – I love it.”

Learning French has been a struggle and she admits that she is better at reading and writing than speaking but can always call on French friends for help.

There are problems and she says that the expensive way of life is top of her list, with very poor “customer service” just behind.

“They really are behind in this field: banks, supermarkets (it’s more important to the cashiers to greet their friends/pass the time of day while there is a long queue).

“However, the people are very nice if you make an effort to speak their lovely language.”

Anne Pilling, who runs CalmCare Counselling, arrived in the Côte d’Azur as she wanted to get away from “dank, dark, miserable Britain” and says she loves the new life.

“I had a big birthday nine years ago and had a look at what I was doing and thought that I had always worked for someone else – I was a nurse and had worked in the army, NHS, a private treatment centre for addictions – and I wanted to set up my own business.

“Now I am doing what I want to do in holistic health and am managing to make it work and make a living out of it.”

The biggest problem was the bureaucracy in setting up a business: “It was very difficult – I couldn’t really have done it without help – and it is just maddening with all the things you have to pay.

“It is also very expensive here. However, I am on the Côte d’Azur.

“I love Nice and the Promenade des Anglais is just the epitome of my dream – even on a morning bike ride in the rain.

“You feel so close to nature with the sea on the doorstep and the hills and mountains just behind – it is a bonus that there is a great cultural scene as well with great museums and art galleries and many of them are free.”

Ms Pilling added one plus point was the great service at Nice Airport and the many destinations it serves: “It gives peace of mind that I can be back home pretty much whenever I needed. That was a comfort.”

How much does it cost to buy property here?

PROPERTY prices in the Riviera really know no bounds on the beautiful coast.

Look at Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov – the world’s 40th richest man – who lost his £37 million deposit after he pulled out of buying the Villa Leopolda in Villefranche for£360m.

The villa itself is the former home of King Leopold II of Belgium.

Wealth Bulletin magazine says two of the top 10 most expensive streets in the world are on the Riviera, with Avenue Princesse Grace in Monaco topping the list with prices of €84,945 per sq.m and Chemin de St-Hospice on Cap Ferrat at number two with €74,000 per sq.m.

For mere mortals, however, prices need not be so steep – especially if you head inland – and there are signs that some buyers are starting to look at the market again.

Totally Riviera agent François Haury said the market had slowed down a bit but prices had not really changed much: “It is down perhaps 5-6%, but remember Nice has the glamourous image and it is a world market.

“French people would wait for cheaper prices but other nationalities are not tied to the euro. Things have been picking up since the beginning of the year.”

He suggested a good quality two-bedroom apartment about 5-10 minutes from the beach and Vieux Nice would sell for €260-380,000.

The villa market is tight, he says, and suggests anyone with e1m and looking for a bit of space and a pool would be better away from the big cities – perhaps at La Colle sur Loup, St Paul de Vence or St Jeannet where there are some good properties – although as Nice grows it is absorbing some excellent properties with land.

Nice is still the top location, with a lot of investment by the city itself in cleaning up the streets and cutting violence, and rental properties are still strong.

Many homes in Nice, Antibes, Cannes and the other seafront villages are bought for the holiday market with strong rental prospects.

Sales specialists Nice Properties say that the market is becoming stronger, with many local buyers coming in.

The buy-to-let market has long been strong in Nice, especially in the old town and the city centre Carré d’Or near the pedestrian streets.

Monika Cyrul said they had a sunny, top-floor, one-bedroom apartment in the Carré d’Or – balcony with a good view – and sold furnished which would be ideal for holiday rental at €239,000.