Wednesday, November 4, 2015


This is all about a beautiful apartment in Nice in a château. A château in the centre of Nice? That can't be possible!, I hear you say. Well it is, believe me. My parents have lived here happily for some years.  It is a well-kept secret. Tucked away from the bustle of the city, the château sits apart in its own grounds decorated with eccentric statues (a lion wrestling a crocodile is just one of the more outlandish pieces). Yet it is only a quick skip to the beach and the centre of town on foot.    

The château has a rather grand pedigree. Built circa 1850 in a fantastical neo-Gothic meets Moorish style, its gardens originally stretched down to the Promenade and sea front of Nice. The second owner, Count Joseph Caravadossi d'Asprement, took it over in 1879. It was later passed to his son who had married a wealthy American heiress, Elizabeth de Groot. Tragically the son died young as did his wife and daughter. Some say the castle is haunted. (but we can't say we have seen a ghost).

But back to the apartment (which is for sale, by the way). Glorious high ceilings, original black and white marble floors, lead skylights. The apartment is an elegant example of fin-de-siècle style. And the pièce de resistance - a garden with 400-year old olive trees.

Stepping through the front door is to step back in history but with twenty-first century Nice on your doorstep. It's the best of all worlds, one could say.

For enquiries about the Château apartment, please email

The Lou Messugo #AllAboutFrance blog link up, see here


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Beaches of the Côte d'Azur

Plage Mala, Cap d'Ail

It's official. The first swim of the season on the Côte d'Azur. Or rather, I dived into the exquisite turquoise-blue water and almost immediately ran out. Yes the water was really that cold, but the sun was hot and the day has been perfect.

Although I have lived here for many years I have never been to the mythical Plage Mala, Cap d'Ail,  near Monaco. So it was about time I took a trip. It is often mooted as the most beautiful beach on the Côte, the most unspoilt and so on. In reality it is very nice, but not as unspoilt as I had hoped. (But then, I'm from New Zealand so unspoilt beaches for me are another thing altogether.)

The thing about Plage Mala that keeps it relatively low-key is the difficulty of getting there. There are 120 steps or so down to the beach. Going down, not so bad. Coming up, just a bit harder. You can also walk along the coastal path from Monaco, but this takes time. The extremely stylish alternative is to arrive by yacht and be ferried ashore. I think I am going to go for that option next time. 

There are two restaurant-clubs on the beach. Both very cool and very expensive (the young Monaco crowd obviously likes to hang here). But we took home-made sandwiches like real Niçois locals do and sat on the pebbles. You get use to them, honest you do. Anyway, sun loungers are for sissies.

So that's Plage Mala for you. Stunningly beautiful, difficult to get to, but not as remote and unspoilt as I would have hoped. 

I'll  carry on my swims of the summer around the Côte's different beaches and report back.

This post also features on the excellent #AllAboutFrance Lou Messugo blog; Check it out here

Friday, May 1, 2015

how to blend in like a local


Holiday season has started on the Côte d'Azur and I've been thinking about tourists and how so often they would like to blend in but don't. So here are a few tips to get you looking and behaving like a local on the French Riviera

It is mandatory at all times to wear sunglasses - indoors and out; day and night. They must be designer and the bigger the better if you are a woman. We don't take them off as not only do they protect our eyes from the sunshine, but after several hours of wearing them they leave rather unattractive marks on our cheeks. So it's better just to keep them on.

Go to a boulangerie and buy a baguette and carry it around with you. People will think you are a local going home with your bread. It really works.

Nice Matin, what can we say? The daily newspaper of the Côte that swings between a double-page spread on a boule competition in Grasse to the latest murder in a Nice neighbourhood. It appears  to be written in old French and has footnotes. Yes footnotes in a daily rag! For that alone we love it. Pretend to read it in the café. Perhaps you will not understand a word. But neither do most locals.

I can't stress this one enough. Sunglasses good. Hats bad. It is tempting to go all 50s Audrey Hepburn-Riviera-straw-hat but the local women would not be seen dead in one. As for the Panama hat for men. Please don't go there. The most you will see is an 'ado' (teenager) with a baseball cap trying to look cool and American, and failing. Locals do not wear hats.

I promise that this will guarantee you local street (market) creed. I know that your dream is to go to the market with that cute Provençal straw basket. I had that dream, too, once upon a time. Reality is this says 'tourist'. Most of us carry around scrunched-up plastic recyclable supermarket bags (if you want to be trendy, an Italian supermarket bag says something extra). But to go the whole way, then the shopping trolley - the more battered the better - really shouts 'local'. Make sure you bang in to a few people as you march through the market muttering to yourself.

Drink only rosé and ask for ice with it to be served in a separate glass with a spoon. It is one of life's mysteries that rosé can range from €2.50 a bottle to €20 and it all tastes exactly the same. So order the cheapest and pile on the ice cubes like the locals do.

If all else fails, get a dog. The smaller the better is the rule and they must go with you everywhere, especially to restaurants where they can be given a seat at the table. There is nothing like a dog to signal that you have stopped playing at being a local and can now be taken seriously.

Ciao!, as they say here (this will also help if you speak like a local)

This is a link to a blog we like at Côte Abode - All about France

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fayence and around


It's an unusual week for me. I am leaving the Côte d'Azur coast that I am so familiar with for the hills far above Cannes. The 'perched' villages of Fayence, Seillans and Caillans are in the Var, but only about 40 minutes away from Nice.

It's another world. Less hectic than the coast with a generous dash of  Provençal charm. These villages are very quiet at the moment, but will soon come to life as Spring arrives.

The trip is to show a client around with a good but modest budget. He wants a house, and with house prices on the coast so high, these small, charming inland villages are an incredible bargain by comparison. For the price of a two-bedroom apartment in Cannes, you can find a whole house with a pool in this neck of the woods.

After doing several research trips I am quite pleased to have discovered a new side to living here. After years of resisting going up the hill, I now think I may have found  an area that is not only beautiful and not far away, but also affordable. May it last!


Monday, March 3, 2014

St Jean Cap Ferrat

St Jean Cap Ferrat 

A story of Kings, mistresses and local councils

I love how one story can lead to another without it having been the original intention. It is like cooking a meal and then realising the  recipe is no longer what you set out to create, but you end up with something delicious nonetheless. So, thinking about a recent frustrating work experience in  St Jean Cap Ferrat has led me on another path altogether. 

First, apologies to my client who will be reading this as he does not need the original story retold! We are both still exasperated with St Jean Cap Ferrat Marie over a situation of pre-emption. Pre-emption is a peculiar French system whereby the local council decides to buy the property/land from under your nose once you have had an offer accepted. It is not common in urban areas for an apartment to be pre-empted, so most buyers in cities should not be concerned. In most cases it will involve empty plots of urban land (which the council can turn into something - be it a park, car park, recreational centre) or agricultural land (which a body called SAFER oversees and is intended to protect rural France). There is also a third option to do with tenants' rights. A long-term tenant in France has first option to buy the property they are living in if it comes up for sale.

My experience, thankfully, is rare on the Côte d'Azur. And I hope it will be my last. The reason given for pre-emption in this case was St Jean's need for 'social housing'. Do I believe this? No comment. But apparently my negotiation skills were too good, the price too keen and the Marie could not resist. It was just bad luck.

What I did stumble across, however (as I waded through reams of legal documents and case histories trying to find a solution to our pre-empt problem), is the story of King Leopold II  of  Belgium and his 16-year-old mistress Caroline Delacroix.  It was light-relief from all the legal work.  I had known about the King's connection to the Côte d'Azur, but had never read the story. The most recent news-worthy story about Leopold was that his original Villefranche estate  - the Villa Leopolda -  had been  bought by a Russian oligarch for a record €390 million in 2008. The Russian buyer later reneged on the deal and had to forfeit his €39 million deposit plus interest to the current owner.

The story of King Leopold and the Côte begins the end of the 19th Century when he arrived here and fell in love with the beauty of the coastline.  He began to buy up land, especially around St Jean Cap Ferrat. This was bought with blood money - the profits made from his cruel conquest of the Congo. His 16-year-old mistress Caroline Delacroix - a courtesan from Paris also known as Blanche Lacroix (the 'De' was added later to give her a more aristocratic air) - was settled in a villa on Plage Passable, now a popular St Jean beach. The villa is still there today.

Caroline is the more interesting story because, although she plays a back-seat in history, it shows the tenacity of a woman from humble beginnings who rose to become the mistress-wife of a King and (seemingly) manipulated the situation to ensure that she gained millions. Although she was no great beauty, Caroline was picked out for the King's pleasure. However, rather than a dalliance to be cast aside like his other mistresses, Caroline managed to capture the King's heart and remained with him until his death. They were married while on his deathbed (his unloved Queen having already died) although this was never formally recognised by the Belgium State. Caroline bore him two sons, neither of whom were officially acknowledged as legal heirs, yet most of the King's money and assets went to Caroline and their sons upon his death. This was highly contentious at the time as he had three legitimate daughters who were to all intents and purposes disinherited.

Not much  is known about Caroline's early life. She is thought to have been born in Romania in 1883, the daughter of a Frenchman. She later became a high-class prostitute in Paris, pimped by her lover Antoine Durrieux, a former Army Officer and gambler. She first encountered King Leopold, an aging man of 65, when she was 16.

When the King set Caroline up in the villa at Plage Passable in St Jean Cap Ferrat, she effectively became a prisoner in a gilded cage, Caroline would wait for the King - who was unhappily married - to make nocturnal visits. The grander estate in Villefrance later became one of her residences until, after Leopold's death, she was shut out by members of his family. Indeed, she was locked out from most of her homes across Europe after his death.

Caroline DelaCroix with her two sons

Caroline was hated by the King's family, the Belgium public and the European elite. She was jeeringly referred to as 'La reine du Congo' - in part because of the large sums of bonds, property and money given to her by the King acquired through his vicious exploitation of the African state and its people. Even by the standards of  the time, King Leopold shocked his fellow Western colonialists with  his brutality of the Congolese. The cutting off of hands being one of the less severe forms of punishment for workers (including children) who did not meet quotas on the rubber plantations.

It seems that in a bid to leave nothing to his legitimate daughters, King Leopold did his best to  unburden himself of money and assets during his final years, putting as much as he could in the name of Caroline and her sons, and spending what he could, including the purchase of big swathes of land in St Jean Cap Ferrat.

What is interesting, however, is that eight months after Leopold's death in 1909, and having returned to France (or fled, depending on the source), Caroline, now Baronesse de Vaughan - a title given to her by Leopold after the birth of their first son Lucien  - married her former lover/pimp Antoine Durrieux. Durrieux then officially legitimised her two sons.  Durrieux helped her after the King's death to claim her inheritance and to fight the legal battles with his daughters. Their short marriage ended in divorce in 1912 and he accepted  a handsome settlement. The trail of Caroline seems to go rather cold after this time. She never remarried and died in France in 1948.

It would seem, then, that Caroline remained in contact with her former lover Durrieux throughout her relationship with the King, which makes one wonder whether Leopold was the ultimate cuckold husband. Was Caroline's seeming devotion to the King perhaps a clever plot conceived by the two lovers who both knew it was just a matter of waiting for his death?

So a story of pre-emption in St Jean Cap Ferrat, becomes a story of Kings and mistresses mixed with a little intrigue. Even with my frustration over legal matters with St Jean, I'm happy to have uncovered some more history of this area. I will see Plage Passable with new eyes next time I visit and think a little of Caroline Delacroix.