Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Private sales on the Riviera

Is it better to buy through an agent or privately? 

Buying a house or an apartment is a fraught process at the best of times. Buying overseas in an unfamiliar country and relying on estate agents makes the process even more stressful. But buying property through a private sale must rate as potentially the most prone to problems and misunderstandings.

As a buyer's agent, my clients hire me to take over the work, sift through the numerous properties, guide them in the right direction, remove the 'chance' element and make life that little bit less stressful. It makes sense to have someone like me who knows the areas, prices and market and advises independently.  One thing that comes up frequently in my searches are private sales. These are of interest as they will usually be advertised for less than with an agent - and finding the best price is an essential part of my job.

Recently, while looking for a client, I found a villa advertised privately for almost 40,000 euros less than with the agents. After one visit I could see it wasn't right for their brief, but it was worth seeing nonetheless, especially as the price could have meant a considerable saving for my clients. However, I am always a little wary about private sales and tread carefully. It's not that people who set out to sell privately want to create problems - to the contrary, they just want to get the best deal and avoid the agent fees. However, no matter that it is a business transaction, buying and selling has an emotional element that most people find hard to separate out.

Our homes are more often than not an extension of ourselves. They have memories, personal connections. Putting a price on this is often very difficult for a private seller. Letting people wander through your home making comments (or, more tellingly, not making comments) is perhaps even more difficult. Agents play a big part as buffers between the two parties. Obviously estate agents will be working in the seller's interests, but it isn't always an easy relationship between seller and agent either. Agents  frequently take a lot of flak.

I don't think many people realise how delicate the negotiation stage can be, for example. Launching in to this game without any prior experience is risky on both sides. This is when misunderstandings happen. A price is agreed and then after a few days of contemplation the seller feels he has sold too cheaply, or the buyer feels he has agreed too high. That's why an agent will quickly (usually) get something in writing before either side has a chance to change his/her mind.  This initial agreement is not legally binding, but the psychological, quasi-legal effect of seeing something 'officially in writing' makes it a lot easier for people not to back out or feel aggrieved.

The other issue with private sales is that you are having to trust what the seller is telling you - be it about shared boundaries, issues with the property itself, etc. OK, so an agent might not be particularly trustworthy, but the hope is you have at least  some back-up, some sense of 'duty of care'. Although in the past I have had issues with some agents and their lack of transparency, as well as lack of attention to detail, generally they are careful not to get themselves caught up in blatant lies. I haven't found this to be the case with some private sellers, unfortunately.

My advice is be careful when going it alone with a private sale. Make sure you have everything in writing. Not just the price but anything that the seller has promised, be it parking or permission to rent out an apartment.  I certainly don't intend this to be an argument against private sales. I will always search through them and the majority will be fine. But I am working for the buyers, so in this respect I am the 'agent buffer' and I know what questions to ask and what to look for. It does change things considerably.

If you are looking for property on the French Riviera, I'm here to help. Contact

Monday, November 8, 2010

Property on the Riviera set to rise

A recent article in the French economic and political news magazine Le Point began with 'Paris is not France, but even so ...' The article then goes on to highlight how Paris property prices have taken off, rising around 10 percent and more in under a year. The gist of the article is where Paris goes other cities in France follow. Singled out for special mention is Nice : 'This market is about to sky-rocket. Investors take note...', says the report (28 October).

I've just returned from a trip to Paris. Autumn is in full swing with the leaves swishing under foot and Paris skies having turned that pretty dove-grey. I unashamedly love Paris in any season. The South of France is my home, but I often dream of one day having a pied-a-terre in Paris for occasional visits (just a small apartment near Le Jardin du Luxembourg, Montparnasse or maybe Canal St-Martin...). In Paris, my favourite past-time is playing the flâneur. I get up early and meander through the streets, passing chic parents and their immaculately dressed children on their way to school and work. Catching glimpses through open doors and passages to courtyards, one enters a private world. Somehow these quick snapshots of Paris life give the feeling  of being part of the city.

Glancing at Paris real estate is a down-to-earth moment that bolts one out of this reverie. My most shocking find was an advertisement for a 'chambre de bonne studio' in St Germaine. 6.64 sq metres (so let's be generous and say 7 sq metres) . Asking price 90,000 euros. Paris apartment prices run from between 7,000 and 12,000 euros plus per square metre. The equivalent in Nice is roughly between 4,000 to 9,000 euros.

The Côte d'Azur is not bargain territory, but next to Paris it seems like a snip - at least plausible as opposed to dream territory. The article in Le Point signals something that has been unfolding  slowly in the market. After a long period of calm and no movement, there is a sea-change as people having waited long enough seize their chance. With Paris as our guide, I would second the view that investors should start to take note and not wait too long.

For help with buying on the French Riviera, contact Rebecca Russell at Côte Abode. Email

Friday, October 22, 2010

All calm on the Côte d'Azur

Several people have been in touch recently to check how I  have been coping with the strikes. At first I was a little perplexed by the question as the strikes have had no noticeable effect on my life, or Nice, as far as I can tell. I don't need to jump barricades to get to the shops or queue for petrol (if the worst came to the worst, we joke, we could drive to Italy). There have been a couple of strike days at my daughter's school. But we saw this as an opportunity for a relaxed breakfast in the sun at our local café. Any demonstrations have been low-key minor affairs - more carnival than serious protest. I watch the flights a little more carefully, but there have been no major cancellations. All in all, Nice is it's usual laid-back self.

Once owned by David Niven, this villa on St Jean Cap Ferrat is typical of why the Côte remains desirable

But if you watch what is happening in other parts of France, it's a different story. Marseilles, in particular, now has rubbish stacking up in the streets. Riot police are clashing with college students in Lyons and Paris. The north is running out of fuel. Now much of this is a media-led frenzy, I know, but still it seems as if I live in a different country by comparison.

And this made me think about Nice and the Côte d'Azur and what makes it such a pleasure to live here. Last year clients asked me why property prices were so much higher on the Côte than down near Marseilles. I guess the strike is one way of answering the question. It is a very protected (and pampered) area of France. Perhaps the stunning geographical beauty and warm climate make the people here less radical. But I suspect it has more to do with the high affluence ratio and the fact this region depends on the smooth running of its services to maintain the equilibrium that we are so use to.

When the Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, was voted in we saw a move to the centre-Right. Whether you like his politics or not, since day one he has been on a mission to make Nice the star city (next to Paris) of France. His public transport policy with its state-of-the-art tram system and bike hire on every corner (almost!) has been a huge success. As has his '1 euro anywhere in the Alpes-Maritime area' fare scheme. Yes, you can get to Monaco on the bus for 1 euro!

Estrosi's closeness to Sarkozy (he is also in his government) has seen Nice favoured with grants. The latest scheme is to make Nice the most protected city in France (probably Europe) with 600 CCTV cameras installed around the city. Now, considering Nice is hardly a hot-bed of street crime this does seem like a huge waste of funds (7.6 million euros). But none the less, it all helps to build  the city's ambitious plans to become France's second city.  

So in answer to the question 'Why is it so expensive here?', the answer would seem, 'Because we have a highly privileged and stable quality of life'. And where there is privilege - exclusivity even - and stability, there is investment, and where there is investment, property prices tend to stay high and rise, making it a good investment area. And so the wheel turns. This is particularly so when the world is going through a financial crisis - investors retreat to safe havens.

And as much as I may like to think I have a tinge of the radical in me, ultimately I'm happy to remain in my 'safe haven'.

I'm always happy to offer advice to people looking to buy on the Côte d'Azur. You can email me at or visit my website

Friday, October 8, 2010

Small apartment buying in Nice

Over two days, I have been showing my lovely Australian clients the 'best of' small apartments in Nice, handpicked by me in advance. The budget was under 200,000 euros, which is always a challenge, but I like a challenge. It takes time to find the good ones, but before clients arrive I have sorted the quality ones from the bad so there is no wasting of their time and no nasty surprises. I cut through the agent hard-sell, and cut out altogether the properties that agents want to shift because they are not selling.   An agent asked me recently why I did not show clients the really bad ones as she considers this a great tactic to get people to buy (they then see a respectable one and think 'Oh, this is so much better.'). A client also asked the same question. He was so impressed by what I had shown him (having been taken around the usual rubbish by agents) he thought it would be a good way to show off my detective skills.

My answer is that I'm not an agent working for the seller. My loyalties are to my client, the buyer. They trust me to have done the ground-work and not waste their time. If they want to see bad properties, then I suggest they go round the agents. However, if they want to see the best properties in budget, unique properties, properties that are fairly priced, ones that are hard to track down .... then that's my job.

In all, I set up ten viewings for my Australians. They ranged from studios to one bedrooms. But each one had something I thought made it worthwhile. They liked the Old Town and could see the investment potential, but the one that won their hearts (and business-sense) is a top-floor studio with a big terrace that I first viewed on Friday (and wrote about in my last blog entry). It just had to be this one. We put in an offer Wednesday and it was accepted the next day. I negotiated 13,000 euros off the asking price. It's with a Syndic (building management company) so not on any agent's books. Not an easy find.

Although I spend a lot of time working out what will suit my clients best, I try not to pre-judge too much  until we have actually spent some time together. Things change when you are on the ground. But regardless of likes or dislikes, business versus heart, this rooftop apartment was special. And special in the under 200,000 Euro bracket doesn't come along very often.

A small apartment and small budget in Nice doesn't mean you have to settle for any old thing. Don't believe the agents when they say this is the best you can get. Trust me, there will often be better but you need to know what to look for and how to find it. It's hard to uncover something unique, that's for sure, but at the very least it has to be a good investment. For me this means it needs to be bigger than a shoe-box (I prefer 30 sq metres, if possible more), in a good location, preferably one bedroom and  if small then I look for other advantages such as upper floors, balconies, architectural charm.

The roof-top studio came under my 30 sq metre rule (it's 28 sq metres), but it is top floor with French windows on three sides, a terrace on all sides, marble floors, and a small turn-of the century marble fireplace. The building has one of those wonderful cage lifts. It's adorable. As I said to my delighted Australians, 'it's small but perfectly formed'. And that (and, of course, location) is the best guide when looking for a small apartment in Nice.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The best and worst of properties in Nice, all in one week

It's been a long day. It's been a long week. I've been working flat-out looking at apartments for clients who arrive in a couple of days. The notice they gave was short (a week) but this can be a good thing in their price range (under 200,000 euros) as too far in advance, the chances are good apartments will have been sold by the time they arrive. The studio to one bedroom market moves quickly in Nice.

I have viewed over 20 apartments in four days. I wear out shoes at an incredible rate. Most of the apartments were dire (and that is even after the pre-selection process whereby I interrogate the agents in advance with the kind of technique that would make a Stasi agent look kind). Indeed, I was feeling rather glum mid-week after seeing one apartment in particular. It  looked promising on paper and in the photos (large studio, Old Town, with balcony). But the visit, even by my sanguine expectations, was a shock. The communal areas were so bad that the agent (it was a first visit for her) could not hide her dismay. How do you explain hundreds of wires running along and hanging from the ceiling of the communal area? Water leaking from the ceiling? Bits of plaster falling on your head? It looked as if we had stepped into a scene from a Mad Max movie. The apartment block had been divided into numerous small flats. The corridors were a warren of doors. Some had signs of being broken in with bits of wood nailed on to protect the bashed locks. Agent M who was showing me the property did her best ('look how lovely, it has a balcony', Oh, the kitchen is not so bad...'). 'Oh pleeease', I cried! 'Stop right there' I can cope with tatty interiors, but not downright dangerous looking shared hallways. This was mugging zone. A classic example of prime location but an apartment that will never be worth anything like the asking price (150,000 euros).

The Old Town in Nice is very mixed, there's no doubt. It's slowly becoming gentrified (actually, quite rapidly, to the dismay of locals as the sushi bars move in), but the reality is that from building to building the standards vary enormously. I always pay attention to the communal areas as it says a lot about who your neighbours are, if they are paying their charges (or not), and will it have re-sale value.

So after that rather depressing visit (among many this week), my expectations certainly couldn't be lower. And then today it all changed. I had made an arrangement to a view a small studio off Nice's main shopping street (Jean Medicin). My hopes were not high. I nearly missed the ad (in French, of course) as it was merely one line, no photos. But the fact that the location was good, and more important, it said 'top floor, with terrace', was enough to make me think it worth a punt.

What can I say. It's a jewel, and it makes my job a pleasure. This is the kind of apartment that an estate agent would love to get their hands on but probably won't. It is being sold through a 'Syndic' (body corporate or building management company) who have the authority  to act as agents. They have no interest in 'marketing', they have no website, and probably don't even own a camera. They want to sell the property quickly at a fair price. The owner is not interested in paying high agent's fees. To find something like this is truly rare.

It's a stunning top floor apartment that needs just a little make-over. Small (around 30 sq metres) but the glorious terrace runs along two sides and overlooks the rooftops of  Nice. There are French windows leading on to the terrace. Even the bathroom has a view and a terrace. It's the best view from a loo in Nice. The building is in a-turn-of -the-century block, elegant and with a lift.  I beamed when I saw it.  

Finding a property for clients on a small budget is probably the hardest work I do, but it is also incredibly satisfying when you unearth such treasures. I know that someone from outside the area would never have found this apartment (and even locals might not, given how the 'marketing' is so discrete). So, I start next week with a spring in my step (and a new pair of shoes after this week's marathon).

Friday, September 3, 2010


Hot off the press overview of the latest French property prices

The latest property sales figures are out for the first half of 2010, and several French magazines (including L’Express, Le Nouvel observateur, Le Point) splashed headlines anticipating a return to a strong market on the Côte d’Azur. Those of us in the business have been pouring over the figures, squinting intensely and trying to make sense of the tables (and feeling a distinct sense of déjà vu). Unsurprisingly, the real story is a little less dramatic than the headlines make out.
Certainly, the French Riviera has been protected from the worst of the crisis with property prices falling far less here than other areas of France. Traditionally, the Riviera is seen as a safe haven for property investment and it continues to be a good bet. What has happened over the last couple of years, however, is a slow down of the market, more scope for negotiation in price, and far less good quality apartments and villas on offer as people have decided to wait it out.
What hasn’t changed is that a good property in the right area has kept its value more or less. That means prime areas (such as the chic Mt Boron area in Nice, and anywhere with a decent sea view) have seen prices drop only slightly. Unrealistically priced properties are now finding a more sensible asking price. No doubt there are bargains to be had, but it’s a lucky find rather than the standard.

Number crunching 2010
So what are the figures? For Nice, the Côte d’Azur’s major city, the price has dropped 5% drop over the past year (April 2009 to March 2010). The Alpes Maritimes region as a whole has also seen a 5% drop. But according to Le Point, the centre of Nice has had a 3.9% increase (figures from May 2009 to May 2010). However, as there are so many variables that make up these figures (areas covered, time frame, renovated versus unrenovated, based on asking price or actual selling price, etc.) they cannot be taken as stand-alone, definitive figures without some serious analysis.
What we can say is that a renovated older style apartment in the centre of Nice is averaging between 4,000 to 4,500 euros per square metre. Anything close to the sea, then the price goes up to between 4,500-5,500 euros. Compared with Paris, where the cheapest inner-city quartier comes in at around 5,500-6,000 euros per square metre, and the most expensive is 10,000 to 12,000 euros, then Nice is good shopping.

Looking beyond Nice on the Riviera, the line is drawn between those who will pay several millions for an exclusive villa, sea view and privacy (although not the crazy prices we were seeing a few years ago with the influx of Russian oligarchs), and the rest who want to see a fair price for an apartment or a more modest villa. The story is the same as Nice, with prices settling to a more realistic level and room to negotiate. In Cannes, this means around 5,000-7,000 euros per square metre in the prime ‘Banane’ neighbourhood for an apartment. Antibes hovers between the 4,000 to 5,000 euros bracket. A villa in Mougins or Antibes averages around 5,000 euros per square metre.

However, as I explain to clients who want to measure everything neatly in price per square metre, these figures can never be the whole story. They are a general guide; useful, but only a guide. When helping clients to find a property, I assess each apartment and villa individually and carefully, taking into account many more factors than the price per square metre. This means size, neighbourhood, street, style of building, new versus old property, terrace, parking, sea view … the list goes on. Only someone who lives in and knows the area can offer this advice.

The question I am asked constantly is, ‘What will the market do over the next year?’ I wish I had an answer. What I am pretty certain about is that things are not about to change quickly. We have seen prices come down and sellers and agents willing to negotiate (roughly 5-8% is a good guide). Good small city properties (studios, and one and two bedroom apartments) continue to be in demand due to a lack of quality on the market and the accessible price range. The middle bracket range – 400,000 to 800,000 euros - is having a harder time. But the high-end of the market continues to move as investors seize the opportunity.
Of course, much will depend on the global situation. Foreign buyers, who traditionally make up a large part of the Riviera’s property market, have made a tentative return.  The strength of the dollar has seen a small American buyer flurry and the Italian investors continue to cross the border.
With a lack of good quality choice on the market, however, a big part of my job at the moment is sifting through the range on offer and finding the truly worthwhile gems. As I tell my clients, don’t be hasty and choose wisely.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

French Riviera Top Ten Beaches

August means Summer holidays have officially started, and here in Nice we are all heading for the beach (I know, we should be working but ...). The city's daily newspaper, Nice Matin, recently ran a list of best beaches with the title, 'Dix coups de coeur'. So if you are flying to the Cote d'Azur this August, September, October (and even sometimes as late as November when we can be still swimming), here is the paper's list plus a couple of our own favourite picks.

Bonnes vacances!


Villefranche sur mer, La plage de la Darse
Most people know and love the golden sandy beach of Villefranche sur mer, but not many know about plage de la Darse next door. Behind the 'darse de Villefranche', it is frequented mainly by locals. Quiet, only a snack bar or two and not as accessible as its main rival (you need to park and then walk a while to get to it), it manages to keep itself secret.

Villeneuve-Loubet, Espace Loisirs Famille 
Between St Laurent du Var and Villeneuve Loubet is where you will find this sandy beach (a rare thing on this coastline) dedicated to families and children. There is a range of entertainment for the children and a large number of restaurants. And if the weather doesn't seem promising, Cap 3000 - an enormous shopping mall close by - is at hand. But that wouldn't happen on the Riviera!

COTE ABODE'S PICK: If organised beach games is not your thing, Villefranche sur mer is a good choice for the family. A beautiful fishing village with a generous sandy(ish) beach. It's relaxed and unpretentious, but it also gets very busy in the season. 

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, La plage du Buse

Only the locals know about this stony beach according to Nice Matin newspaper. While that is not entirely true, it is tucked away between Monaco and Menton and access is again by foot only. The beach is renown for a small but important piece of architecture - Villa E1027, a summer-beach house designed  by the modernist architect Eileen Gray in 1929, which boasts murals by her friend and frequent house-guest, the even more famous modernist architect, Le Corbusier.

Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, La Paloma
The crescent geography of this small bay gives the feeling of being on an island and offers protection from the wind. Rubbing shoulders with the exclusive Saint Jean Cap Ferrat crowd is a public part of the beach, which is well maintained. The sun is best in the morning/early afternoon.

Cap d'Ail, plage de la Mala
Nestled in a little cove, hidden by trees, the Mala beach is a natural haven. Access is by foot, down  stone steps. The little beach huts dotted along the shore give the bay an authentic old-fashioned charm. There are two restaurants, L'Eden and La Réserve. A rocky path along the coast, favoured by fishermen, is a great place to take a stroll.

COTE ABODE'S PICK: Coco Beach, Nice. Not really a beach, but a series of rocks that tumble down to the sea (making it unsuitable for small children), this 'sunbathing and diving post' is one of Nice's best-kept secrets. With only room for a a couple of dozen bodies, the locals take priority. You are really 'in the know' if you know this beach! 

Théoule-sur-mer, La Pointe de l'Aiguille
A tiny stretch of sand and stones, this beach remains untouched by the glitz of the Riviera. There are no shower facilities, no snack-bars, restaurants or other distractions. Just the sea, beach and beauty of the surroundings. Access is down a 400m track. 

Cap d'Antibes, plage de la Garoupe
In a region  renown for its eye-watering prices, including the private beaches and all their accoutrement, it is refreshing that Antibes has maintained a public beach in one of the best spots. For only 8 euros a day (5 euros for a half day) you can have access to an umbrella and beach bed. The down-side: the queue starts early in the day (9am) as there is room for 75 places only, and only two beach beds are allowed per  person.

Cannes, le Pool Beach
'The place to be' according to Nice Matin. If you like your beaches to have that Ibiza or Santa Monica vibe, then this is the one. DJs, jetsetters and wannabes crowd the beach (and pool) in what is described as a nightclub under the skies.

COTE ABODE'S PICK: The Nice alternative is Hi Beach, brought to you by the people behind the uber-trendy Hi Hotel in the centre of the city. Expect Euro-kids and mojitos on-tap. 

Cap d'Ail, Pissarelles
Reserved for nudist sunbathing, this tiny rocky beach is difficult to find (There is a little path from the Basse-Corniche, between Saint-Laurent d'Eze and Cap' d'Ail.) A peaceful spot and no need for a bikini.

Nice, 'Carras' and 'Centenaire'
These two beaches are especially equipped for the handicapped, including parking, a lifeguard and special helpers on duty, adapted showers/changing facilities, access ramp to the sea, special bathing chairs, etc. And all entirely free.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Spring property investment in Nice and on the Riviera

Spring and early summer is traditionally the time for visitors and buyers to arrive on the Cote d'Azur. The property market is picking up considerably from my persepctive as a buyer's agent. My property-savvy clients realise there is investment buying, and then there is smart investment buying, and that means using someone with local knowledge and contacts who is not an estate agent. I live here and know the market. This means I have a handle on the areas that are prime location (and up and coming) and which properties will reap the best returns. In addition, I know which agents will take the initiative and work hard to seal a deal with their clients (and their client is the seller, not the buyer, remember) rather than lose a deal by sticking to an unrealistic price thinking they can squeeze more from a foreign buyer.

Writing in The Telegraph in February this year, Zoe Dare Hall reports that the Côte d'Azur, and Nice in particular, is one of France's 'Hot Spots', with buyers returning to the market again. Dare Hall writes that: "Property prices on the coast fell by about 15 per cent last year, but St Tropez remains the most robust of resorts, with planning laws banning building within 300 metres of the sea constraining supply. The investment-minded head to Nice, where sales to English buyers so far this year have included a £450,000 studio flat on the Promenade des Anglais, purely for high-end corporate lets and a small holiday flat in the Musicians Quarter for £225,000, reports Kirkor Ajderhanyan from Agency 107 Promenade."

The Côte d'Azur is not a bargain region, so making a mistake when investing in property here is an expensive one people can't afford. The current flurry of interest will mean buyers being shown a range of properties from bad to good opportunities by agents who traditionally don't try very hard. An essential part of my job is to remove this random element and guide clients to the best options, saving them costly mistakes.

Nice and the Côte d'Azur is always a sound investment area, but taking away the gamble should be a buyer's prime objective in an unfamiliar market. And that is what a buyer's agent does.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Daily bread

Spring. It's been a hectic few weeks with clients arriving, viewing, and needing everything to be sorted for them now or yesterday (which is never easy in the south when everybody else thinks it can be done 'demain'). But that is what I'm here for and my clients rely on me to work through the bureaucracy and all too frequent 'it can wait' attitude of agents, notaires, utility companies, and such.
My Nice clients always ask the same question. 'Where should I buy?' So, I have decided to start an occasional series, handing over a guest-spot to people who live here which will give a flavour of Nice and the different quartiers and life. Nice is small but it has distinct neighbourhoods. My step-father and mother live in a downtown area of Nice called Les Baumettes. It's a bit of a secret hideaway and only 5 minutes from the Promenade des Anglais. It's worth visiting the Musee des Beaux Arts there which is housed in a grand mansion built originally for Russian royalty. The area has beautiful Belle Epoque villas which are now mainly apartments. Prices are dear, but the advantage is having the city (and beach) on your doorstep and also a bit of peace and quiet around you.

But over to George and his dilemma ...

The Problems of Living in Nice

We live in les Baumettes – about a kilometre from the centre of Nice on the Western side. My problem – too much choice …. of bread.

Within 400 metres there are four boulangeries, each one with its own specialities and between the two of us we can’t eat it all [but you try - Ed!]. My favourite for the last year or so has been Gosset at the beginning of Rue de France. Their baguette “tradition” is unbeatable – made with a sour dough, crisp and addictively tasty. They also do a mean line in pain au chocolat – no not the petit pain (pastry with a piece of chocolate baked inside) but a bread that is more like chocolate cake.

Round the corner in Rue St Philippe is Au Bon Pain. Their bread is not much to my taste but on Wednesdays and Saturdays they produce their gougères – choux pastry flavoured with cheese. I’m there without fail Wednesday and Saturday.

Then on Saturday when Gosset has their weekly day off I go to Fragole on Rue Dante. Their Pain Pio comes in a huge loaf of which I buy a tranche. Sough dough wholemeal, light and moist and dangerously delicious.

But now I have a real problem. A boulangerie in Rue de France which has been shut for a year has reopened. On the 16 May it was the fete de St Honoré – the patron saint of boulangers - and to celebrate they threw open their kitchen to the public from 5.30 am onwards and offered free samples of their wares. I went with my 8 year old grand-daughter. She declared the petit pain au chocolat the best she has ever tasted. I vote their croissants as good as any I have eaten in Paris. And their boulanger (who gave up his profession as avocat (lawyer) to follow his true love) produces 15 different varieties of bread. On the way home we discussed whether I can betray my other favourites.

Before we got home we dropped into the market at Rue Buffa to buy a pomegranate. There we stopped for a coffee and fruit juice in the market’s café. Though I am a non-smoker I was delighted once again to smell the smoke of cigarettes. The sign on the wall says “Il est interdit de fumer” and someone has added “du mauvais tabac.” (Smoking is forbidden (of bad tobacco)). So the French revolutionary spirit is reasserting itself.

Friday, April 16, 2010

St Tropez for lunch - why not?

I was recently contacted by someone wanting help to sell their house on the Gulf of St Tropez and this made me start dreaming of a visit as it has been several months since I was last there. St Tropez is a name that conjures up 50s glamour, jet-setters, and Brigitte Bardot, and it doesn't disappoint.
We hopped in the car early morning and arrived in time for the market and lunch. From Nice the drive is very straightforward down the motorway. Once you turn off the motorway, however, the road is a bit of a nightmare at the moment as they are widening it to accommodate the huge numbers who visit the area. You see why arriving by helicopter or boat is the preference of the rich and famous.
Home to the super-wealthy, property prices are high in this area and look likely to stay that way. But equally it is an area that will never lose its value or, surprisingly, its charm. Although this once sleepy fishing village has been transformed into a glitzy shopper's paradise, it still manages to keep a feel of authenticity, particularly when you go inland. The hill-top villages of Gassin and Ramatuelle are particularly beautiful.
So after a delicious seafood lunch, we headed for one of the vineyards near Gassin that my brother who was visiting from the UK had spied as being nearly 'bio' (organic) and very good. The beautiful vineyard Minuty is situated in the lush countryside of St Tropez and produces excellent wines. We had time to walk around the vineyard, sample and buy some wines (the prestige rose is particularly good), and be back in time for dinner in Nice.
And if anyone would like to buy a very nice small house in the area, please just contact me ...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Var wandering

I pride myself on going the extra mile for clients when looking for properties, but my most recent clients managed to make me go the extra miles and then some. And I'm very glad they did as I have now discovered the Var and have left my heart there. In the cold snap of March, we initially looked around the Nice area together, but with no luck. Nothing seemed right, the sun didn't shine, houses weren't 'the one'. My clients wanted a 'coup de coeur', and this is not something you can find easily or in a hurry. Oh well, sometimes this happens and you have to concede defeat.

However, my clients announced their plans to start a search in Sanary sur mer as they knew and loved this area (Bandol, famous for its wine, is next door). A small fishing port in the Var, Sanary is an idyllic spot near to Toulon. Thinking it was too far from my range and not knowing the area, I turned down their request at first to take on the search. But little by little I kept thinking about it and how I had such a good idea about what they were looking for. And thanks to a lucky meeting with a wonderful agent called Damian Tudor (Carlton International) who did know the area, I was convinced by all that we could work on this together. Three overnight trips later and many many pre-viewings of villas Iater, we had a short-list for my clients who flew out for two days last week.

First day was promising, and the second day we had booked a second visit for two houses. The next day we also had a visit to house in a sea-side location not well-known to those outside of the area. Called Tamaris, we had come across it by chance on our search and agreed it was Cap d'Antibes before Cap d'Antibes became unaffordable to most. The villa was new to us and not viewed before hand. We walked in and it was everything my clients had dreamed of. A beautiful turn of the century villa, still retaining all its grand charm, with sea views, only one street back from the sea. We knew we had to move quickly, so the offer was placed that day and agreed by the early evening. A boat was thrown in to the deal thanks to Damian's charm at negotiating.

So as well as feeling over the moon that we found the perfect place for our clients, it was for me a discovery of a new and wonderful part of the South of France. Prices are more reasonable, the area is more wild and rugged. I imagine it is a bit like St Tropez before the glitz took over.

So if anyone would like me to go that extra mile for a house, I'm ready to go back anytime...

Monday, March 1, 2010

La Turbie and Roman ruins

If you want to see an iconic French Riviera film, then To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, is the one. In the film Grace Kelly takes Grant for a ride in her convertible at wild speed on the Grande Corniche (rather unnerving to watch considering her tragic crash near this area many years later). The Grande Corniche is the most breath-taking, winding coastal road on the Riviera. As you drive along it and reach the village of La Turbie, an extrordinary sight comes into view: the remains of a Roman ruin rise up behind the medieval hilltop town.

The Trophy of Augustus was built about 2,000 years ago to celebrate the victory of Augustus over the people of the Alps. It was partially restored during the early part of the 20th century and the steep climb is worth it to see the beautiful views over the sea and down to Monaco. There is a a tiny, rather shabby, but none the less interesting museum attached to the site. But the pleasure is seeing the architecture of the monument and walking through its wild hill-top setting.

If you want to eat at a really good restaurant with the locals, try Café de la Fontaine on La Turbie's main road. It's a blackboard menu and one of the better meals I have had on the Riviera recently. Honest steak and chips and other simple rustic dishes in a great atmosphere.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Snow storms and mimosa

Nobody really talks about the weather on the Côte d'Azur because, well, the weather is usually blue skies and sunshine and that's just not really interesting enough to spend time talking about. But the Nicoise have all suddenly taken to greeting one another with ... 'isn't it incredible!' or 'did you see the snow, how deep it was?!' They say it happens every 20 years in Nice (but being the French, some contrary types say every 15 years). We awoke from our sleep to see the palm trees covered in snow. Cars stopped, work stopped, people ran into the street and threw snowballs. It lasted only a couple of days, but we will never forget the snow.
Then, as if to laugh at this crazy snow-covered world, the mimosa tree - the first early sign of spring in this region - fluffed out its can-can skirt of bright yellow flowers to celebrate Nice's annual gaudy, confetti-strewn carnival. And we all sigh happily as we know Spring, thankfully, is around that corner.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why live anywhere else ...

From sleety, wintry London yesterday, I landed home in Nice to be greeted by blue skies. As we swept over the Baie des Anges, I thought it couldn't be in starker contrast to where I had come from (and the reason we choose to live on the Cote d'Azur ... I just thought I would drop that in...). This week-end's France Show was a great success - incredible to see so many people braving the elements to come and visit. I was especially happy to see people who I have only talked to on the phone or by email - thank you for coming. And sorry to have missed people on Friday because of the snow keeping me in Nice (hello and see you in Nice, Ursula and Suzanne!)

All of us at the French Entrée stand worked flat-out fielding enquiries and explaining how an independent agent's buyer works (in the interests of the buyer, not the seller or estate agent). I particularly enjoyed chatting to people about their dreams of moving to and living in France. I understand because it was once my dream too ... and look at me now. The week-end ended with a raffle of a particularly fine bottle of 1966 cognac (donated thanks to property finder extraodinaire Graham Downie - see his Blog at

So, at Côte Abode, we start the New Year feeling mighty positive and looking forward to helping people move to the French Riviera. It really is a little bit of heaven under blue skies.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Less than an hour from Nice and you find yourself in a ...
winter wonderland! People think of the South of France as a place for beaches and sunbathing. However, ski resorts (like Valberg in this picture - with my daughter and I enjoying the snow!) are so close you can ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

France Show 2010 London
Côte Abode will be at the show. Look for the French Entrée Property Finders stand. Friday 8 Jan and Saturday 9 Jan. I look forward to meeting people there!