Saturday, August 27, 2011

We're having a heatwave...


Le Corbusier's 'Cabanon' at Roquebrune 

I know I should be writing about the recent Notaires' figures on the property market (not that they hold much relevance here on the French Riviera where we have a specific micro-market). Or the  extraordinary - and welcome- announcement by some of France's wealthiest citizens, such as Mme Bettencourt, that they will voluntarily pay more tax (you can read it here: ). Or Sarkozy's new proposals for taxation. However, it has been too hot on the Côte d'Azur. Almost too hot to work, sleep, think, eat, and certainly to write about serious matters .... So I think it is appropriate to write instead about the beach. It is summer holidays, after all. This beach has an architectural twist, however.

With temperatures in the 30s, mornings are the best time to get anything done as after that the sun is even more unforgiving and everyone is either short-tempered (road rage seems to be the norm) or closed. Trying to property search in this heat is difficult. Fortunately, all my clients have been looked after for the summer now and new ones are not due until September. I have a few interior design projects on the go for clients who have bought, but this can be handled under air-conditioned conditions with scheduled ice-cream breaks.

Mad-dogs and Englishmen won't agree but the best time to head for the beach is either a very early morning swim to start the day or an early evening trip that turns into a beach-dinner. I am currently giving my beloved Villefranche a swerve in the height of tourist season (too many cruise ship people en masse stumbling around with cameras and loud clothing). Instead, we head for St Jean and, recently, Roquebrune Cap-Martin - my latest obsession.

Roquebrune is not a beach for people wanting sand, shops selling plastic-rings in the shape of dinosaurs, and cafés selling yet another poor excuse for a salade niçoise. It is discreet, it is stony and it is not easy to find. It is also for people who love 20th century architecture. It combines my passion for architecture and bord de la mer location.

A glimpse of Villa E.1027 from Roquebrune beach
In fact there are two beaches at Roquebrune, but the one that is of most interest (to me at least) is a tiny stretch of stones which has perched above it three very special places. On one side of the bay is Villa E.1027 (,  a beautiful modernist house designed by Eileen Gray (a painter, designer and architect) and Jean Badovici between 1926-1929. It is currently undergoing renovation and restoration and is due to be open to the public in 2012.

On the other side is Le Corbusier's 'Cabane'. A mere 16 sq metres in size, the great modern architect Le Corbusier described it as his 'Château sur la Côte d'Azur'. Built in the 1950s as a retreat for himself and his wife, he famously claimed that he drew the plans in three-quarters of an hour and didn't change a thing (although as my mother tartly commented, given the tiny dimensions, that couldn't have been that difficult!). You can book to visit the Cabane through the Roquebrune tourist office.

The third delight on this beach is really not something you can see from the beach, and certainly not a property you will be able to visit. It is best to view it from a boat on the water. Casa del Mare is a magnificent villa hidden behind an enormous white-washed wall that spans almost the entire beach. You can catch glimpses of its lush tropical garden and mosiac pool as you descend to the beach. Once owned by the movie mogul Dino de Laurentiis and his wife the Italian actress Silvana Mangano, this house is my dream property. Although I would happily settle for either E.1027 or Le Corbusier's 'château' as well.

The sympathetic and adventurous architecture of these three buildings combined with the untamed, untrammeled, setting takes me away from talk of property investment, prices and taxes. And I don't make any apologies for that. Instead, for a moment  one can relax on a tucked away Côte d'Azur beach and relish the beauty, both architectural and natural.


  1. I love this location. I go to it every time I am in the Cote d'Azur. I so want to get inside of E.1027! I'm also very impressed with the former Dino de Laurentiis estate. So much work has been put into that location and E.1027

  2. I absolutely agree - I can't wait to see inside! I don't know when it will be open exactly but I know there are plans to extend the site so that the area including Corbusier's Cabane are part of an extended 'museum' to modernism and architecture ....