The Côte d’Azur still bears the architectural imprint of the sumptuous era when it first became popular. A micro-market that deserves a closer look…
In 1860, Nice left the bosom of Italy to become part of France: and in 1864, the train connecting Paris, Lyon and Marseille steamed into the future capital of the Côte d’Azur. This new accessibility to the French Riviera and the enthusiasm it aroused partly explained the birth of the “Belle Epoque” style. Aristocrats started to turn up from all over Europe; brief stays turned into entire winters spent on the Côte d’Azur, which gradually built its first structures for hospitality: villas, châteaux, mansions, hotels.
The architects of the day were Parisian, Russian, English, and Italian. This also explains the extreme diversity of “Belle Epoque” style, a trend that lasted from 1870 to 1914.
First influenced by orientalism, it reflected North African, Indian (cf. Le Château de l’Anglais) and even Japanese design, later enhanced by parks with palms and banana trees. The Italian fad followed with lots of references to the Renaissance: friezes, loggias and rows of columns (examples include the Villa Masséna and Beausite).
Finally from 1900 to the outbreak of the First World War, architects opted for the neo-classicism; still visible in Le Ruhl, Le Royal, L’Hermitage… doors leading out to gardens seemed of little importance: they were totally separate entities, with terraces, statues and luxuriant vegetation.
One of the main purposes of these new homes was to throw receptions, so luxury and exaggeration were the order of the day. These mansions boasted no less than five levels, with the ground and the first floors often slightly below the ground level. Mouldings, reliefs and frescos adored the frontages. The most representative buildings were the Regina, which played host to Queen Victoria and Henri Matisse, the Chateau Valrose, also situation in Cimiez, and the world-renowned Negresco.
Alongside developments in Nice and Cannes, other smaller resorts were getting into the act. They also began to build “Belle Epoque” buildings, those East of Nice being the most prolific. Villefranche-sur-Mer, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Beaulieu, split from one into three separate communes. Beaulieu, the leader of the movement offers some really splendid examples: Le Palais des Anglais, Le Bristol, Le Royal Riviera, La Réserve and Le Métropole. Cap d’Ail has its own versions in the residential neighbourhood of La Pinède – just like Menton and Cap Martin. In Monaco, apart from the exemplary Hotel Hermitage, the role played by the “Belle Epoque” was rather modest.
“Demand for properties on this micro market mainly comes from English-speaking and North European clients” (…) “They appreciate the overall architecture, the historic character, the large rooms and high ceilings. One paradox worth mentioning: they all want Belle Epoque with terraces- but it is a style that does not have any!”…
As for prices, the estate agent gives the following run-down: Cap Ferrat has a few apartments in converted villas, priced at 11,000€ per square meter. Beaulieu – which with one 230 acres, is the forth smallest commune in France but also the richest in terms of “Belle Epoque” heritage – ranges from 7,000€ to 9,000€ per square metre for an apartment, 12,500€ for a villa.
In Villefranche, very few buildings correspond to this period: except to pay from 4,300€ per square metre and 9,000€ for a house situates between the Basse and the Moyenne Corniches.
An apartment in Cap d’Ail costs between 7,000€ and 8,000€ per m² for a private residence. Properties in this sector do not have large grounds. Cap Martin, however, offers the advantage of some large estates. Also providing its share of century old residences, Menton is less expensive, with a starting price of around 1,000,000€ for a villa (200m² in level grounds of 1,000m², without a view) and top prices close to 6,000,000€ (with a few exceptions).
And while Cannes mainly offers apartments, Nice boasts a wide diversity of private mansions in the neighbourhoods of Cimiez, Mont Boron and Le Parc Chambrun. In the area known as the Parc Impérial, this type of accommodation has been drowned in a medley of styles. For the same amenities, a “Belle Epoque” residence costs 20% more than another type of property, even though location, sea view and living space retain their importance in the property’s value.
The purchaser has a moral responsibility to maintain the regions heritage and hand it down in the best possible condition. Finally one agent adds “These buildings are part and parcel of our urban areas, but very often require refurbishment”.