Our bolthole beauty
Is Antibes the perfect place for a second home? Jo Vickers certainly thinks so – here she shares her love of this Mediterranean gem and shows how you too could afford a bolthole in the south of France
A family snap up a bijou gem in Antibes
Ten years ago I first visited Antibes, where I fell in love with this charming ancient town by the sea, and my then boyfriend. Now here we are in 2018, still together but married now, and with a fully functioning holiday let business and a beautiful place of our own in this magical place.
Apart from offering many cultural delights, such as the old town and the Musée Picasso, Antibes has a stunning coastline ( le littoral) with miles of sandy beaches and coves. Back in 2008, on my first trip with my travel-hungry boyfriend, we stayed in a one-bed flat in the old town in the wonderfully named Rue du Petit Four. We went for a walk one day that started with us buying fresh produce for a picnic and visiting Plage de la Gravette, a sheltered beach where children safely swim in shallow waters protected by long arms of rocks.
After walking another 10 minutes, we reached Royal Plage, a long stretch of sandy beach with exhilarating views of the Antibes walls. And then, after a further stroll, we discovered a gem of a beach, Plage de la Garoupe. We now know that this beach is listed as one of the top 10 beaches in France, but on this, our first trip, we had stumbled across it.
We felt like we’d reached paradise. This beautifully sandy beach had little beach cafés and upmarket restaurants where spindly wooden jetties stretched out into the sea and attentive waiters served drinks to clientele on sun loungers. It looked exceedingly glamorous – and expensive!
We took a table at the friendly beach café La Joliette (and jolly it was too!) and ordered a pichet of vin rosé de Provence. What a delight: feet in the sand, drinking this light iced drink, looking out to sea at the yachts that had moored for lunch, bringing their well-heeled celebrity passengers to this delightful spot. While the jettied areas were exclusive private beaches belonging to the restaurants, there was plenty of space on the public beach for normal folk like us, for our beach towels and our simple picnic.
In this breathtaking moment, as we shared the spectacular view, the theatre of the yachts, and the sensual pleasure of the place, we were sold on Antibes, and, dare I say it, we were sold on each other!
Year after year, we found ourselves returning to Antibes. We developed our local knowledge by renting a different apartment each visit, in varying locations around the town: the beach, the cap, the old town, the new town. This later became invaluable when property hunting, enabling us to narrow down our search.
As we grew as a family, there were plenty of things to do for each member of the family, from scenic walks at 5am with the pram when our daughter was a sleepless baby, to her learning to swim in those warm waters, to our more recent grown-up pleasures of lovely restaurants and bookshops.
Spurred on by our connection to the place, and seeing the freedom it gave our young family, we started browsing estate agencies for a place to call our own. We found the agents very helpful, and would recommend seeing the places in the flesh, not just on websites. For us, this meant that we could instantly judge how we felt about each property.
Bijou and beautiful
I will always remember that fortuitous day in July 2013, which changed our lives. Squeezing property viewings into a family holiday, I left my husband and daughter on the beach. Bundles of keys in hand, the friendly agent walked me through the beautiful conservation area of old Antibes to Rue de L’horloge and to a stunning old stone building. The large front door was made from ancient wood, with metal handles and a metal window casement, but no glass. This seemed so exotic. I thought, “what, the weather is so good all year round that glass is not required in windows?”
We had originally been searching for a two or three-bed apartment but were open minded and keen to see anything in a good location. Up one flight of a stone spiral staircase to the one-bedroom apartment, the estate agent’s favourite term “bijou” perfectly described this apartment. My jaw dropped. It was small but exquisite. It was a coup de coeur.
Our bolthole in the south of France has been remarkably simple to achieve on a modest budget – it has been life changing and has expanded our world
An exposed stone feature wall provided character, and a large window gave fantastic views of beautiful passageways and an historic building carved with plaster busts. The interior was renovated in a tasteful style, with natural materials meeting contemporary design. It had a hotel-style modern bathroom with large shower, one lovely bedroom, limewashed timber ceilings throughout and original beams.
Although smaller than we had planned, it was perfect for our family trio and – what a bonus – fully renovated. It was turnkey! We imagined years of all-season holidays; our daughter growing up knowing this place intimately and maybe even picking up some French; our retirement here in the future possibly; and letting it out to friends so they could share our passion.
The flat became ours after a surprisingly simple process with the agency and the notaire. Luckily, no horror stories about buying in France seemed to transpire. We soon had the keys and only have a couple of anecdotes. The survey, for instance, covered earthquake risk, and there appeared to be an obsession with the square meterage of the apartment. I now understand that taxes are calculated based on this – and let me tell you, small is beautiful when it comes to tax considerations. Another story relates to our question about the age of the property: the official reply was “c’est très très vieux”!
Bolthole and BNB
As the four years since buying have passed, we have indeed found ourselves visiting six times per year. Christmas is our favourite time, which includes ski trips to the Alps. But we also return at Easter ( Pâques), Whit week and La Voile d’antibes (in June), as well as in July and September. It is everything we were hoping for, and so much more. Our lives are enhanced exponentially. Our daughter now orders her food in French, we have close friends in the town who we see when we visit, and a thriving letting business.
We’ve found that the one-bed flat is perfect for us. We all fit in and the running costs are low. If, like us, you don’t have a vast budget, this is the wisdom of small. It is used year round by us, and our friends and family. The petite size does not detract from the pleasure of visiting. No car is needed, as Antibes is only 20 minutes on a bus from Nice airport. The flat is next to the beach and in spite of being five minutes from all the markets and hubbub, it is in a very quiet corner just off a tranquil palm-filled square.
I often come for a fun weekend break with a couple of friends. My brother, a filmmaker who lives in Paris, comes regularly to write and attend Cannes. And my retired parents like to visit in autumn. We let the flat out through an excellent company called BNB Keys, who are based in Cannes, and operate a professional service. They will collect guests from the airport, arrange groceries for arrival, organise yacht hire and even send round a chef to cook for you if you desire. Or they will just give you the keys and let you make your own discoveries, while being on hand in case of any emergencies.
A bolthole with lettings potential in the south of France has been remarkably simple to achieve on a modest budget. The decision to buy in Antibes old town has been life changing. As a couple, then as a family, we have grown with it. It has expanded our world. The Côte d’azur has proven to be culturally rich and dynamic all year round. Enough even to satisfy the most travel-hungry.
It is the ordinary things of French life that continue to have a lasting impression on us, and inspire us. We return to the UK to our working lives and to the school routine, taking home with us sand in our shoes and memories of the daily simple routines of walking to buy fresh bread, the day marked out by the cathedral bells chiming, and the lively banter in the cafés. We take home images of the sea, the landscape, and the materials of the town en pierre, mer et fleurs.
Antibes marina with the snowy peaks of the Alps in the background
Café Joliette on Garoupe beach, where Jo and Andrew first fell in love with Antibes
The first-floor apartment is above a painter’s studio
The apartment has an openplan kitchen and living area
There’s always something going on, like the Voile d’antibes yacht regatta
Andrew and Charlotte having fun in a local café