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

French Property News - - Contents -

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.

Par­adise found

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.

Life-chang­ing de­ci­sion

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

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