In her heyday, Le Provençal was something of a honeypot for the bold and the beautiful on the Côte d’Azur: European aristocrats, Hollywood film stars and heads of state were welcomed through its doors. On the beach below, Marilyn Monroe frolicked in a white swimsuit, and the whole setting prompted F. Scott Fitzgerald to write his last novel, Tender is the Night.
Straddling the border between the rather scruffy (yet fashionable) resort of Juan les Pins and the perennial favourite and billionaires’ playground of Cap d’Antibes, the hotel survived the Second World War and remained popular until the 1960s. When staff petitioned for a pay increase in the 1970s, however, Le Provençal was shuttered up and never reopened. That is, until now.
Cyril Dennis, a British-born, Monaco-based property developer who made his fortune by investing in the Docklands in the 1980s, is determined to reawaken the lost beauty of the Art Deco building and create 56 exceptionally luxurious apartments.
‘It’s time to bring Ella back,’ he cries from the building’s roof-top, which, once completed, will be the garden of one of three planned penthouses (unless, as the current mega-wealthy fad would have it, one isn’t big enough and someone buys two). Behind Mr Dennis lies a vast expanse of glittering Mediterranean, On a good day, you can see Corsica. ‘These are views to live for, not die for. And, due to new planning restrictions, they don’t exist anywhere else on the Riviera. They’re impossible to replicate.’
Indeed, what Mr Dennis and his team of backers are intending to do would be hard to replicate anywhere in the world. Owners of these high-design, super-intelligent apartments (emails can be addressed in the shower and tap water is coloured according to temperature) will have all that the South of France offers, literally, at a touch of their Crestron control pads. ‘The concierge will take anyone to Club 55, St Tropez, or to the casino in Monte Carlo on Le Provençal’s 30m yacht. Alter-natively, owners can make use of the 12-hole golf course or our tennis club down the road. And we also have a chalet in Courchevel 1850 for skiers.’
Leaving no whim uncatered for, the Provençal project includes the redevelopment of a nearby hotel (with a service tunnel linking the two buildings), and the owners have also bought the lease to a stretch of beach that is only a short skip from the front door. To the untrained eye, one of the more baffling aspects of the Côte d’Azur’s perennial appeal is the state of the beaches (and lack thereof). For the birthplace of the suntan, it’s ironic that many people are forced to sunbathe, like sardines, on concrete pontoons or swimming platforms (and, with this summer’s plague of jellyfish, more sunbathing than swimming is on the cards). ‘Our beach will be different: we’ll have sushi and salad bars, plus a crèche for children and tepees for sunbathing,’ says Mr Dennis, who already plans to snap up more of the coveted stretches of sand.
Although the prices for these ultimate trophy homes are predictably feisty, from €2 million for a studio to €40 million, it’s the service charges that draw dividing lines of affordability between the very rich and the stupendously wealthy. ‘You need about £120,000 a year pocket change to pay the service charges,’ says Harry Lewis of sales agents Savills International. Not that that’s putting anyone off. Sales at Le Provençal (020–7016 3740; www.provencal-residence.com), which only officially launches next month, are crashing through all forecasts (and riding roughshod over the credit crunch). ‘It’s been phenomenally popular; we’ve already sold 35% of the apartments,’ says Mr Lewis. ‘Half the interest has come from oil-rich countries and the rest from trophy-home buyers of the international elite.’
The cachet of owning a place on the Cap d’Antibes is a driving factor. Demand to secure an apartment drives near hysterical prices: one property recently changed hands between two Russians for €200 million. ‘People won’t compromise on location; when you make lots of money, this is where you want to be,’ says Jean-Claude Caputo of local agents Riviera Estates. ‘Le Provençal is the most luxurious property ever to be built on the Riviera.’