As recently as 20 years ago, the hills of Antibes, Biot and Vallauris were strewn with greenhouses owned by more than 500 rose-growers, led by one of the world’s greatest producers, the Meilland family, whose power-base was the Cap d’Antibes. The property boom of the 1980s saw the growers retreat as land prices soared, but, for the Meilland family, the 1990s recession was the final straw that forced them to relocate their international business, leaving their headquarters, the iconic Roseraie du Cap on Antibes’s Boulevard Francis Meilland, with a French bank.
Francis Meilland was a visionary who, in the 1930s, drove thousands of miles around the USA, establishing contacts with leading American rose-growers. These contacts proved vital after the war, when the American royalties earned by Meilland’s famous Peace rose laid the foundation for his family’s fortune. He spent years fighting for an equivalent patent for European rose-growers, finally securing his objective in 1949.
Flushed with success, Meilland built himself a grand new house in a style officially described as néo-provençal régionaliste: it towered above massive retaining walls, overlooking his rose gardens, greenhouses and the spectacular Baie de Cannes. There, he entertained international rose-growers, celebrities and politicians until his death in 1958 at the early age of 46.
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Those were glory days at La Roseraie (pictured), but, 40 years later, the rambling, multi-storeyed mansion was a sadly neglected place, surrounded by crumbling commercial buildings, its gardens choked with weeds. It seemed no one had a vision for the five-acre domain with its dramatic panoramic views of the Cap and the sea, except for slim, softly-spoken Diana McFadzean who, having successfully restored and sold several houses in Kensington and Chelsea, was looking for a challenge in the south of France. She found it at La Roseraie, which she and her husband, the Hon Barry McFadzean, bought in 2000.
Ten years on, the house has been transformed, although there is still work to be done. The light-filled main building, with its colourful entrance courtyard, nine main bedrooms and bathrooms, large salon, library, study, games room, cinema, vast conservatory and numerous secondary apartments, has been painstakingly stripped, restored and modernised-as have the four-bedroom lower gate lodge and its neighbouring six-bedroom former estate house.
The tree-lined serpentine main driveway has been replanted and relaid with traditional paving stones. And a splendid infinity pool has been installed below the main terrace to make the most of the breathtaking view that is undoubtedly La Roseraie’s unique international selling point. In recent years, the ‘house on the hill’ has been the scene of many a lively family gathering, but, as Mrs McFadzean explains, ‘most of the time, it’s just too big for the two of us, our eight cats and Rosie, our golden retriever’.
So La Roseraie du Cap is on the market with John D. Wood (020-7908 1111) and Burger/Sotheby’s International Realty (00 33 493 385 033), at a robust €50 million-€70 million for the main house, its upper gatehouse and grounds, with three further houses and a separate one-acre building plot available by separate negotiation. Could the property be worth that kind of money? Here on the Cap d’Antibes, anything is possible. La Roseraie can be seen either as a single grand domain or a ‘multiple development opportunity’. In the end, only time and the market will tell.
Up in Peter Mayle country, Les Vallats, near the medieval fortress town of Menèrbes at the foot of the Petit Luberon between Apt and Avignon, is an authentic Provençal gem, set in 7.5 hectares of ancient olive and oak-trees, poplar and cherry trees, lavender and roses. For sale through Werner R. Wunderli (00 33 670 513 284) at a guide price of €7.5m, its heart is a large stone bastide built in 1740 and altered and extended over the years.
Assailed on all sides by the sights, sounds and scents of Provence, the impressive stone house, split into three areas of one, two or three storeys, is laid out from east to west to catch the sun throughout the day. The entire building has been impeccably redesigned and restored by its Swiss owner, Andreas Rihs, who bought the estate four years ago. It took a year to plan the project and two years to complete what is now an idyllic country retreat.
The ground floor of the bastide has spacious indoor and outdoor dining areas, with seating for 16 guests, vaulted kitchens and wine cellar, a study/billiard room, a spa and whirlpool bath, and three garages. The first floor houses four luxurious bedroom suites, an internet corner, and a games and television room; two more suites, each with its own covered balcony, are located on the second floor.
The gardens are split into well-defined areas that include an orchard, a kitchen garden with aromatic plants and roses and a bamboo-covered breakfast corner, a truffle-oak garden, open and covered terraces, and a landscaped front courtyard. The green space surrounding the 59ft x 20ft swimming pool is planted with 500-800-year-old olive trees, their gnarled trunks twisted and sculpted by time.
Revered by historians as ‘the cradle of humanity’ in Europe, as it was here that Cro-Magnon man first settled, the Vézère Valley in the Dordogne has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its 147 Palaeolithic sites, which include the caves at Lascaux and the extraordinary troglodyte settlement of La Madeleine at Tursac, dating from 16,000BC.
Over-looking the cliffs of La Madeleine is the majestic Château de Marzac, whose surrounding 300-hectare estate straddles the communes of Tursac and its neighbour Les Eyzies de Tayac, and has been launched on the market at €20m by Stewart Cook of Classic French Homes at Eymet (00 33 553 233 213), Knight Frank’s associate in the Dordogne.
The 11,000sq ft château, a scheduled Monument His-torique, was built mainly in the 15th century with later extensions, and consists of four substantial circular towers enclosing a central rectangular core. For the past 20 years, the estate has been owned by a Danish property developer who has restored its 10 cottages (Henry Kissinger stayed in one of these when he met with Pol Pot to negotiate the end of the Vietnam war), and rebuilt the main fabric of the château, the roofs and turrets of which have been totally renovated.
The interior has been stripped out and now presents a blank canvas for refurbishment, at an estimated cost of €2m. The château is surrounded by a series of outbuildings and gatehouses, some of which have been restored; others have been stripped and readied for restoration.
The Marzac estate is exceptionally picturesque, comprising a mix of open meadow and parkland, managed farmland, woodland and formal gardens. It also includes 2.5 miles of frontage to the River Vézère and a number of troglodyte caves, which are classified accordingly.
The woods are virgin territory that has not been hunted for 20 years or more, and are full of all kinds of game birds and animals, including geese, ducks, nesting birds of prey, deer and wild boar. Hotelier Jeremy Goring, whose family’s London hostelry celebrates its centenary this year, is selling another slice of French history in the shape of the restored early-16th-century Manoir de Lezurec on the west coast of Brittany, which he bought as a near ruin some 20 years ago.
Siegfried Boulard-Gervaise of Châteaux & Châteaux in Paris (00 33 232 802 020) quotes a guide price of €2.12m for the secluded, sensitively restored, stone manor, a Grade II-listed Monument Historique, which has two self-contained cottages, a tennis court, a swimming pool, outbuildings and a lake, all set at the end of a tree-lined private drive within 40 hectares of rolling, Dorset-style countryside.
Mr Goring recalls the early days: ‘Half of the château had fallen down completely, leaving two of the three wings half standing, and the third full of cider bottles and old chickens. With help from the people at the Bâtiments Historiques, we found an outstanding local stonemason and an excellent Breton architect, Monsieur Floch, who between them took the best part of two years to restore the basic fabric of the building, which is completely authentic, although some of the interior has been decorated in a more modern style.’
The result is a charming but habitable historic Breton manor with more than 4,000sq ft of living space, including a great dining room, a sitting room with a monumental fireplace, a large fitted kitchen, five bedrooms, three bathrooms and a large attic floor. Outbuildings include a pretty 17th-century chapel, a dovecote and two traditional farm buildings suitable for conversion.