Visit to Chateau de l’Aiguetta

We were recently invited to a BBQ in the grounds of a partly-restored historic property in Eze. Friends were keeping an eye on the property to avoid further dereliction while the owner was back home. As you all know, I love a spot of property porn and while this particular Chateau falls well short of my standards, it’s in a great location and was worthy of further investigation.

This huge baronial, faux-Scottish castle in Eze was built by the nephew of the famed Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. He acquired the fourteen hectares of cultivated land on which stood a house, a shed and a bread oven from lawyer Etienne Bermondi. After Tennyson’s nephew sold it to pay off his gambling debts, the original building underwent a couple of transformations turning it into a fortified castle.

At the beginning of 20th century, a floor was added to the original house and the facade was transformed by the installation of molded cement slabs imitating freestone. But it was during its second expansion that the villa took on the appearance of a fortified castle when a rectangular two-storey wing was added plus round and square turrets.

The estate was sold successively in 1926, then in 1928 to the Monagesque Société des Bains de Mer, which planned to create a golf course there. The residence was however quickly abandoned and suffered much damage over time with its interiors being stripped by looters. In 1993, it was bought by the SCI du Château de l’Aiguetta. The company undertook work but the site remained under construction for several years.

In 2013, the owner of the estate, was the subject of bankruptcy proceedings, forcing it to sell this exceptional property. Initially listed at some US$ 59 milllion it was eventually sold at auction in March 2016 for just over US$10 million to a Russian oligarch who plans to turn it into a home for his family. Fortunately, he has deep enough pockets to turn this carbuncle into a fairytale castle.

It’s undeniably situated on 40 lush, prime acres, located in the village of Eze off the Grand Corniche, just five minutes drive from the Principality of Monaco. It boasts stunning views of the sea and the medieval village. The 15-bedroom castle has more than 4,000 sq m (40,000 sq ft) of interior space, making it the largest such property on the Cote d’Azur. The dramatic edifice is said to have been the inspiration for Walt Disney’s castle in his animated film Sleeping Beauty, following one of his stays in Eze.

 

One from the vaults: Property passion

I love a bit of property porn and this is an homage I wrote back in August 2013. One of the many advantages of cycling around the area, though more so in winter than in summer, is that I get to peer over gates and hedges at some of the marvellous Riviera real-estate and will often stop to chat to builders engaged in a sizeable renovation project.

I live in a spot with some truly magnificent property porn. Each time I pass through the airport I pick up a couple of thick, free magazines featuring property for sale on the Cote d’Azur to feed my habit. Many have the “prix nous consulter” tag which means they’re way out of mine and most people’s price range. Remember, if you have to ask the price then you probably can’t afford it. But you can still window shop!

Of course, I can also tell you which properties have been up for sale for what seems like forever. A property is only worth what someone’s willing to pay for it, not what we think it’s worth and therein, according to an estate agent friend of mine who deals in high-end property, lies the crux of the problem. People with houses in great locations thinking their pad is worth a squillion of Euros when he’s advised them it’ll only sell for much less. He puts it on the market for the price they want but spends his efforts on the properties he knows he can sell. Agents earn a fixed percentage commission, generally around 6% – not too shabby –  but the market is much less liquid than say in the UK. Again, it’s all about location, location, location. There are certain areas where demand always exceeds supply and have seen no dip in either prices or demand.

Despite perusing these magazines, I rarely find anything that makes my heart beat faster. There’s always something I don’t like about the property: too many bedrooms, blue tiling in the bathroom (my least favourite colour), small kitchens or no sea view. When I do find a property I like enough, I generally don’t like its location.

I have flirted with the thought of building my own but years of watching property programmes, including Grand Designs, has left me wondering whether it would indeed be worth the worry and sacrifice. It has to be one of my favourite property shows, though it’s rare I like the end result. It’s the self-builders who are meant to love the property and whose wishes and desires need to be reflected in the building, not mine.

I would enjoy the planning and preparation process immensely. Obviously, the less you change once building commences the easier it is to stick to one’s budget. Knocking down and starting again is often cheaper than renovating, but not everyone has that option. Spend your money on the basics, try to be as environmentally friendly as possible and borrow from commercial building techniques would be my programme take-aways. That said my favourites tend to be those projects fashioned on minimum budgets where the owners do most of the work themselves, often the first time they’ve attempted such a thing. Throwing money at a project doesn’t necessarily, in my mind, result in a better end result. It’s lavish love, care and attention that tends to result in a fantastic finish.

The world would however be a dull place if we all liked the same things. I often admire buildings but wouldn’t want to live in them. Look at all those fabulous French châteaux on which the Tour de France camera lingers lovingly. They’re beautiful but the upkeep must be enormous, not forgetting all those windows to keep clean! There are lots of beautful buildings down here particularly the overwrought wedding cake style ones which, if properly maintained, are beautiful to gaze at but I’m not sure I’d want to live in one.

Builders have spent the last two years working almost night and day to renovate one such house – or should that be mansion – on a truly magnificent spot on Cap d’ Antibes. The end result, including the garden, is a triumph. The property is most likely listed meaning any alternations inside and out have had to be in keeping with the style of the property. I’ve ridden past it at least once a week during that two-year period and watched with interest its re-development. Whoever owns it has seriously deep pockets and it’s evidently a second, third, fourth……….home as I’ve yet to see it occupied other than by the builders or gardeners.

It’s a Friday, the day on which I typically do my housework and shopping. After my early morning ride, I’ve cleaned the bathrooms, changed the bed linen and towels, closed the guest bedroom door on a mountain of ironing, polished the furniture, tidied the office, prepared dinner for my sister and beloved, and am contemplating cleaning the acres of shiny floors, and acres of not so shiny windows. I’m thinking small could be beautiful couldn’t it?

Thanksgiving: Part II

As we drove along the main highway towards our destination of Montauk on Long Island, there was a distinct lack of places for a pit-stop. Finally, as we drove onto the south fork of the island, just outside of Southampton, we stopped for lunch (and a much needed comfort break). For me it was an easy choice: lobster salad. My beloved joined me. Whenever I’m on the east coast I try to keep my intake to at least one per day. On a two-week holiday to New England, I once famously ate lobster every single day!

Replete, we drove through the pretty villages which make up The Hamptons before arriving at our destination, just on the outskirts of Montauk, where I scored another room upgrade. Not for nothing do my sisters call me “Upgrade Sheree”! Our large and spacious room opened out onto the beach so that at night I could hear the surf crashing against the beach – quite my favourite lullaby.

We immediately went for a walk in the bracing beach air before heading to the gym and then the bar to try out the hotel’s cocktails and bar snacks! Everything passed muster and we slept like babes before enjoying breakfast in the hotel the following morning.

We spent the next couple of days re-aquainting ourselves with The Hamptons which is a series of beach towns and villages dotting eastern Long Island and, while all indisputably beautiful, each area of the island offers something a bit different. I was surprised that even though it was “out of season” so much was open, though none of it was busy. We were probably avoiding the visitors by leaving on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

We generally prefer to eat at lunchtime and enjoyed a little bit of France in Bridgehampton when we dined at a French restaurant. I ate a humongous lobster (steamed) while my beloved enjoyed brandade. We read with interest the story of how the current owner’s grandparents, who’d previously owned a patisserie in 16th arondissement of Paris, came to Long Island and opened a patisserie, which remains next-door, and chatted in French to the staff and charming owner. It was just the sort of neighbourhood restaurant which we love.

We were fortunate with the weather which was chilly but sunny allowing us to potter about each of the towns comprising The Hamptons, noting the changes from our last visit over four years ago. For example, the pretty white property (bottom right-hand corner) with the wrap around veranda and gingerbread trim used to sell antiques, it now sells French fashions. We also indulged in some spectacular property porn gazing!

For the first time we investigated one of the south-fork’s three local vineyards, the Wolffer Estate which had some impressive (IMHO) wines. We only tried a couple of their red wines, and would’ve liked to sample more, but didn’t fancy our chances of transporting them safely back to France. Despite the value of its acres, the island remains resolutely agricultural, and long may it stay that way. We’ve yet to visit the north fork which I understand has many more vineyards. Next time!