How Macron fever is driving super-rich buyers back to the French Riviera

How Macron fever is driving super-rich buyers back to the French Riviera

London’s temperatures may have given the Mediterranean a run for its money in recent weeks – but when it comes to where the high-spenders are setting their sights, there’s little competition.

The heat left the prime London property market a year or two ago – first with stamp duty rises, then Brexit and the inconclusive General Election. “I could go on for the rest of the week about what clients are concerned about in London at the moment,” says Charles McDowell of the Chelsea-based consultancy McDowell Properties. “They don’t see London as offering the returns of the past, so they are making a lifestyle decision and looking at places such as France instead. One client bought a house on Cap Ferrat yesterday for €15m.”

A new villa set on a hillside overlooking St Tropez and the bay, with eight bedrooms, a fitness room, home cinema, wine cellar and caretaker’s apartment. €14.95m CREDIT: HOME HUNTS

The South of France is looking like a hot destination this summer for Knight Frank too. Their latest French Inside View report cites the rise in €8m-plus French sales this year compared with last. And the South of France, the setting of the new glamorous TV drama series Riviera — which agents must be hoping will galvanise interest in the Cote d’Azur in the way the The Night Manager did for Mallorca — is high on the agenda for those with budgets of €10m or more.

“Buyers are getting the best value they’ve seen in five or six years and President Macron is giving people a new confidence to invest in France. It’s completely different to when Hollande was in power,” comments Edward de Mallet Morgan, who deals with Knight Frank’s super-prime markets and currently has clients with €50m to spend on the Riviera. “Overseas buyers have always been there, but not at the price that sellers wanted. Now, houses that have been on the market for several years are selling.”

A six-bedroom house and separate guest apartment in Theoule-sur-Mer overlooking the Bay of Cannes — €16m CREDIT: HOME HUNTS

Cannes is the focus for the big-rollers and most buyers want a property that’s ready to go. “They can just take their toothbrush,” says de Mallet Morgan. Go to Cap Ferrat – the apogee of Cote d’Azur wealth and desirability — and you simply won’t find anything like that, even with €20m to spend. “It will either need something doing to it or it’s on the wrong side of the Cap,” he says.

Pitch up with a similar amount in Cannes, however, and you’ll get “the best of the best”, de Mallet Morgan comments. “That means a five-bedroom house on a 3,500-square-metre plot with a pool and uninterrupted views across the sea and city. That’s the money shot they want and they will genuinely use the house, the boat and the beach clubs for the whole of July and August.”

Villa Les Escarasses, Cannes CREDIT: KNIGHT FRANK

Cannes also comes with the promise of high rental yields, given the year-round events – most famously its film festival – that take place in the Palais des Festivals. Plus, points out Tim Swannie, founder of search agency Home Hunts, “it’s easy to get in and out of – you can leave your private plane at Cannes airport – and it has great restaurants. At the very top of the market are Middle Eastern buyers, mainly based in London, who are looking at Cannes – including Théoule, where you find more waterfront estates – and Villefranche. For some buyers it’s a case of wanting to get a foot in France before the UK leaves the EU.”

St Tropez is making a strong comeback too, says Swannie, who is seeing an upswing in interest around the €10m mark – even among UK buyers, despite the weakness of Sterling. “We agreed a sale last week to a British buyer on a beautiful estate close to Club 55 on Pampelonne Beach. The strength of the pound against the Euro is affecting this slightly, but most people buying at this level have investments in many currencies. Others are taking mortgages rather than using their cash. This way, they can opt to pay off their Euro mortgage as soon as the pound recovers.”

“Macron fever” is a big part of the pull back to the Riviera for overseas buyers, adds Swannie, who admits to having a “bit of a Macron man-crush myself”. “Macron’s election,” he adds, “has brought with it a huge amount of positivity to the property market in France.”

4 bedroom apartment for sale in Cannes, Alpes Maritimes, Cote D’Azur CREDIT: KNIGHT FRANK

The positive vibes aren’t just restricted to the French Riviera. The wealthy are spreading their love – and millions – to Italy, too, which had also fallen out of fashion in the last few years, but is now firmly back on the radar for the super-rich, according to Knight Frank.

“Middle Eastern buyers love Tuscany. What cost €25m a few years ago will now be €15m and for that you can get the top of the range – a 10,000-square-foot house set on 300 hectares, some shooting, a bit of olive oil,” says Alasdair Pritchard from Knight Frank’s Prime team. “It’s most likely going to be a fifth house and buyers know they don’t need it, but they want it.”

A new villa set on a hillside overlooking St Tropez and the bay, with eight bedrooms, a fitness room, home cinema, wine cellar and caretaker’s apartment. €14.95m CREDIT: HOME HUNTS

Many return from blissful summer holidays with a new resolve to buy. “They sail around Sardinia, or they stay at the Hotel Splendido in Portofino with friends, hire a boat and think ‘let’s buy something’. But we need to manage expectations,” adds Pritchard. “Italian beach houses are very simple – it’s not the south of France. In Liguria, they have usually been in the family for decades and need a lot of work.

And if you are looking at waterfront homes for €20m on Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda, it will most likely be a Couëlle house,” he says of the architect Savin Couëlle, the self-described “gypsy architect” whose houses are like hobbits’ lairs buried in the rock.

5-6 bedroom villa for sale in Romazzino, Sardinia CREDIT: KNIGHT FRANK

For those who broaden their horizons beyond Europe’s glitziest Rivieras, Mustique, the Bahamas and Ibiza are continuing to draw the highest-budget buyers. “We nearly did a very big, market-leading deal in Ibiza last year,” says Edward de Mallet Morgan, “but the owner didn’t need the money. It was a case of ‘But Grandad, where else are we all going to get together?’, so he didn’t sell.”

Increasingly, behind all these big buyers are family offices and private wealth advisors, there to ensure the investment stacks up financially. But it seems not even the super-rich can succumb to the pester power of kids – or the pulling power of presidents.