22 Apr 2014
With sweeping, uninterrupted views of the Mediterranean Sea and all the excitement of Nice and Cap Ferrat on either side, there was never any doubt that when the Palais Maeterlinck Hotel shut its doors in 2008, it would not lie unclaimed for long. But nobody could have guessed that visionary developer Radovan Vitek and Côte D’Azur Sotheby’s International Realty were going to step in and restore the property, not only as a local landmark, but also as the luxury residence that foreign buyers have been hankering for.
According to Peter Illovsky, President of Côte D’Azur Sotheby’s International Realty, the company recognised a severe shortage of truly exclusive properties in the area, so they took it on as a challenge. “We have recognised a need for high-quality properties in this region because often clients come to the French Riviera, they invest in a house, and then have to spend two to three years renovating it,” he says.
You might cross paths with another resident, but they will be equally rich or equally famous
“The result is that often there are clients that don’t want to wait three years before they can enjoy their property. There is a trend emerging for faster transactions. People want to relax immediately, so we are trying to solve this problem by producing properties that can be inhabited immediately. All of our projects will have functioning kitchens; they will be equipped with towels – I always say that all our clients need to do is bring their toothbrushes. If they buy a house in March, they can already enjoy it for the summer.”
A rich heritage
And all the better if the toothbrush is resting in the palatial marble bathrooms of an iconic local landmark such as the Maeterlinck. Luxuriously redeveloped into spacious holiday apartments, the property maintains all of the charm that attracted Count de Milléant in the 1920s. The French aristocrat came with the dream of building a casino on the cliffs between Nice and Cap Ferrat. Though his project – the Castellamare – never materialised, it was enough for others to realise the potential of such an exquisite location.
Nobel Prize-winning author Count Maurice Maeterlinck acquired the property shortly afterwards and transformed it into a private residence known as Orlamonde, which quickly became a hub for international personalities flocking to the Riviera for a bit of glamour. It was not until much later that it became the four-star hotel known as Palais Maeterlinck, which survived until 2008.
For weaker souls, the challenges of redeveloping a building so steeped in history might have been daunting, but not for Vitek and Illovsky, who relished the opportunity to bring the landmark palace back to life. “There was no pressure,” says Illovsky. “The Côte D’Azur Sotheby’s International Realty brand is already a significant name, recognised worldwide. For us it is natural to be associated to unique and exclusive projects – it goes hand in hand with our brand. Radovan already has a few properties on the French Riviera. He spends his summers in between his boat and the houses he has in the Provence and the Côte D’Azur, so he understands the lack of quality housing in the region. He also understands the need to solve some of the problems that the foreign buyers are facing in the French Riviera.”
More than luxury
That is not to say that redeveloping the property was easy. Vitek’s team decided to drastically reduce the number of apartments on the property in order to foster a truly exclusive community. “We have a trend toward fewer proprietors and bigger apartments. This translates to higher purchasing budgets and a higher quality client, with more wealth,” explains Illovsky. “It was a major decision we made to reduce the number of apartments from 27 to 19 larger ones. This proved to be a wise decision, when immediately two early clients bought two in one go, to make bigger units. We realised that the trend is certainly shifting towards bigger units. So far, we are down from 19 units to 17 units, unless further buyers purchase two apartments in one go.”
With fewer clients and a higher budget, the Palais Maeterlinck project evolved from a high-end apartment complex to an ultra-luxurious collection of serviced properties. “There will really be a community created on a very high level,” said Illovsky, explaining why they have decided to offer services like 24-hour security, with a guard, video surveillance of the boundaries and access, a concierge service on-site and a complimentary management service to help organise cleaning, laundry, grocery services and whatever other needs proprietors might have.
“It was really a well-planned strategy to turn the project from something nice and luxurious, but to something beyond that, on the highest standard of what the French Riviera can offer. It is a refuge, where residents will come to rest and recharge their batteries when they feel tired or overworked. And there is a lot of privacy. You might cross paths with another resident, but they will be equally rich or equally famous as you. So this security and protection of our resident’s privacy is key to the success of Palais Maeterlinck. Even if you are Madonna or Jacques Chirac, you will not be admitted except through the concierge.”
Experience the region
But buyers don’t come looking only for luxury when shopping for a Riviera base. Illovsky, who has vast experience in the region, understands that better than anyone, though is the first to admit that Palais Maeterlinck is a unique project in many ways. “The typical Côte D’Azur Sotheby’s International Realty customer is different from the customers looking to buy property at the Palais Maeterlinck,” he explains. “The customer for Sotheby’s International Realty can be anyone; a German industrialist or a Russian millionaire. We have several agencies operating around the French Riviera we can really help these diverse clients find the right property.
“The Palais Maeterlinck client is one that most likely already possesses a property somewhere, maybe in Cannes, Saint Tropez, or Tuscany or Spain, but they want to have a base on the French Riviera, to come quickly, to leave quickly and spend some time without any worries. They will never arrive at their holiday home to find that there has been a leak – that happens often when you return to a seasonal property after a few months. The proprietor can spend a few days or a few months, and then leave safe in the knowledge that everything will be taken care of in their absence. It is almost like a hotel service at a very exclusive level.”
Though Palais Maeterlinck is by no means the only property being developed by Sotheby’s, it is the most exclusive. “It is completely waterfront,” says Illovsky. “There are no other buildings such as the Palais Maeterlinck in the French Riviera, without a road or a footpath that separates it from the sea. We are really exclusively below the road. It is on the tip of a cap, with an uninterrupted view of more than 180 degrees. The Palais Maeterlinck is also within walking distance of Nice and Villefranche, and all those amenities.”