‘It’s still a special place. It’s just so beautiful down here’
Wild Geese: Sarah Kavanagh, Monaco
Sarah Kavanagh: “It’s not entrepreneur friendly. It’s very rigid here. You have to understand French culture and be able to speak French.”
From pitlanes to high-end properties, Ireland’s most famous speed queen Sarah Kavanagh’s career has enjoyed a 180 degree turnaround since moving to the mountains high above Monaco in 2003.
“My husband and I were getting frustrated living in Ireland. Dublin was starting to go property crazy and we couldn’t find the kind of home we wanted for our budget, so we just went online to see what the equivalent was abroad,” she says.
“When you live in Ireland your whole life, it’s like you live in a bit of a bubble. It’s so connected, yet it’s a backwater in so many other ways. The older you get, the more you get bogged down and your sense of adventure decreases.”
So when the couple stumbled upon a 300 year old castle ruin in the mountains set on 2,000 square metres along the highly sought after Cote D’Azur coastline, they were smitten.
“It was completely derelict, without lights of running water for years, and we’re still working on it now, but we turned it into an idyllic hideaway. It’s a labour of love.”
The move occurred just before Kavanagh’s 12-year motor racing career came to an abrupt end. Having started racing aged 18 after a random trip to a motor racing event while studying art in Brighton in the UK, the Dublin native worked her way up the ranks from go-karting to securing a drive with Jaguar Formula 1 for the 2004 season.
Just 22 people in the world drive Formula One, so she was to join the elite of the elite and become the first Irish woman to do so. The deal could have propelled her to F1 glory, but Jaguar never made the grid that year.
“I was standing on my porch here overlooking the beautiful old olive trees in the garden, when I got the call and my world fell apart. I was so close. After racing my own Jordan F1 car beforehand, and testing for McLaren, I had a drive and then it didn’t happen,” she says.
“It took me a long time to appreciate my achievements and how far I came in a short space of time.”
After settling in France, Kavanagh took up writing and threw herself into creating a dream home for her, her husband and son Finley, now five. Then a random request from a friend to find an apartment, opened up a new opportunity for Kavanagh.
“And so my property management career began,” she says.
“Now I have clients both renting out and seeking short-term accommodation in Monaco and neighbouring Villefranche, in some of the most sought after rental markets in the world. I had my busiest season ever last year,” she adds.
Kavanagh now has some pretty swanky properties on her books but, at up to €4,000 a week, they are still pretty moderate compared to some of the real estate in the area. “Property in Monaco is at an absolute premium, so the sky’s the limit. Some villas go for €250,000 per week. Its pretty ridiculous.”
Her clients, who comprise an “odd mix” from across Europe as well as the United States and the Middle East, often don’t just look for a place to stay, but also seek recommendations for childcare, places to eat, security and oftentimes something a little more extravagant.
“I once had to sort out accommodation for seven chiwawas, who stayed on in Nice for an extra week on their own while the paperwork was sorted. The wealth here is on a different level,” she laughs.
Sometimes they want to set up camp here for three months, other times clients just want to find somewhere to stay during the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix. Demand, understandably, is highest in summer.
“By the end of it, I don’t know my own name, but now it’s starting to get busy in the winter too.”
“Like anywhere else, it’s getting harder and harder to find a permanent home here,” she says. “You hear the same dinner party conversations here as in Ireland – that property has become unaffordable and available.”
Kavanagh doesn’t use social media or have an official website, but works purely by word of mouth.
“I’m pretty old school I guess. I like to do face to face meetings. Most of my work is by recommendation.”
But she says, it’s not all plain sailing in the south of France.
“It’s not entrepreneur friendly. It’s very rigid here. You have to understand French culture and be able to speak French.
“It’s a really international place, but at the same time, if you come here to set up, you can’t expect things to be in English. French people have a reputation across the world for doing things their way and you can’t expect French people to not be French.”
But despite being dubbed by Somerset Maugham as a “sunny place for shady people”, Kavanagh says the Riviera will always have an allure about it.
“People say the it’s been bastardised in recent years, but it’s still a special place. It’s just so beautiful down here and we still love it after all these years.”
For more info go to www.monacocountrypark.com.