Glittering past, glamorous future of a jazz age hotel

Le Provençal, once a hotel that attracted stars of the 1920s to the Côte d'Azur, is being revamped as homes for the super-rich…

Le Provençal, once a hotel that attracted stars of the 1920s to the Côte d'Azur, is being revamped as homes for the super-rich.

ENGLISH PROPERTY developer Cyril Dennis stands at the top of the massive Provençal building and points to sweeping views of the Côte d'Azur below. Forty journalists, from London to Moscow, Dublin to Delhi to Dubai, have donned hard hats to climb 10 flights of marble stairs to the roof of the once glittering but now derelict hotel that he plans to turn into the most luxurious apartment development on the Riviera.

As we climb, he summons ghosts of the past to try and conjure the glamour of the Roaring Twenties, a glamour that he plans to recreate to attract wealthy people from around the world to pay between €2 million and €37 million for the 56 luxury apartments that will be built in the refurbished Provençal.

Edith Piaf sings distantly as a pigeon flutters through one of the handsome arched windows. Everyone from Winston Churchill to John F Kennedy visited the art deco hotel, built in 1926. Silent screen movie stars like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks stayed, Charlie Chaplin had an affair here, writers like Hemingway visited and Ella Fitzgerald stayed and sang at the Juan-les-Pins jazz festival in 1964.


Built as a 290-room hotel in 1926 by American millionaire Frank Jay Gould, Le Provençal is across the road from the sea and the Hotel Belles Rives, the villa rented by writer Scott FitzGerald and his wife Zelda one summer in the early 1920s.

Fashionable from the outset, Le Provençal survived the second World War - being bombed towards the end by American troops, then rebuilt by them - and was popular in the 1950s and early 1960s. Jazz greats like Count Basie, Charles Mingus and Ray Charles came for the Juan-les-Pins jazz festival founded in 1960 - but the hotel closed in 1966 after changes of ownership.

The flamboyant Dennis is excited by the aura of glamour that memories of times past lend to the project, but whether this glittering history is what will sell Le Provençal is a moot point: the wealthy Russians, mid-Easterners or Indians likely to be amongst the buyers may care little for that history. But they may well be attracted to the present-day glamour and exclusivity promised by Dennis and his design team. One claim that Dennis makes repeatedly is that this is a once-off opportunity, for no other apartment development of this scale is likely to be permitted by planning authorities on the Côte d'Azur nowadays. The huge, white 15,000sq m (175,000sq ft) 10-storey building is one of the highest and largest near the coast, and many apartments will have fabulous sea views.

Dennis, who moved to Monaco in the 1990s after successfully developing large chunks of London's docklands, was persuaded by his daughter Andrea to buy the hotel. He paid a reported £48 million for it two years ago after difficult negotiations - others had tried and failed to buy it from its current owner, a wealthy and ageing German retailer.

Now with the support of a number of business people - including Irish Nationwide's Michael Fingleton, who had long been involved in Dennis's UK docklands ventures - the project to restore the rundown hotel, which had become an eyesore on this stretch of Juan-les-Pins/ Antibes has begun.

Le Provençal, being sold through agent Savills and its Riviera representative, Riviera Estates, is being created for the wealthy, with prices and fit-out to match. The basic price is about €36,000 per sq m, and costs range from €1.5 million (for a 70sq m (753sq ft) one-bed with no sea view) to €37 million (for a 900sq m/9,688sq ft penthouse, with its own swimming pool).

Although there are only 56 apartments in all (plus four studios likely to be sold along with penthouses, as staff accommodation) there is a good range of sizes and prices. They include 25 100-170sq m (1,076-1,828sq ft) two-beds costing from €2.7 million to €7.2 million and 15 150-265sq m (1,614-2,852sq ft) three-beds from €5.5 million to €10 million. Four-beds of 280-450sq m (3,013-4,843sq ft) will cost from €10 million to €26.5 million.

The top five properties are two duplexes and three penthouses costing from €12 million to €37 million. The largest of these is 600sq m (6,458sq ft) with a 300sq m (3,229sq ft) terrace. There will be direct lifts to the penthouses, with separate ones for staff. The penthouses will have private swimming pools and gardens.

Already Dennis is thinking big and envisaging a buyer who might buy the top two floors outright for around €100 million: building plans have been drawn up in a way that will easily adapt to such changes.

Annual service charges will be 1.5 per cent of the value of a unit and parking spaces (there are 131) cost €50,000 each. The development will be managed by a well-known hotel brand, with 24-hour concierge service and serious security. Initially owners won't be allowed to rent out the apartments, but they could collectively change their minds about that in the future.

A lavish marketing suite up the road from the Provençal shows the kind of fitout planned. The apartment interiors - all marble, granite, stone, solid timber - being designed by Studio A in Milan are high tech and super cool, with styles ranging from contemporary to baroque to art deco.

Included on display are kitchens which can be screened from a dining area by a retractable wall at the touch of a button and bathrooms where taps are designed like small waterfalls, with hot and cold water coloured red or blue by LED lights. You can even read e-mails in the shower.

All owners of Le Provençal apartments will have access to a beach club beside the sea, across the road; to a spa; a tennis club on the far side of Antibes (transport provided); a 12-hole golf course in nearby Sophia Antipolis; a ski lodge inland at Courcheval and a yacht and a boat in Port Gallice, just down the road.

Provençal Investments SA is also building a boutique four-star hotel next door and another 90-unit apartment development nearby.

Prices in the area generally vary widely, from around €160,000 for a studio in the heart of the rather rackety Juan-les-Pins resort to €200 million on nearby Cap d'Antibes. So why pay millions for an apartment when you can buy large villas for similar prices? Security, and the kind of services offered by such an apartment development, say the agents. Apparently 10 people have already put down deposits (of 5 per cent, with 45 per cent due in the autumn when site work begins). The developer promises that just two years later, in 2010, Le Provençal will open its doors again to a new era. Savills: 0044 207016 3740 (UK); 0033 493 333 222 (FR)