The coast has been a magnet since the 1850s when a nascent railway system opened up southern France. European royal families, British aristocrats and celebrities followed, trailing glamour and elegance behind them in an area already overdosed on natural beauty.
Azure seas, shady pine trees and a dazzling light of crystalline clarity have kept the Riviera at the top of its game with some of the most jaw-dropping property prices on the planet. And be honest, if your Lottery numbers came up, wouldn't this be one of the first places you would choose to house-hunt?
In 1854, a clever landscape gardener set up business in the south of France tending the gardens of British aristocrats. He became such a good property gossip that everyone went to him for news of what was for sale. It wasn't long before he was running his own estate agency. More than 150 years later, John Taylor has 18 offices worldwide and opened one this spring in Belgravia.
Owned since the 1990s by the Monaco-based Pastor family, it continues to sell the very finest homes to the richest people. Homes & Property took a dream trip through the real estate of the Côte d'Azur.
OLD TRADITIONS STILL STRONG IN ST TROPEZ
Until Brigitte Bardot put it on the map in the Sixties, St Tropez was little more than a pretty fishing village midway between Nice and Marseille with a (much painted) crescent-shaped, harbour-front terrace of tall, pale-pastel, geranium-draped houses with colourful shutters.
Today, moored mega-yachts replace the trawlers, and fishermen's cottages sell for millions.
"St Tropez has international appeal but unlike Cannes it is not overlaid with obvious glitz. It is more seasonal and quiet in winter, and it has kept at its heart good traditions and a strong community," says Sylvain Boichut of John Taylor France. "Prices peak in Les Parcs and Le Capon, where a house with seven hectares and two helipads sold last year for a record £40 million."
Fabulous sea views — top of everyone's wish-list, along with airy, open-plan living, says Boichut — add a minimum of 30 per cent to a property's price. A five-bedroom villa built in the Eighties in Le Capon, hidden among olive trees and overlooking Pampelonne Beach and the famous former seashore café — now star-studded Club 55 — is for sale at £6.7 million, up from £5.9 million in 2007. Thus proving that water views are largely recession-proof.
A glorious bastide, expertly converted into a contemporary, open-plan home overlooking the Bay of Canoubiers is £10.8 million through John Taylor. The 4,306sq ft house has seven bedrooms, pale wooden beams grafted on to high ceilings and a garden given over to a large pool, outdoor kitchen and built-in seating to soak up the views.
Even paradise has thorny problems, though, as congested roads from Nice to St Tropez in peak season cause severe delays. The super-wealthy avoid the queues by swooping along the coast in a helicopter.
LOCATION IS EVERYTHING IN ST-JEAN-CAP-FERRAT
Prices reach their zenith in pretty Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, where famous former residents include David Niven and Charlie Chaplin. Smaller than Cap d'Antibes and more secure with only one access road, Cap Ferrat has 300 homes, 40 on prime waterfront sites, and an average price of £32 million.
"People choose Cap Ferrat for its beauty, privacy and convenience," says Mathias Debois-Frogé of John Taylor. "Twenty minutes after leaving Nice airport you can be on your terrace with a glass of rosé while Monaco's casino is 15 minutes away. Ninety per cent of the price on the Cap is down to location, not the property."
A British entrepreneur is selling his five-year-old, five-bedroom family home at the highest point of the Cap for £14.6 million while a 4,844sq ft house with an infinity pool above the sea is £24 million. Move just two miles off the Cap to Villefranche-sur-Mer and prices halve, says Debois-Frogé.
A substantial Belle Époque villa needing some restructuring has just been snapped up for £12 million, by Italian buyers undeterred by the railway line and road between the house and sea.
Nearby in Eze-sur-Mer, Bristol-based couple Mansel and Denise Griffiths took five years to build their dream house on a former agricultural plot.
"It was the wide views of the Mediterranean that sold it to us," says Denise, 56. "We initially looked in the medieval village of Eze but the frequent mist there ruins the views."
Mansel, a former surgeon, and Denise live on the Côte d'Azur year-round now, won over by the weather and France's excellent medical system. Their four children and seven grandchildren frequently visit and last summer they rented the four-bedroom house for one month to the Qatar royal family for £80,000.
"Eze has only 100 houses and is very seasonal," says Debois-Frogé. "Residents must travel to Beaulieu-sur-Mer for shopping but buyers can get better value here or in Villefranche, paying from around £1.6 million for a three-bedroom detached house."
FILM GLAMOUR IN CANNES
Just 15 miles from Nice airport, Cannes is the festival and conference city with a burgeoning hi-tech industry based at Sophia Antipolis near Valbonne. Rental returns are strong, with many wealthy Middle East residents choosing to spend summer in the city.
Prices peak along the Croisette, the waterfront boulevard lined with palm trees that looks out to Cap d'Antibes.
Chesterton Humberts has 19 newly released frontline apartments at 7 Croisette opposite the Palais des Festivals, home to the annual Film Festival. Prices start at £904,000 for a 581sq ft one-bedroom flat with parking.
East of the centre, 87 Soligny is an off-plan development of nine contemporary apartments priced from £3.6 million for 1,593sq ft, due for completion in spring 2014. The apartments, for sale through John Taylor, are surrounded by exceptional gardens, once part of a grand 1868 Palais, and look west to Palm Beach and south to the island of St Marguerite.
* John Taylor: 00 33 (0) 497 06 65 65; john-taylor.com
* Chesterton Humberts: 020 3040 8210; chestertonhumberts.com