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The venerable Provençal hotel in Juan-les-Pins' 1920s heydey

The venerable Provençal hotel in Juan-les-Pins’ 1920s heydey

In the roaring 1920s Juan-les-Pins was like Dubai. The resort between Cannes and Nice was a haven for Brits escaping the London winter, Russians escaping a totalitarian state, and Americans escaping property taxes back home. Sound familiar?

Fast forward 90 years and Juan-les-Pins is back. The seaside resort’s grandest building, Le Provençal, is set to become the greatest real estate drama on the French Riviera. Here’s the story and the stellar cast…

In 1925 American railroad engineer Frank Jay Gould holidayed in Juan-les-Pins (as did Pablo Picasso and F Scott Fitzgerald). The resort’s fruit blossoms, pine trees and sandy beach reminded him of Miami Beach – minus the crowds.

The potential was obvious. Gould snapped up the local casino. Then made sure the chips rolled in by building one of the world’s grandest hotels right next door.

In true Dubai style, Le Provençal was a skyscraping ten storeys high. It took just 12 months to construct from start to finish. Electric elevators and dumb waiters connected the 290 guestrooms. It dominates the Juan-les-Pins beachfront to this day.

Nearby towns like Antibes and Biot were built around the horse and cart. But Le Provençal had private parking for 100 motor cars. Aristocrats once escaped the bronzing sun. But this hotel had an alfresco beach club for guests to work on their tans.

In the 1920s Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway chugged gin in the long bar. In the 1930s its sprung ballroom welcomed Charlie Chaplin and Coco Chanel. Miles Davis and Sidney Bechet jazzed up the entertainment in the 1950s. Edith Piaf and the Kennedys checked in a decade later. A young Welsh tenor by the name of Tom Jones made his debut right here. Such clientele fuelled the local restaurants, cafés and bars – as well as the Juan-les-Pins property market.

Alas, the 1970s financial crisis forced closure of Le Provençal. Rising oil prices and raging inflation hit even high-rolling holidaymakers. Grasses, bushes, then entire trees sprouted from the hotel roof in the 1990s. The local press referred to Le Provençal as: “The French Riviera’s last remaining gem.”

The final death throes during the tenure of British property developer Cyril Dennis, who purchased the hotel a decade ago. He planned to reopen it as a bling-tastic apartment complex in 2010.

The credit crunch ripped up Dennis’s blueprint, which featured a helipad and a shared luxury yacht. Le Provençal’s €2m studios and €20m penthouses went the way of Lehman Brothers bonus scheme: swiftly down the pan.

But as the global economy surges, and the Euro finally weakens, Le Provençal is set for a final staring role. It was recently brought by British Phones4U billionaire John Caudwell, who is restoring the property to its original glory.

Whether it will reopen as a hotel or apartments we’re not sure: but every local restaurateur and real estate agent is already counting down.


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