Nice, the comely capital of the Cote d’Azur, has one of the most accessible airports of any resort city in the world. Yet wealthy homebuyers have largely overlooked it in favour of smaller, surrounding villages, such as Saint Paul de Vence and Mougins. A mere glance at the traffic snaking interminably along the Promenade des Anglais in high season is enough to send the most ardent of city-lovers fleeing in search of a rural farmhouse surrounded by fields of sunflowers.

But the completion of the city’s new tram system (pictured left), scheduled for later this month, could change all that. One of the largest infrastructure projects in Europe, it has cost €370m and engaged more than 1,200 workers over the past six years. The result, city officials say, will be to reduce traffic flow, regenerate key areas and put previously inaccessible suburbs within striking distance of the Mediterranean.

“Proximity to the beach has traditionally been the key concern for foreign buyers in Nice, which means that the so-called outskirts have largely been ignored,” says Dennis Broadfield of buying agency Totally Riviera. “But as of this month, the tree-lined Avenue Malaussena, for example, will be a mere six-minute tram ride from the coast.”

A two-bedroom home in a traditional Niçoise buildings can be snapped up for as little as €200,000 and “this [more northern] part of Nice is perhaps more gracious and authentically French than downtown, where house prices have really rocketed in recent years,” he adds.

But the entire city is set to benefit from the new tram line. In the centre, the local authority has used it as an opportunity to create new pedestrian piazza areas, most notably at Place Massena, where cars will have only one lane across three acres, leaving residents and visitors free to roam from shop to restaurant to beach. Heading north along the tram line past the main station toward the football stadium, the shopping district of Jean Medecin will also be pedestrianised, as will Rue Jean Jaures, skirting the old town, along the eastern leg of the line running through Place Garibaldi and on. Costing just €1.30 and with a maximum capacity of 200 people per tram, the service will start at 5am and end at 1am; it will run once every four minutes during rush hour and every 15 minutes during quieter periods.

Although property sales have slowed since this summer, “the effect of the tramway is being felt, especially in key areas such as around La Liberation, which has a fantastic food market,” says Stuart Baldock, director of buying agency Property Vision France. “Since construction of the tram started, property prices have risen dramatically in those neighbourhoods, by around 14 per cent a year, especially in the €250-€450 per sq ft bracket. Before the tram line it was unheard of for overseas buyers to look at property north of Nice’s main railway line but that’s no longer the cut-off point.”

Traditionally, the most popular places to buy in Nice have been in or close to the old town, where space is tight and prices high. Typical two- to three-bedroom apartments in historic buildings might sell for €400,000-€500,000, even if they’re hidden away at the top of winding narrow staircases and lacking balconies. But a little further north, in areas that will be served by the tram, buyers can find much larger apartments for half the price without the noise pollution from scooters and garbage trucks found in the centre. On Rue Pertinax, near Jean Medecin Avenue, a renovated three-bedroom apartment with two balconies in a traditional building is on the market for €399,000 through Totally Riviera, while slightly further north on the upmarket Rue Veillon and now just four stops from the beach, a newly refurbished, 70 sq metre, two bedroom flat is listed at €295,000.

City residents haven’t enjoyed the construction period. “It’s been total mayhem what with all the noise and disturbance going on [and this summer] Place Garibaldi was just a large hole with machinery in it,” says Peter Corbett, who has owned a studio flat in Nice’s old town since 2005. Some are also sceptical that the tram will eradicate the city’s traffic problem. “In the short term it means fewer people will be driving down from their flats and offices in the north to get to work but I’m not so sure how things will really change in the long term since Nice is stuck between the sea and the mountains, which makes things a squeeze,” Broadfield says. And pedestrianisation could make “parking …an issue”, says Jean-Claude Caputo, head of Savills’ Nice office, “so the apartments sold with parking spaces will sometimes be more expensive than the same ones without it.”

But, now that the tram system is almost complete, locals are mostly optimistic. “For several years Nice as a city has not been what it might have been but in the last two years it has become popular again,” says Sebastian Bianco of local agency Palais Immobilier.

Broadfield agrees. “More and more tourists are seeing Nice as a destination in itself, not just an airline link to the rest of the [French] Riviera. Better and more stylish shops and restaurants are opening along the tram route and the associated infrastructure has transformed Nice in a way that will have a continued economic effect for many years. I bought an apartment right on the tramway myself. It was just too good of an opportunity to miss.”

Even Corbett and his wife, Sue, from Liverpool, are betting on Nice’s outer neighbourhoods being revitalised by the tram opening, having bought a second apartment close to Place Garibaldi. “We’ve seen the value of our first apartment rise threefold and are confident that Nice still has growth in it for property values,” he says.

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Local agents

Totally Riviera, tel: +44 (0)1959-561737; www.totallyriviera.com
Palais Immobilier, tel: +33 (0)4-93 80 08 44; www.palaisimmobilier.com
Property Vision, tel: +44 (0)20- 7808 8951; www.propertyvision.com

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