Russian elites have always had a soft spot for the Côte d’Azur. After the Russian Revolution, Grand Duke Andres Vladimirovich Romanov, a cousin of the last tsar, turned Villa Marizzina, a palace on a cliff in Cap-d’Ail, into a haven for himself and his mistress, the famous ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska. Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, another cousin of Nicholas II and one of the architects of Rasputin’s assassination in 1916, also chose the French Riviera to live in exile his love story with another celebrity of the time, Coco Chanel. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russians returned to the Mediterranean coast, landing at Cap d’Antibes and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. The nouveau riche of Moscow and St. Petersburg bought the old mansions, turning the area into their summer playground.
But this year the oligarchs will find it more difficult to relax in their villas and sail their luxurious yachts through the French Mediterranean. European airspace is technically closed to them, visas are hard to come by and their credit cards are blocked as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The French government has frozen more than 500 million euros in properties, including some 30 mansions in the Cap d’Antibes area. From the Château de la Croë, Roman Abramóvich’s almost 8,000 square meter castle (formerly the residence of the Dukes of Windsor); to Villa Hier, owned by the oil tanker Suleiman Kerimov; going by Villa Altaïr, home of the King of the commodities Andrei Melnichenko; and Villa Nellcôte, the house belle époque of steel and iron magnate Viktor Rashnikov.
The court of these magnates used to stop at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. Built in 1870 by Alexey Plastcheef, a former captain in the Russian Imperial Guard, it is one of the most luxurious accommodations in Cap d’Antibes and a favorite of the rich and famous. This summer, the Russians are not there, nor are they expected. “In recent years, we used to receive 8% of guests from Russia. That was until 2020. With the covid pandemic, the Russian market began to slow down, ”explains Valerie Muller, its communication director. “In fact, this season we have no reserves from Russia or Ukraine, which is understandable given the situation. However, these markets have been replaced by visitors of other nationalities and all our rooms are reserved for the summer season”, he adds.
France is not the only off-limits territory for the Russians. Vladimir Putin’s war makes it almost impossible for the Moscow and Petersburg elites arrive at their favorite destinations in Greece, Italy, the Caribbean or the United States. Spain will stop receiving more than 935,000 travelers of Russian nationality in this summer tourist campaign due to the sanctions derived from the Ukrainian invasion. According to the figures of the National Institute of Statistics (INE) of foreign tourism collected in the Frontur survey, this will mean losing more than one in 100 tourists and more than 83 million euros in income.
So where are the mighty of Moscow and St. Petersburg going to summer this year? “Indeed, almost none of my friends or acquaintances have told me that they are going to travel to Italy or Spain. As far as I know, Dubai is the new place where many go. Also Turkey and the East ”, says a Russian aristocrat who prefers not to give her name. According to figures from the Emirati authorities, the purchase of properties in Dubai by Russians has increased by 67% in the first three months of 2022. The United Arab Emirates has not imposed sanctions on the Putin government or condemned the war conflict. They are also providing visas to unsanctioned Russians, while many Western countries have restricted them.
According to the BBC, this has translated into an increase in property prices in Dubai. “The Russians who are coming are not buying just as an investment, but also as a second home,” Thiago Caldas, CEO of Modern Living real estate, explained to the British public channel.
Turkey, one of the few countries to operate flights to and from Russia since Moscow started the war in February, is another of his vacation destinations this season. Russian banks are cut off from the global financial system after payment companies suspended operations over Moscow’s military campaign. However, the Turkish authorities have explained that Russian tourists will not have difficulties making their payments in their country this summer.
Home sales have also skyrocketed in Turkey. They rose 107.5% in May from last year, a Russian-led buyers list of 1,275 homes, according to the latest data from the Turkish Statistical Institute. The Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR) has also just reported that the demand for holiday packages in Turkey is so high that it considerably exceeds the supply. Favorite destinations are Antalya, a city located on the Mediterranean coast in the southwest of the country, and the beaches of the Aegean. According to ATOR, all flights are sold for the months of July and August and hotel capacity is almost complete. Ankara officials expect this year’s Russian tourist numbers to match or exceed 2019’s: nearly five million visitors.
While some Russians worry about their holidays, others look nervously to the front lines. At the end of April, Moscow executed its annual recruitment program in record time: more than 130,000 young people were called up for military service in one week.