There are many reasons why lakeside homes are a good investment, but quality of life is the one with the most history behind it. Water’s ability to cleanse the body and soul has been celebrated since antiquity, and spa towns based around natural springs became dedicated resorts as a result of the Victorians’ obsession with ‘taking the waters’. In Europe, the rise of the Grand Tour and Romanticism also helped launch modern lake tourism, as did the realism of Gustave Courbet’s Lac Leman sunsets.
There’s certainly something uniquely soothing about the sight of a gently moving mirror beneath dramatic skies, so really, it’s just a question of which lake you should take.
Lake Champlain, USA
Often referred to as ‘America’s Sixth Great Lake’, the timber-trading Lake Champlain region was once fiercely fought for by the British, but these days, it’s a peaceful escape for second-home owners from Boston and Canada. As a 120-mile long expanse sandwiched between New York State’s Adirondack mountains and the Green Mountains of Vermont, it’s said by some to rival Lake Geneva for its dramatic beauty. ‘It’s a strikingly beautiful, year round area that offers quaint towns and quintessentially American wooden lakefront properties,’ says Tim Simmons of Vermont-based Caukus Consulting (www. caukusconsulting.com). ‘Buyers are typically looking for homes that have a rustic, late-19th-century or early-20th-century feel, with modern kitchens and bathrooms, water frontage, privacy and mountain views,’ explains Wade Weathers of Land Vest. ‘The areas most in demand include Shelburne, Charlotte, Ferrisburgh, Colchester, Keene Valley and Lake Placid. Prices range from $1.5 million to $10 million.’
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Lake Como, Italy
The bulk of Lake Como’s elegant lakefront villas were built on the back of the silk trade between 1880 and 1920. These splendid 8-10-bedroom trophy homes, complete with famous-name frescoes, can cost in excess of €50 million, but it’s properties in the €5 million to €10 million bracket that are now the most in demand, according to Paul Belcher of Como buying agents Ultissimo (www.ultissimo.com). ‘The local market’s as dead as a dodo, but international interest remains strong, with the Arab Spring especially driving buyers seeking a “safe haven”.’ He adds that although €3 million is the entry-level figure for a standalone lakefront property, you can buy a frontline apartment from €650,000, with choices widening at around the €1 million mark for a 2-3 bedroom home in a ‘quiet, sunny location with parking’.
Zell am See, Austria
This year-round resort an hour from Salzburg offers lake views, skiing and affordability. Although €2 million lakefront properties hardly ever make it onto the open market (they are preserved within local families for generations), several newbuild, high-spec apartment complexes with lake views are being snapped up as fast as they’re being built. Land is in short supply and prices are rising steadily in Zell, and although €75,000 is the entry-level price for a resale apartment, new one-bedroom apartments are typically €150,000; twobedroom apartments are about €250,000, according to Inga-Lill Hochwimmer of Absolut Immobilien (www.absolut-immobilien.com). ‘At €4,000 to €5,500 per square metre, it’s top-end Austria here, yet more affordable than Kitzbühel, and lifestyle buyers are opting to get far more for their money here than they would in Switzerland.’ Many properties also come with a potential income stream, including the proposed new Mark Warner Resort in the centre of town, with prices ranging from €260,000 to €594,000 (www.markwarnerproperty.com).
NEED TO KNOW
Taking the waters: a bottled history
Since the 16th century, Europe’s spa culture has been going from strength to strength in towns such as Leonardo da Vinci’s favourite, San Pellegrino, to Napoleon’s Vichy and Bohemia’s finest, Karlovy Vary, which drew Marx and Freud. The Continent’s best-known spa resorts include Baden Baden, Bad Gastein, Bad Ischl, Karlsbadand Marienbad (indeed, any place with a Bad), and Belgium boasts the original Spa, from which the term is said to originate. France’s 50-odd spa towns include Evianles- Bains and Vichy, Italy’s various termes are topped by Montecatini and Bagni di Tivoli, and the giants of lake tourism include Hungary’s Hévíz and Balaton, plus Slovenia’s Bled.