The 19th-century music critic Ludwing Rellstab called Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 ‘Moonlight Sonata’ after comparing it to moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne. Exuding a therapeutically gentle pace of life, Swiss lakes have historically attracted a mellower, more dignified type of buyer than coastal beauty spots.
According to Knight Frank, homes on Alpine lakes are more popular than ever, with their lifestyle advantages combined with that enduring appeal of old- world glamour. Lakes Geneva and Como have become highly fashionable in recent years, attracting some high-profile residents, and property prices have risen sharply. However, those seeking a greater choice of properties, or a more low-key lakeside idyll, might look to nearby Neuchatel or Lugano.
An hour north from Geneva on an easy highway, the lakeside town of Neuchatel offers a sort of microcosm of the cosmopolitan Swiss city, sharing many of the lifestyle benefits yet offering properties that are up to 50% cheaper. ‘It feels like you’re going to work in a holiday place,’ says Frédéric Carbonnier of Stonehage, a global wealth management company that helps families relocate there-23% of residents are foreigners.
Neuchatel is an attractive historic town, a large part of it carved from local hauterive sandstone, which led Alexandre Dumas to call it a ‘toy town carved out of butter’. Traditionally, it’s rather more famous for being the home of Suchard chocolate and watchmaking, but, more recently, it’s attracted global medtech, pharmacology and finance companies that come for the beneficial tax regimes.
It’s easier to rent than in Geneva, where only 0.2% of housing stock is available to let, according to Patrice Pasquier of Naef estate agency, Knight Frank’s partner in Neuchatel (www.naef.ch). ‘Here, you can get a three-bedroom lakeside home with a private beach for CHF 3,000 a month. This simply wouldn’t exist in Geneva.’ If you want to buy, he suggests CHF 1 million-1.5 million for a five-bedroom apartment, and CHF 1.5 million-3 million for a detached home with the same number of bedrooms. Or there’s a 19th-century château high above the lake offering 111sq ft of living space-currently arranged rather like a hotel-for CHF 8.1 million. ‘This would be CHF 30 million if in Geneva,’ says M. Pasquier.
High-net-worth individuals might base themselves in Neuchatel for fiscal reasons, but the same can be said for Lake Lugano in Italian-speaking Ticino canton. One-third of the lake pokes south into Italy between Lakes Maggiore and Como, and Lugano itself-the third financial centre of Switzerland is on the northern shore. ‘Lugano is a bit more understated than Geneva or Como, but it’s already well known to our buyers and the access to Italy is a big pull,’ says James Price of Knight Frank, which is marketing a residential complex there. ‘An easy hour from Milan’s Malpensa airport, or 45 minutes from the city, it’s very commutable.’
The ancient city hosts classical-music and jazz festivals, and there are eight golf courses nearby, watersports and skiing at St Moritz and Davos. Although not drastically cheaper than Geneva, it’s easier to obtain permits for second homes in Ticino, and house-hunters tend to be interested in spending part of the year there, before making a permanent move, according to Hannah Coppersmith of Pure International. ‘It’s quieter and less touristy than Como and there’s potential for long-term rentals.’
Pure is selling apartments in the Laguna D’Oro complex in the former fishing village of Morcote, 15 minutes south of Lugano, from CHF 1.41 million; and those in Knight Frank’s Emerald Living development start from CHF 1.45 million. Both high-spec projects come with lake views and onsite wellness facilities, and will be ready in 2012.