For pristine wilderness and spacious landscape at affordable prices that’s little more than six or seven hours away from London, look to Canada.
Within two hours’ driving time of Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver are retreats that have drawn the likes of Hollywood’s Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas and other luminaries. They’re among the iconic landscapes that give Canadians their sense of place, from the islands off the British Columbia coast to the lakes of northern Quebec. Indeed, they’re the country’s heartland, inspiring artists such as the myth-shrouded Group of Seven or the veteran West Coast painter E. J. Hughes.
Two hours north of Montreal?a cultural centre with a culinary streak that hearkens back to its 17th-century French roots?the clear freshwater lakes of the Tremblant region await.One of the cleanest is Lac Desmarais, where 1,000 acres of wilderness are opening up after years in the hands of the Franciscan monastic order. With lot sizes averaging 3.5 acres, and some buyers doubling up for an extra measure of privacy, the area retains a secluded air that makes it ideal for slowing down and communing with the wonders of nature.
A mix of deciduous and coniferous trees breaks forth in a spectacular array of colours in autumn, sheltering bear, white-tailed deer and a panoply of smaller wildlife. For fans of outdoor pursuits, the lake is well stocked with trout.
Michael Clark, co-owner of Mont Tremblant Real Estate Inc and Canadian agent for the London brokerage Pure International (020?7331 4500), says regulations are in place to ensure the area remains wild well into the future. Mr Clark adds that, with a variety of skiing, biking and hiking trails, opportunities for year-round recreation in the Tremblant region mean a home there is ‘like buying two places in one’.
Even better, the prices are reasonable. Development lots with spectacular views from the mountains surrounding Lac Desmarais are available for CAN$349,000 (about £173,631), and stand a good chance of rising in value, if the prices of waterfront lots in the region are any indication. Lakeside lots along Lac Desmarais are now close to CAN$1 million (about £494,555) ?four times what they originally sold for; on adjacent lakes such as Lac Tremblant, values are in the range of CAN$2.5 million (about £24 million). ‘People are looking at it from an investment point of view. They feel that if prices have gone this far there’s a lot of potential gains still,’ Mr Clark notes. A new airport in Mont Tremblant is facilitating access to the region, ensuring demand well into the future.
Canada’s Intrawest Corporation (00 1 604 669 9777) spearheaded development in the Tremblant area with its resort at Mont Tremblant itself, transforming the mountain’s ski hill and the surrounding region into a centre for outdoors enthusiasts that currently attracts more than two million visitors a year.
Former Intrawest Corporation marketing director Ross McCredie, now head of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada (00 1 604 632 3300), considers the interest overseas buyers are showing in bare lots at Tremblant notable compared to what it was even two years ago, when he left Intrawest for Sotheby’s. ‘That, for me, is unique,’ Mr McCredie. ‘It shows some serious demand in the marketplace.’
But Mr McCredie has some gems of his own to offer. Ninety minutes from Vancouver, a city that mixes the cosmopolitan with the countryside, and which will host the 2010 Winter Olympics, is the Sunshine Coast, where Sotheby’s agent Rene Palsenbarg is selling an 8,400sq ft ocean-front home with 18.4 acres of land for CAN$4.5 million (about ?.2 million).
The house’s classic West Coast architecture looks west across waters that are home to whales and seals. Bald eagles nest among the cedars and firs that line the property’s 500ft of rocky shoreline.
In the Kootenay region in eastern British Columbia (BC), a 500ft parcel of shoreline, also for sale through Sotheby’s, is a steal at just CAN$9,000 (about £4,,450) a foot, for a total of CAN$4.5 million (about £2.2 million). The Kootenays boast the most expensive waterfront property in the province, with lots fetching CAN$15,000 (about £7,420) to CAN$20,000 (about £9,890) per foot of waterfront, before development commences. That puts a half-acre lot with 100 feet of lakefront at CAN$1.5 million (about £41,674) to CAN$2 million (about £88,900)
Waterfront properties that cost just CAN$350,000 (about £172,983) two years ago are now running at upwards of CAN$550,000 (about £271,830), according to Philip Jones, owner of Royal LePage East Kootenay Realty (00 1 250 426 8211) in the south-eastern BC community of Cranbrook. Air connections are improving, but the Cranbrook area remains more remote than other places in Canada. Calgary, the closest city of any size, is a four-hour drive away. Nevertheless, Mr Jones works with many UK buyers, mostly aged 35 to 50, who are attracted to the region’s easy-going pace of life and rustic charm. ‘They like the area, they like the prices and they like the investment potential.’ The experience of a couple who recently purchased a town home at the base of a local ski hill, next to a golf course, underlines his point. ‘They paid slightly under CAN$300,000 (about £48,310) for it. Their house in the UK is really poor in comparison, but it’s worth double. So, here in Canada, they’re getting double the accommodation for half the price.’