The autumn has been magnificent in the Tarentaise valley, high in the Alps of Haute-Savoie on the French-Italian border. But already master-builder and ?adventure ski? instructor Chris Harrop is getting itchy feet, as each night the snowline creeps farther and farther down the mountain towards the traditional Savoyard village of Ste-Foy. Once a remote rural back-water, the area is fast becoming the favoured alpine retreat of discerning Parisians, as well as a growing band of high-flying British expatriates. But not too fast, says Chris Harrop, who lives at nearby Le Planay with his wife, Lesley, and their children Emily (8) and Sam (5), both already expert skiers.
Back in London, advertising guru Robert Senior, his business partner in French Mountain Property (FMP) ?founded in 1998 to restore, re-build and convert some of the ancient Savoyard farmhouses which still survive in this unspoilt Alpine region ?is also waiting impatiently for the first big snowfall of the winter. For since the opening, two years ago, of the ?Vanoise Express? cable-car linking Les Arcs and La Plagne to the rest of the Trois Vallées, this is now ?the biggest and best ski area in the world?.
Historically, the Tarentaise valley was one of the most isolated regions of France, cut off from the rest of the country during the long, snow-bound winter months. It was never a place for the faint-hearted, and the regional culture of self-reliance is reflected in its traditional buildings, with their stout stone walls, and huge beams designed to carry the enormous weight of the stone-tiled roofs themselves, as well as the annual snowfall. The winter?s fodder was stacked in the space beneath the roof, with the live-stock housed on the ground floor.
This was the architectural heritage that French Mountain Property was intended to preserve. ?All the properties we acquire for renovation are treated as if they were for our own use. We both have homes in the area and are keen to help perpetuate its unique, rural character,? Mr Senior says, adding, ?many people who buy properties here come first for the skiing, and then get hooked on the uniqueness of mountain life, just as we did. In fact, we have sold several of our properties to owners who tend to make more use of them in the summer, renting them out for some of the winter season, when a serviced family chalet can be let for around £3,000 a week?.
Properties currently for sale through FMP?s UK agent, Cotswolds-based Property Pathfinder (01285 653190), include Le Manessier at Montvalezan, a massive traditional stone farmhouse set in a hectare of gardens and orchards, with wonderful views of the Isère valley. The building has been renovated with immense care by Mr Harrop?s team of expert craftsmen, and has a huge living area with an open fireplace opening onto a wrap-around balcony, seven bedrooms, six bathrooms, a playroom, a ski-room and a separate sauna cabin. The asking price is ?1.7 million.
The Chalet Jaseur in the hamlet of Le Planay Dessus, just above Ste-Foy village and ski-station, is being renovated to provide six bedrooms, six bathrooms, and a large open-plan living-room with a balcony overlooking the Tarentaise valley, and is on the market at ?1.6 million.
Meanwhile, ?750,000 is the price-tag on a recently-completed chalet apartment (above) at nearby Le Planay Dessous, built on two floors with an open-plan ground floor comprising living room, kitchen and dining room, and four bedrooms and two bathrooms on the first floor. It has traditional stone lauzes recovered from a hotel in Cervinia, Italy, and massive roof-beams impor-ted from Romania. The views across the Tarentaise valley to Villaroger are ?to die for?.