Country houses for sale

Ski chalets in Courmayeur

The twinkling amber of old-fashioned street lights casts a warm glow over the houses of Courmayeur. It’s late afternoon, and Via Roma, the boutique lined street cutting across the car free village centre, is full of the animated voices and rosy cheeks of skiers enjoying a spot of après-ski shopping. Many make their way to the top of the street to rest weary muscles on the squishy sofas of the Bar Roma, where a moustachioed waiter serves the best aperitif this side of the Alps. Meanwhile, at Gabriella’s a traiteur whose reputation has reached the august pages of the Touring Club of Italy’s Best of Pasta in Italy guide the throng queuing up to secure the amiable signora’s freshly made tortellini and buttery apple cake is enormous.

Because not only is Courmayeur ‘a wonderful resort for intermediates, with some interesting off-piste and access to serious challenges on Mont Blanc’, says Arnie Wilson, editor of Ski + board magazine and a Courmayeur expert, it’s also ‘gourmetville-on-snow’. The impeccably turned out families and couples who own a second home here most of whom are from the haute bourgeoisie of Milan, Genoa and Turin come as much for the exquisite food and mountainside dolce vita as for the skiing and dramatic views. You’ll rarely find loud A-list celebrities with their train of paparazzi, but sharp eyes will recognise Italian government ministers and well-snow-shod industrialists among the weekend crowd. For such an established resort, Courmayeur is surprisingly little known outside Italy.

‘There are few foreigners who buy here, bar the odd request from Britain and Scandinavia,’ says the Italian estate agent conglomerate Tecnocasa. Yet the resort has a solid history of property appreciation and excellent resale potential. That said, buying a home in the village is not for the faint-hearted (or the shallow-pocketed). Prices reflect the number of Louis Vuitton and Hermès bags seen on Via Roma. At an average of about 800 euro per sq ft for prestige resales, and 9,000 euro per sq ft for new homes, this is Italy’s second most expensive mountain resort after Madonna di Campiglio, according to Tecnocasa (which doesn’t include Cortina).

‘We’ve seen an increase in prices for average-quality properties, and prestige ones have been stable,’ says Francesco Musa of estate agent Musa Immobiliare. Changes to the local planning legislation have restricted new residential building. But ‘as far as demand is concerned, the opposite took place we had a stable number of requests for average homes and a rise in ones for luxury homes. With this in mind, I expect the resale market for 2008 to stay stable at an average of 750 euro per sq ft, and believe we’ll sell proportionally more prestige properties than other types.

‘The kind of picture-postcard-perfect wood-and-stone chalets that many buyers are after are more widely available in the hamlets around Courmayeur, where prices are lower. It’s worth looking at Dolonne, Entrèves and Verrand, which are all close to gondolas or cable cars. ‘Dolonne has a new gondola system, and so will see a rise in values. There are plans to renovate the cable-car system in Entrèves. And Pallesieux has already seen substantial growth, due to new, panoramic homes in stone and wood.’

Musa Immobiliare 00 39 0165 846540; Tecnocasa Studio Courmayeur 00 39 0165 848082; Agenzia Cipolla Service 00 39 0165 842260;; Eti Vacanze 00 39 0165 846172;