After a couple of years of hesitant activity and slow progress with sales, snow-hungry British buyers are returning to the Alps in force this year. The reasons are twofold, believes Jeremy Rollason, head of Savills Alpine Homes: ‘The perception that sterling has bottomed out against the Euro and a renewed level of confidence that has been lacking in the market for the past 18 months.’ But before those brave souls who bought an off-plan apartment in the likes of Bankso, Bulgaria, and other emerging resorts break open a bottle to celebrate their investment finally coming home to roost, those who are currently in the market for a ski bolthole remain choosy about the location.
Switzerland-once all too easily dismissed by many a chalet buyer for its baffling residency rules and persistently high prices has emerged as the long-term investment destination of choice among today’s buyers. ‘The average price of the properties we’ve sold in Switzerland over the past 12 months is CHF1.95 million-more than five times the average price of what most UK buyers spend on a second home abroad,’ explains Mr Rollason. ‘This demonstrates that, despite the depreciation of sterling [in June 2007, £1 bought CHF2.49; this year, £1 has averaged around CHF 1.60], buyers see Switzerland as a safe, long-term investment with a stable economy and solid growth prospects.’
This should be good news for the vendor of a super-luxurious chalet in Verbier, which comes to the market this season with the recession-defying price tag of £16.8m. Chalet La Cotze (pictured) is the main home of Marilyn Anselm, the founder of Hobbs, the high street women’s-wear chain famous for its neat-cut suits and stylish shoes. Keen skiers Marilyn and her husband and business partner, Yoram, left Britain in the 1990s and made their way to Switzerland, choosing to settle in Verbier, where they bought a plot of land. Employing a local architect to help with the project, they opted to build the chalet using dry-stone walls and top-grade old wood. Mrs Anselm, who trained as a sculptor at Central St Martins College of Art & Design, oversaw every design detail of the chalet, which is set over four floors.
The first is entirely made up of the entertaining and living space and features a large 17th-century French fireplace, above is a master bedroom and separate dressing room as well as a guest suite, office and private reception room. A further four bedrooms are located on the ground floor, beneath which is a large spa, gym, sauna, steam room and indoor swimming pool. ‘Verbier has the best sports shops in the Alps,’ explains Mrs Anselm. ‘It’s a very buzzing place to be and there are loads of English people here.’ The couple have decided, however, that the time has come to downsize to a smaller home in Verbier and buy somewhere back in the UK to be closer to their grandchildren. It’s available, fully furnished, through Savills Alpine Homes (020-7016 3740).
For buyers looking for something more modest, there are other options available, even in Switzerland. The Parc de la Plaissance is a brand-new development situated just a few minutes’ walk from the centre of Villars, an increasingly attractive resort that benefits from a lively season both in winter and summer. Enjoying fabulous mountain views to the south and west of the Rhône Valley, the off-plan apartments come with underfloor heating and two or three bedrooms. Owners will be able to access a ski bus just over 50 yards away and prices start at CHF775,000 (Savills Alpine Homes).
The pretty, car-free and family friendly resort of Saas Fee is particularly well located for the recently launched winter flights from London Stansted to Sion. Situated in German-speaking Switzerland and often described as the ‘pearl of the Alps’, the village boasts a 10-month ski season and 300 days of sunshine a year. Savills Alpine Homes are marketing a charming family chalet that enjoys wonderful views over the Saas valley and is just an 8-10 minute walk from the centre of the village. It comes at a price of CHF1.43m.
French ski chalet prices have suffered some of the steepest falls, up to 25% and 30% in some resorts, but not necessarily in the perennial favourites with British buyers, the Trois Vallées villages of Méribel and Courchevel. The latter has, over the past few years, acquired a reputation of becoming a magnet for Russian buyers with enormous wallets, which has pushed prices of chalets sky high, especially for those located within the fir trees off the Bellecôte run just above 1,850m. ‘It’s funny, the village has this reputation of being very Russian, but the make-up changes week on week,’ explains Matthew Hodder-Williams of Knight Frank’s French desk. ‘One week, it’s full of Britons, then the French, then Russians and then Brazilians.’
He’s selling Chalet Eglantier, a five-bedroom, ski-in, ski-out home with a contem-porary interior, hammam and swimming pool, which offers easy access to the Pralong lift (near the Altiport) for €16m (020-7629 8171). ‘We really feel that this season is marking the return of British buyers to Méribel,’ continues Mr Hodder-Williams. Knight Frank last week signed a contract with Cim Alpes, a new representative in the French Alps that has offices in Courchevel and Méribel. ‘They are the best agent locally and the link has already boosted our listings to more than 150 properties in the Alps and we’ve already agreed a sale with them. We’re expecting a very strong season.’
Six-bedroom chalets in Méribel typically cost between €1.5m and €5m, which means that the new-build, traditional-style chalet in La Gittaz, priced at €3.3m, is pitched some-where in the middle. Suitable for a family with young children, the five-bedroom chalet has five bedrooms, and is situated in a hamlet above the village, again available through Knight Frank.
For those wanting more of a predominantly French feel to their ski holidays, the village of Megève, which is just an hour’s drive from Geneva, is one of the most attractive Alpine resorts. Mostly favoured by French buyers, Megève is geared towards couples and families who include keen both skiers and those more inclined to spend an afternoon soaking up the Alpine sunshine.
Knight Frank are marketing a brand-new contemporary chalet in the heart of the village and near the Princesse ski lift, which accesses the ‘Mont Jolly’ slopes, and forms the fastest link to the whole of the Megève ski area. It has three bedrooms, an indoor swimming pool, cinema room, Jacuzzi and sauna, and is priced at €2.99m.
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