Fringed with icy stalactites in deepest winter, then frothing with scarlet geraniums during balmy summers, the Swiss Alpine chalet is the ultimate dual-season home. For some, it’s the chocolate-box appeal of a bolthole that is handy for a ski run; for others, it’s a status symbol among a handful of trophy homes strung across the globe. Whichever it is, the market for such homes remains rock solid amid the uncertainty shaking other parts of Europe, and demand continues to outstrip supply. Limits on foreign ownership help maintain a certain exclusivity, and the complex permit system weeds out any dilettantes, but which ski towns offer both year-round appeal and foreigner permits?
There currently seems to be a veritable avalanche of permits in the Vaud ski town of Villars-handy for Montreux and Geneva. ‘There are about 200 properties currently for sale with permits,’ says Patrick Turrian of Régie Turrian SA, who work beside Knight Frank. ‘Most buyers spend CHF4 million- CHF7 million [£2.6m-£4.5m], but some double that; you can get two-bedroom resale apartments from CHF420,000 [£273,000] or three bedrooms from CHF740,000 [£480,000].’ The town could do with livening up a bit with a few new hotels and restaurants- the newly opened Chalet Royal Hotel & Spa is a start-but it’s popular precisely because it ticks most other boxes as a fours eason base. For big spenders-and those with a residency permit-there’s an 880m2 new-build chalet with five bedrooms, library and cinema, for CHF17 million (£11m) (again through Knight Frank). For ancient chocolate-box charm, however, the 15th-century Valais village of Grimentz is hard to beat, with its cobbled streets winding between sun-darkened granaries.
Walking paths and mountain-biking trails abound in this ski village, which promises ‘four seasons of well-being’. People go for the uncrowded pistes and atmosphere according to Jeremy Rollason of Savills Alpine Homes, who are selling new-build apartments and chalets in Résidence Beauregard. ‘It appeals to the discerning, older buyer who seeks something more authentic than the glitziness of big-name resorts.’ Although reasonably big-name, pretty Grindelwald attracts people who want to spend their summers there, according to Beat Hartmann of Hartmann Singleton. ‘The Eiger village has drawn the English since the 18th century and is not overbuilt like Verbier, but has typical, picturesque, chalet-style homes that have retained their high value. ‘The English still love it here; I’ve come across those whose great-grandfather came in the 1930s and who are now buying for sentimental reasons.’
Entry level is about CHF1.6 million (£1m), which gets you a three-bedroom, two bathroom apartment, but chalets cost CHF2.5 million-CHF4.5 million (£1.6m-£2.9m). You can get a four-bedroom chalet for CHF1.86 million (£1.2m), but it’s in the shadow of the Eiger, on the ‘wrong’ side of the village.
If you don’t mind being 15 minutes outside town, Griwaplan has the ultimate dual season home on the banks of the Brienzersee (Lake Brienz) at Riggenberg. The modern three-bedroom apartment (part of a chalet of three) with panoramic lake views and a private jetty costs CHF2,060,000 (£1.3m) (00 41 33 854 11 60; www.griwaplan.ch).
Moving up another budgetary notch, but staying within the Bernese Oberland, exclusive Gstaad remains a perennial favourite, with renowned polo and tennis tournaments in the summer to complement the golf and fine lunching. ‘There’s been no recession in Gstaad,’ comments Sergio Martinez of Aylesford International, for whom Greek, American and British buyers are most active and chalets start at CHF10 million (£6.5m). That said, he says prices have dropped from CHF45,000 (£19,000) to CHF35,000 (£28,000) per square metre in the past two years.
Hartmann Singleton is selling a two bedroom apartment within a five-unit chalet there for CHF1.7 (£1.1m) million, or you could look to a quaint village 10 minutes outside the town, Zweisimmen, where Chesterton Humberts have a five-bedroom resale chalet for CHF1.5 million (£977,000). ‘It comes with a foreigner’s permit, and this area is popular as a summer getaway,’ says Andrew Hawkins of Chesterton Humberts, adding that it is also on the scenic Bernese Oberland train route.
Also on a famous Swiss train ride-the Glacier Express-is the little-known Andermatt over in German-speaking Switzerland, 90 minutes from Zurich. The once fashionable ski village, visited by Queen Victoria, fell into decline, but now an adjacent piece of Swiss army land is being transformed into a new resort by Orascom Development, due for completion in 2013. The carbon-free resort will have six hotels, including the flagship Chedi Andermatt, a new golf course and sports centre as well as 20-30 villas and 490 apartments starting from CHF15,500 (£10,000) per square metre.
‘The apartments are being designed by 15 different architects to mimic the eclectic appearance of a real town, and a new ski lift will make them ski-in, ski-out,’ explains Gérard Jenni, the MD. ‘We don’t want to compete with St Moritz or Zermatt, but offer an alternative, by providing services from just one point of contact, and Orascom has a proven track record [in the Far East] for building year-round towns.’ Find out more at www.andermatt-swissalps.ch.
Finally, an affordable opportunity is offered in another German-speaking Swiss resort, Engelberg, where 110 apartments in the new Titlis Resort, 75 minutes from Zurich, are offered for between CHF300,000 (£196,000) and CHF1.6 million (£1m). ‘These are very reasonable prices in a decent resort that ticks all the boxes, and there’s a very loose rental obligation for owners,’ says Simon Malster of Investors in Property (www.investorsinproperty.com).
NEED TO KNOW – Foreign-friendly cantons in Switzerland
When it comes to cantons (areas)-and then resorts within the same canton- there are more rules and idiosyncrasies than you could shake a ski pole at. Put simply, however, permits for foreigners to own are issued annually by the canton, and the main ones for overseas secondhome ownership are:
The hotspot of the Swiss Alps, it’s most popular with buyers and issues the most permits. Zermatt looks likely to remain a closed shop for foreigners-also Saas-Fee, currently-but there are available permits in the Verbier valley (Verbier, Nendaz, Veysonnaz and so on). There’s a limited number in Crans Montana
Traditionally much easier to access than the Valais, so in Villars you can buy relatively freely
(Bernese Oberland) Permits are available, but beware of quirky regulations unique to one resort. For example, in Wengen, foreigners can’t buy a detached chalet; in Grindelwald, they can’t buy one for less than CHF750,000
Graubünden Although St Moritz remains out of bounds to normal mortals, it is possible to get permits in nearby villages
NEED TO KNOW – Rules on residency in Switzerland
Compared with getting to grips with Swiss property permits, the North Face of the Eiger might seem like a walk in the park, but if you’re seeking a second home (full-time residency permits are a whole different ballgame), there are four routes:
* Buying a resale owned by a foreigner (the property comes with a permit)
* Choosing a new development that has an allocation of foreigner permits
* Purchasing in a ‘touristic development’, which will offer permits that come with a rental obligation to encourage ‘warm beds’
* By special dispensation-projects such as Andermatt with no restrictions
** This article features as part of COUNTRY LIFE INTERNATIONAL SPRING 2011, out with COUNTRY LIFE on March 2