Agonisingly slow slogs up the mountain on snow-clogged, hairpin roads can be one of the most tedious aspects of winter trips to the Alps. They’re as torturous as half-hourlong queues for the chairlift if you’re the sort of skier who starts champing at their North Face muffler if you’re not spending every minute careering down a black run.
When the white stuff’s as good as last season’s, you need the sort of place to which you can pick up last-minute flights, keep your skis ready for action, and not spend half a day getting to and from the airport.
Favoured by British Alpinists for decades, Chamonix is a no-brainer, the year-round ski town only an hour (all motorway) from Geneva. ‘It’s for real skiers, outdoorsy types who want to make the most of the mountain, rather than the Courchevel crowd with their designer outfits,’ says Matthew Hodder-Williams of Knight Frank. ‘But it’s not as family oriented as the Trois Vallées [further south].’
Mont Blanc towers above you in the town, but if you want to feel you’re properly in the mountains, you may prefer the nearby ski village of Argentière, which lies on the scenic Mont-Blanc Express train route.‘The sort of people who bought in the Chamonix Valley-City types from the South-East-have been hit hard by the credit crunch, so prices have fallen,’ notes Mr Hodder-Williams. He says a top-quality chalet in a prime position (near the lifts) in Argentière commands €10,000-€12,000 psm, down from €14,000 psm in 2007.
For something radically different in flavour, yet offering equally demanding skiing, try the neighbouring resort of Flaine, which polarises people with its Bauhaus architecture. Savills and Alpine Homes are selling the ideal ‘starter Alpine property’-ski-in, ski-out apartments at Les Terrasses de Veret, selling from €144,000 (020-7016 3740; www.alpinehomesintl.com). ‘It’s more of a young person’s place, so the cheaper product suits their budget,’ explains Savills’ Jeremy Rollason. ‘And a lot of new infrastructure is going into this overlooked resort.’
The purpose-built Avoriaz-another pioneering resort of the 1960s-also offers high altitude skiing in a futuristic and car-free environment. French rentals-market-leader Pierre & Vacances (0800 001 5551; www.pierre-vacances.co.uk) offers a wide selection of twobedroom apartments there from €265,000.
Samoëns: €890,000 This five-bedroom detached chalet, close to the town centre, comes with a playroom and a home cinema Winkworth (020-8576 5582; www.winkworth.co.uk)
Morzine, Samoëns, Les Gets
If you prefer traditional Savoyard rather than purpose-built resorts, then next-door Morzine-also world-famous for its mountainbiking- Samoëns and Les Gets are all an hour from Geneva. Winkworth’s French office says prices tend to be about 15% lessthan in the top-tier resorts of Megève and Chamonix (020-8576 5582; www.winkworth.fr). ‘You can buy a four-bedroom chalet in a central location for about €850,000, or one that’s a little bit out of town but on a ski-bus route for €550,000-€650,000,’ says Gareth Jefferies. ‘Samoëns is the most authentic and lovely, but you can’t ski-in, ski-out. Morzine has a couple of advantages over Les Gets: if you’re struggling with snow conditions, it’s easier to access Avoriaz/ Portes du Soleil from there, plus it’s got some life during the summer. On the other hand, Les Gets is more scenic, and the ski back into town is nicer.’ Savills (020-7016 3740; www.savills.co.uk/abroad) are selling luxury apartments right on the piste in Les Gets, with prices starting at €472,000. ‘Le Mont Chery ticks all the boxes, has no buying restrictions and is not leaseback [with a rental obligation], which is quite rare in France these days,’ observes Mr Rollason.
Le Grand Bornand
Mr Jefferies can’t understand why British buyers don’t embrace Le Grand Bornand-a beautiful Savoyard ski village in the Aravis Massif, only 50 minutes from Geneva -in the same way they do Les Gets and Morzine. ‘You can get to the beautiful town of Annecy, with its classic Alpine lake, within 20 minutes-it’s a huge plus point.’ French developer MGM also has non-leaseback properties suitable for weekends in the Grand Bornard from €140,500 (020- 7494 0706; www.mgm-constructeur.com).
€4.295 Megève: This handsome five bedroom chalet is situated in the exclusive Mont d’Arbois area
Knight Frank (020-7629 8171; www.knightfrank.co.uk/international)
Rather more chic, but a similar distance from Geneva, is Megève, favoured by the Parisian bourgeoisie as well as bon viveurs from far and wide. ‘Like Chamonix-but unlike Méribel and Courchevel-it’s also vibrant in the summer, with its Michelinstarred restaurants and excellent golf course,’ explains Mr Hodder-Williams. ‘You’ll pay €20,000 psm for a good chalet in the area where everybody wants to be- the Mont d’Arbois, above the town-and €13,000-€17,000 psm elsewhere.’
Méribel and Courchevel
However, Mr Hodder-Williams believes that Trois Vallées resorts such as Méribel and Courchevel remain eternally popular because some places are just worth the trek. ‘And look how hard it is to get to Val D’Isère,’ he says of their Savoyard neighbour. ‘People still flock there, even if it means spending more than three hours on a long, windy road.’ Prices in Méribel are €12,000 -€15,000 psm, but you’re looking at €30,000 psm for a well-located, goodquality chalet in Courchevel.
€2.5m Grindelwald: The major selling point of this three-bedroom chalet is its huge terrace with panoramic views Hartmann Singleton (01845 597795; www.hartmannsingleton.com)
Verbier, Villars, Grindelwald, Wengen and Mürren
Across the Swiss border, die-hard skiers and sybarites will happily bear the schlep to fashionable Verbier, but Villars is the only Swiss resort that falls within the magic 90 minutes (new flights to Sion don’t work for weekends, as they’re only on Saturdays or Sundays, slap bang in the middle of the day). However, this doesn’t preclude weekenders, says UK-based agent Beat Hartmann of Hartmann Singleton. ‘As long as the drive from the airport is a comfortable two to three hours, on good highways, an extra half hour isn’t going to deter people from quality locations with great services, which Swiss resorts such as Grindelwald, Wengen and Mürren offer.’