Buying property in the French Alps

Ryan Green heads for the Alps and discovers that, while you may need a healthy wallet to buy property here, there are still good buys to be had if you look carefully

At 4,810 metres, Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in Western Europe. No surprise then that the towns and villages surrounding it are some of the most sought after in France. In particular Meg�ve and Chamonix.

The fact that this area of France is so popular is quite clear. Just combine the highest summits in Western Europe with an international atmosphere, year-round activities, extreme sports and magnificent surroundings and you have all the ingredients for the perfect holiday and ideal investment destination.

Contrary to some beach and countryside resorts, the mountain areas around Mont Blanc offer a full and active season all year round.

High season starts in December and finishes at the end of March for the ski season. However there is a high demand, and rightly so, for the spring and summer seasons with their pleasant, mild climate and the array of activities for mountain and countryside walks, mountain biking, rock climbing and many other outdoor pursuits.

Access to both Meg�ve and Chamonix are less than an hour from Geneva airport, meaning that they are great locations for holidays, and also great for work opportunities should you wish to live there permanently.

Meg�ve made a name for itself in the early 1900s when the Rothschild family started spending their winter holidays there after becoming disenchanted with their usual Swiss haunts.

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In 1921, Baronne No�mie de Rothschild opened a hotel that considerably aided the resort’s development. By the 1950s, Meg�ve was one of the most popular ski resorts in Europe and has attracted many wealthy individuals and celebrities since. These days nothing much has changed in terms of the clientele and it is often seen as the St-Tropez of the Alps, with property prices to match.

The village of Meg�ve has plenty to offer; not only is it beautiful and wonderfully maintained but it also offers a great nightlife, wonderful scenery and an excellent ski station accessible to all levels of skier.

Prices are on the steep side; between €4,000 and €14,000 per square metre for an apartment and €5,000 and €20,000 for a chalet. This, of course, all depends on location and the quality of renovation.

So Meg�ve isn’t cheap by any means but remains an extremely sound investment due to its beauty and ongoing popularity. If you’re looking for a little lock-up-and-go property, however, you can find some reasonably priced studios starting at €100,000 near the pistes of Rochebrune or Jaillet.

Your best bets for a good buy are apartments in the village centre (with starting prices of around €200,000 for a studio). Meanwhile, for a chalet in the extremely exclusive Mont d’Arbois side of Meg�ve, a luxury chalet was recently sold to a Russian for €17 million! Saying that, there’s not really a bad buy here, as Meg�ve is, well, Meg�ve...

If you’re visiting on holiday, you shouldn’t miss the Swarovski-decorated Christmas tree, the outside ice rink and the horse and carriage rides around the village.

If Meg�ve is out of your budget or isn’t your glass of champagne, you may fancy something just outside. In that case, you should consider the nearby villages of Combloux or Praz-sur-Arly. The prices are slightly less expensive and these pretty little villages are just minutes from the glitzy Meg�ve. A luxury chalet made up of two individual apartments is priced at €1.65m (open to offers).

Extreme sports

If extreme sports is more your thing then head over to Chamonix with its 10,000 inhabitants and its mind-blowing scenery just 30 minutes away. Unlike Meg�ve’s gentle hill-like mountains, Chamonix’s giant intimidating peaks tower over you, just asking to be climbed or skied. Here the mountain mentality is ingrained in the local and international population alike.

Chamonix attracts more than 2.5 million international visitors every year and is a lively mix of cosmopolitan mountain enthusiasts. ‘Cham’ as it’s called by those in the know, is a sports lover’s paradise, with activities available for skiers, climbers, walkers, mountain bikers, tennis players, parasailers and golfers.

Even if you’re not of a sporty persuasion, you can access L’Aiguille du Midi by cable car, taking you from 1,000m altitude to 3,842m in just 20 short minutes.

Tourism has been popular in Chamonix since the 18th century. In 1741 two English explorers, William Windham and Richard Pocock, discovered Montenvers at the bottom of La Vall�e Blanche and La Mer de Glace. They documented their trip in Voyages aux Glaciers de Savoie and the intrigue in going to such a place grew. The mountains were revered by all those who visited, but there was also a desire to conquer them at the same time.

The terrain was tough, with frequent avalanches, and it wasn’t until 1768 that two locals, Dr Paccard and Jacques Balmat, reached the summit.

The first hotel in Chamonix was opened in 1770 by Mme Coutterand. It was called H�tel d’Angleterre as the English outnumbered any other nation of visitors, and not much has changed since then. The journey took nine days at the time but tourists and sportsmen still travelled there and the area has become inspirational for sporting enthusiasts, mountaineers, painters and writers alike.

In terms of property, Chamonix isn’t cheap. However, there are bargains in the town centre and you can get yourself a small studio for as little as €65,000. In more sought-after residential areas like Les Praz, a one-bedroom ground-floor flat with small terrace and view of Mont Blanc recently sold for €260,000.

If it’s a chalet you’re after then expect to pay a minimum of €450,000 for a three-bed just outside Chamonix itself in Les Houches or Les Bossons, but if it’s the prized locations such as Les Praz and Les Bois you’re interested in (and if you can find one). you may need to up your budget to over €1 million.

From these locations you have access to mountain walks, the golf course, tennis courts, Paradis des Praz – a real paradise for both adults and children alike – and you’re within walking or at least cycling distance of the centre. La Fleg�re is the departure point for several grande randonn�e mountain hikes. Don’t forget to stop for lunch at the wonderful terrce of Chalet la Floria, which, as the name suggests, is covered in flowers. n

Ryan Green, My Dream Home France

Tel: 0033 (0)6 30 45 95 57

www.mydreamhomefrance.com