Love the Alps but can’t decide where to buy? Karen Tait looks at the pros and cons of a lakeside or ski resort location
With the ski season fully upon us, my thoughts turn to the mountains. Crisp snow-clad slopes, the fresh smell of pine trees, cosy restaurants, tartiflette and vin chaud… a perfect Christmas scene, in fact. But, as we noted in our special ski issue last month, the Alps are not just for Christmas, they are the perfect location for year-round enjoyment, and are therefore an ideal place for a holiday or permanent home.
I spent a fun weekend with friends in and around Morzine this summer, and although it was only a short trip we managed to pack lots in, including a spectacular hike through the mountains and a visit to the Pont du Diable gorges. We also spent a few leisurely hours exploring Yvroie, a Plus Beau Village on the shores of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) and a lovely day in Annecy, one of my all-time favourite French towns. If you don’t mind driving on mountain roads, I recommend a trip up to the Col de Forclaz for lunch overlooking one of the most spectacular lake and mountain scenes you could imagine.
As always when I’m in France, I couldn’t help doing a little window shopping in estate agency windows and as I sat in the sunshine browsing through the pages of a local immobilier brochure, I found myself torn between properties in the heart of the ski resorts and those close to one of the lakes. So, what are the pros and cons of these two locations, so very different but within striking distance of each other?
ACTIVITIES and AMENITIES
The Alps are a veritable playground for adults and children alike. In winter the mountains offer skiing and other snowsports, and most keen skiers want to be at the centre of the action – in other words, in a ski resort and maybe even in a ski-in ski-out building. In summer it’s lovely too to be able to head out on a hike straight from your front door.
While ski resorts tend to have lots of restaurants and nightlife, the smaller towns and villages around the lakes are likely to be a lot quieter. That said, the après-ski is seasonal of course, and many resorts are a lot less lively out of peak winter season, especially purpose-built stations.
The lakes offer plenty of activities too, from sailing and angling to cycling around their shores or sunbathing on a sandy beach, while the towns have all the usual tourist attractions.
The larger lakeside towns such as Annecy or Evian-les-Bains have a good choice of shops, restaurants, bars, doctors and schools, as well as year-round daily activities including lively markets. In winter, they have less snow too, so they are easier to get around.
Which brings us to access. In the ski resorts, many buyers are keen to be as close to Geneva airport as possible but a lakeside location can be even more accessible. From the airport you can be in Annecy in three-quarters of an hour, while reaching Morzine will take double this amount of time (although it still takes less
than two hours).
Everybody’s priorities will vary, of course, but the good thing is that nowhere is too far away from anywhere else, although remember to allow plenty of time for driving on mountain roads, especially in winter. A lakeside home would be ideal for day trips to the ski resorts, and vice versa.
“For Britons working in Geneva, Annecy is the ideal place to live,” says Richard Deans of MGM French Properties. “The cost of living is substantially lower than that in the Swiss city and the drive-time for commuters is less than half an hour.”
MGM is marketing a development in the town, which is conveniently positioned for easy access to local shops as well as the heart of the old town. Richard, who reports that property prices in Annecy have remained consistently strong in recent years, predicts that with limited scope for further development in popular Annecy-le-Vieux, values there are likely to rise significantly in the years ahead.
EAST OR WEST SIDE
When it comes to Annecy, Gordon Roughan of Maison Individuelle suggests the question is which side of the lake to choose, or should you buy in the town itself?
“With over 20 years of working in the Annecy and Alpine resorts this is an area I know well,” he says. “Many people have skied in the French Alps skirting around Annecy but have never taken the time to wander around the cobbled streets of the old town or along the edge of the lake.
“One of the biggest challenges for those searching for a property is where to locate? Annecy the town has an extensive array of restaurants, shops and leisure activities. The medieval cobbled streets around the canals offer a year-round hub of activity, with markets offering an extensive range of fresh foods and arts and crafts three times a week. There are theatres, cinemas and boat trips around the lake that can include a twilight dinner, and many festivals throughout the year, starting with the Venetian Carnival, known locally as the Alpine Venetia.
“On the Rive Gauche, or west side of the lake, access is easier, with many sporting, swimming, waterskiing, scuba diving and sailing options available. Choose from Sevrier, St-Joriaz, Duingt with its château on the peninsula to the sailing club and marina at Au Bout de la Lac (the end of the lake). Properties here tend to be more affordable than they are in its two other neighbours.
“The east side also offers many sporting activities which include sailing, paragliding and the golf club with views over the lake.
“There are several châteaux including Menthon-St-Bernard, dating back to the 12th century. Within the grounds signs of an old Roman road that linked Geneva with Italy show that the area was popular even back then. It is said that Walt Disney got his inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle from his visit to Annecy.
“Access is easy to the ski resorts of La Clusaz, St-John de Sixt, Le Grand-Bornand and Chinaillon, with 200km of pistes within a 30-minute drive, another reason why people prefer the east side. Another well-kept secret is the fact that that you can access the ski area of Megève with just a short drive from this side of the lake.
“One of the biggest attractions of the east side are the beautiful villages of Veyrier-du-Lac, Menthon-St-Bernard and Talloire, plus the fact that the sun sets on this side of the lake which makes the property in more demand, with a premium for desirable lakeside properties.”
Of course, Annecy isn’t the only lakeside town. On Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), Évian-les-Bains is well known for its mineral water and is also an attractive upmarket town with a spa and golf course, while nearby Thonon-les-Bains is another popular spa town.
Nor are Annecy and Léman the only lakes. There are plenty more in the Rhône-Alpes region, including Bourget, Aiguebelette and Nantua, as well as those at higher altitude, some isolated and peaceful, others with swimming beaches and amenities such as Lac de Montriond.
Within two hours of Geneva, the ski resorts of Morzine, Les Gets and Avoriaz are part of the Portes du Soleil ski area – the largest in the world with over 615km of pistes – while Chamonix sits in the shadow of Mont Blanc.
“Morzine and its very near neighbour of Les Gets are proving ever popular this season,” says Steve Thomas of Alpine Property Investments. “Close proximity to Geneva airport and the construction of several new-build projects has certainly added to buyers’ interest, with a number of projects virtually sold out already.”
Even closer to Geneva are the resorts of La Clusaz, St-John de Sixt, Le Grand-Bornand and Chinaillon, in the Massif des Aravis, while close to the Swiss border Châtel is just a short drive from Lac Léman’s shores.
“Châtel is a perfect year-round Alpine town, part of the Portes du Soleil ski area, and only 25 minutes from Lac Léman,” says François Marchand of Erna Low Property. “It also has its own lake, Lac de Vonnes, ideal in summer for family time.”
In the centre of Châtel, a former hotel is currently being transformed into the 40-apartment Les Soldanelles residence with views of the Vallée d’Abondance.
“The beauty of the Alps is that the mountains and lakes are close to each other, so investing in altitude doesn’t rule out quick access to a lovely lake on a hot summer day,” adds François. “There are lakes at high altitude, but they’re much colder than those of Annecy or Léman.”
HOME FROM HOME
If you love traditional chalets, then clearly you’ll love mountain homes, although owning a whole chalet requires deep pockets. Nowadays, most new developments are built in an authentic style, with lashings of wood and often contrasting stonework. The Alpine aesthetic usually continues inside, so even if you opt for an apartment you can enjoy chalet chic. Some rather less attractive 1970s/80s blocks remain, but there’s relatively little variety in property style within the resorts.
By contrast, while you can find chalets around the lakes you’ll also find stone village and town houses and modern homes. The equivalent to the luxury ski chalet with hot tub is an architect-designed home with pool overlooking the lake; prices for these can be sky high, even if the location isn’t.
Although the ski resorts are home to some of France’s most expensive properties (the average resale property price is €209,400 in Savoie and €341,500 in Haute-Savoie, compared to the national average of €161,000), they can be found for a smaller budget. On France Property Shop I spotted a studio flat in Châtel for just €55,000, a two-bed apartment in Les Gets for €165,000 and a two-bed apartment in Morzine for €315,000, while at the other end of the scale, a six-bed chalet in Morzine is for sale at €1.59m.
Property in the lakeside towns is available at a variety of prices, generally rising as you get closer to the lake, especially with lake views. The average resale house price in Annecy is €340,000, significantly higher than the national average, while anything on the lake itself will be considerably more.
On France Property Shop, properties near Annecy start at €980,000 – for that you’d get a wonderful four-bedroom architect-designed home with swimming pool. On Lake Geneva on the edge of Évian-les-Bains, a superb six-bedroom maison de maître is advertised at €1.99m, while for those with a really serious budget, €5.4m will buy you a contemporary lakefront property with four bedrooms, pool, private beach and mooring a two-minute walk from Thonon port.
A browse on the Century 21 website revealed a choice of properties at a more budget-friendly price, including apartments from €69,500 in Thonon, €138,500 in Annecy and €149,000 in Évian. In the ski resorts, prices start at €79,000 in Chamonix, €85,000 in Morzine and €120,000 in Les Gets.
Year-round use is a huge part of the appeal of the Alps as a location for a résidence secondaire. Agents report that summer use is becoming increasingly important to buyers, in addition to the ski season. Furthermore, visiting the property between the peak seasons in spring and autumn, sometimes called the ‘période blanche’, is becoming key too.
If your plans include renting your place out when you’re not using it, with both the ski and lake locations being tourist hotspots, they’re ideally placed for letting potential too.
“The picturesque resort of Morzine is a very popular destination for summer and winter holidays,” says Anne Mizrachi of Latitudes French Property Agents. “It is the perfect choice to enjoy all that is best about the mountains: views, snow, skiing and other Alpine sports.
“Annecy, on the other hand, is an elegant town in an idyllic setting on the lake. With its old town, bustling streets, chic boutiques, restaurants and street cafés, it is an ideal place to relax. It also offers a wide range of activities such as nautical sports, golf and cycling, and is still within 20 minutes of the ski slopes.”
While the decision between a lakeside or ski resort location will depend on personal preference, with just a 20-minute drive between Annecy and La Clusaz, and 45 minutes between Thonon and Morzine, it’s clear that buying a property in one doesn’t preclude enjoying what’s on offer in the other.