The stuff of dreams

Could there be a more perfect location for a dream home in France? Karen Tait finds it hard to remain objective...

Every time I cross the Channel I lose my heart to yet another corner of France and always want to buy at least one charming property, usually a tad on the ramshackle side but with stacks of potential.

If money were no object though, I wouldn’t have to run through my memory bank’s photo library for long. I know exactly where I’d buy – on the lakeside at Annecy, or on the slopes above, with fabulous lake and mountain views. Yep, that’s my French property dream.

It’s not just the turquoise jewel of a lake that’s the stuff of dreams either. Annecy is arguably the most picturesque of France’s many picturesque towns. With its lovely old buildings and pretty canal network lined with inviting restaurants, its streets are thronged with tourists and locals in summer but, unlike some popular destinations which become quiet in winter, it’s lively all year round.

Indeed, being part of the French Alps, the area is even more popular in winter, when nearby ski resorts such as La Clusaz, Le Grand Bornand and Courchevel come into their own.

The good life

The Haute-Savoie is renowned for its excellent regional products and restaurants, with specialities such as fondue, tartiflette and raclette, celebrated local cheeses like Tome des Bauges or Reblochon, and fish from the lake, which contains 20 species, including trout. Annecy has a wide range of restaurants offering everything from value meals to fine dining, including Michelin-starred restaurants Le Clos des Sens, Le Belvedere, La Ciboulette, and La Nouvelle Maison de Marc Veyrat as well as the Auberge du P�re Bise in Talloires.

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If you’ve spent too much time indulging in the above, and want, or need, to burn off a few calories, you’ll be spoilt for choice. The Aravis skiing domain – La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand, both just 24km from Annecy – extends from 1,100m to 2,600m among scenic pine trees, with artificial snow guaranteeing skiing from mid-December to April. Choose from alpine or cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snow-shoeing or sledging – or try them all.

In summer, the 15km-long lake – created 18,000 years ago from glacial melting and said to be the purest lake in Europe – becomes the focus, offering all manner of watersports such as sailing, waterskiing, rowing, canoeing, swimming and so on. The water temperature can easily reach 22-25�C. You can also cycle or roller-blade round the lake on a dedicated track while, clear of snow, the mountains offer new joys, from rambling to mountain biking, paragliding, hang-gliding, via ferrata, climbing, canyoning and much more.

With its scenic location encircled by the Bauges, Bornes and Aravis mountains, proximity to ski resorts as well as lively cities such as Geneva or Lyon, year-round amenities, healthy economy within the tourism and industrial sectors, and good transport links, Annecy is clearly a great place in which to live or own a second home.

At home

There’s plenty of choice of property in the area, including characterful old stone houses, villas, chalets and apartments, and, while the prices of dream homes in the best locations might make your eyes water, Annecy is actually considerably cheaper than some of the ski resorts, with the benefit of a year-round appeal.

With the opening of the Annecy-Geneva autoroute in 2008, the journey time was cut to just 25 minutes, putting Annecy within commutable distance of Geneva. This short journey time to Geneva and its international airport also means that Swiss and other European buyers are attracted to Annecy.

Lakeside property remains the most sought-after in and around Annecy, and therefore the most pricey, although there’s somewhat more room for negotiation than in previous years. The most desirable properties are on the east bank.

Prices are high too in central Annecy and the vieille ville (€5,000/m2+), but neighbourhoods away from the centre are more affordable; prices are most competitive around the Avenue de Gen�ve, the Place des Romains et Les Fins, the Centre Galbert and the Galbert Loverchy district.

The nearby, and quieter, town of Annecy-le-Vieux is also sought-after, as are the lakeside villages (Veyrier-du-Lac, St-Bernard Menthon, S�vrier). Towns north of Annecy (Pringy, Argonay, Metz-Tessy, Epagny, Poisy and Choisy) are the most affordable.

If you want an investment or a holiday home that could help pay for itself, you should be pleased to hear that there is a good market for property rentals, especially holiday lets during the ski and summer seasons. There’s also a strong demand for long-term lets.

At the moment, local residents are waiting with bated breath to see if their town is chosen for the 2018 Winter Olympics (the decision is being made in July). Not everyone is in favour; those against it fear environmental damage. But if Annecy is chosen, there will be serious investment in the town’s infrastructure and improving access to the ski resorts, as well as in property. So now could well be the perfect time to buy in Annecy.