Creating French ski property from redundant land

‘Making land’ helps to meet the need for more ski holiday homes in the French Alps

Satisfying the growing demand for new ski properties built in the French Alps could be a headache. After all, as Mark Twain put it: “They’ve stopped making land, but they’re still making people”. However, the region’s leading developer has found ways of ‘making new land.’

Far from building over Alpine meadows, MGM is creating construction sites in locations deemed by its competitors as impossible to develop and successfully giving ‘whitefield sites’ – redundant brownfield sites which are snow-covered throughout the ski season – an exciting new lease of life.

Six years ago in the family-friendly ski resort of Le Chinaillon, midway between Mont Blanc and Lake Annecy in the Les Aravis ski area, MGM French Properties stunned its rivals by acquiring a near vertical rock face on the side of the mountain and announcing plans to build on it 180 apartments within 12 traditionally-styled chalets.

Through an engineering feat that removed of thousands of tonnes of rock, they created a terraced site. On this, they built a r�sidence de tourisme which, in addition to apartments with panoramic views up and down the valley, incorporates facilities including a sauna, jacuzzi, steam and fitness rooms as well as a spa and beauty centre with a variety of massages and body treatments on offer.

The success of the development – Le Village de Lessy, which has transformed the little-known resort and put it on the map – has prompted MGM to build another one just below it, close to the ski lifts. Plans for the new r�sidence of 120 apartments, Le Roc des Tours, were announced recently.

For many years MGM has been dedicated to the transformation of ‘tired-looking’ ski resorts by replacing the ugly ’sixties- and ’seventies-built accommodation blocks which it regards as blots on the stunning Alpine landscape with new traditionally-styled high quality chalet homes finished externally in local natural materials like timber, stone and granite.

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MGM’s contribution to the renaissance of Les Menuires in the Three Valleys – the world’s biggest ski area – involved the replacement of what MGM’s Richard Deans describes as “rabbit hutch apartment blocks” with three new chalet developments. The most recent – Les Clarines located alongside the ski lift – was completed in 2010 with all of the 94 apartments already sold.

Increasingly hotels of an earlier age are being bought up by MGM, which is replacing them with the type of modern accommodation demanded by twenty-first century skiers.

In the Haute-Tarentaise ski resort of La Rosi�re, which recently celebrated its first half century, MGM has removed the former ’sixties-built Roc Noir Hotel which it is replacing with a mix of 37 apartments and hotel suites as part of the new Lodge Hemera r�sidence de tourisme located just 250 metres from the nursery slopes.

Even in the Southern Alps – a relatively new area for MGM and one where the opportunities to develop new buildings are rare – the company is identifying sites in lesser-known locations which attract strong interest. They include the ski resort of Montgen�vre, where MGM plans its second residence, Le Napoleon. It takes its name from the chalet hotel which stood on the site opposite the front de neige (the area at the foot of the ski slopes). Demolition of the hotel has just been completed and work is about to start on construction of the r�sidence.

Street scenes which change following demolition activity can be eye-catching. In January last year, during a skiing holiday in Alpe d’Huez in the Central Alps area of France, Mandi Plummer was walking through the newer part of the town and noticed that a former hotel had been removed and the site had been cleared for construction of ski apartments just 100 metres from the ski lift. She made a note of MGM’s London office telephone number from the site board.

Mandi, a management consultant, and her solicitor husband Alan, had been looking for a place of their own in the resort for some time but the only suitable properties available to buy were in the old town, away from the ski slopes.

Back in Britain the couple visited MGM’s UK sales office in London’s Regent Street. “We were so keen to buy a four-bedroom family apartment in Alpe d’Huez that our meeting was little more than a formality,” recalls Mandi, who says they made their decision to buy there and then.

In the village of Tignes les Boisses, just below the popular ski resort of Tignes, four redundant industrial and commercial buildings – including an old print works, the offices of the EDF energy company and the garage for snow ploughs – have been demolished to make way for a new eco-village which has been described as a “state-of-the-art example of sustainable development”. It will be the biggest single new ski property development of its type ever built in the French Alps, involving an investment of more than €150 million to transform the old village into a modern ski centre re-named Tignes 1800.

Leading the planning team is MGM, whose new 250-apartment r�sidence, Kalinda Village, will be at the heart of the development. New facilities in the family-oriented resort will include a tourist information centre, 10 shops and a ski school. There will be a choice of bars and restaurants with frontages both on the village square and the piste.

The new eco-village was planned in response to the need for new accommodation for 1,500 skiers in one of the most popular skiing areas in Europe while responding to the challenge of building a sustainable development. This included a strong desire to heat the properties in a cost-effective way that conserves fossil fuels and has low carbon emissions, despite their location in one of the coldest places in Europe with winter temperatures typically around minus 20?C.

Says Richard Deans: “MGM’s innovative approach to challenging topography and the re-use of redundant sites in the French Alps prompts me to re-write Mark Twain’s well-known words: “We’re still making land, and they’re still making skiers!”

This year MGM has properties available to buy in more than 25 mountain locations at prices ranging from €174,000 to more than €1.5 million, depending on property size and location. For more information contact the company’s UK office at Kingsland House, 122 - 124 Regent Street, London W1B 5SA, telephone 0207 4940706, email london@mgm-immobilier.fr or visit the website www.mgmfrenchproperties.com