Not that long ago, owning a property in Switzerland seemed only for those with seven-figure bank balances. High prices coupled with restrictive buying laws made the Alpine country a luxury beyond most budgets.
Today, prices at the top of the market remain as steep as the surrounding peaks, with new chalets in Verbier starting at £7 million. The big change is at the other end of the market, where it is possible to find good property, available to foreigners, below £400,000. Recent moves by the Swiss National Bank to peg the Swiss franc against the euro are welcome news to British buyers whose pounds will now go further.
Switzerland's mountains attract two sorts of buyers, claims Simon Malster of Investors in Property. "There are eager powder hounds, who concentrate on skiing and only want resorts like Verbier. Then there are those who are more interested in character-packed resorts to enjoy in summer and winter. They may have to forego some miles of piste, but in return they get chocolate-box resorts with attractive prices."
Melchsee-Frutt, 90 minutes from Zurich, is a good example. The small, car-free village at 6,300ft is accessible only by télécabine from Stockalp. It has skiing up to 7,400ft and a good ski record, but is little known even among Swiss skiers.
Spa with big aspirations
In the past decade, Melchsee-Frutt's local commune has invested £28 million in upgrading the skiing infrastructure with ambitious future plans to link to the Titlis Glacier in Engelberg. Frutt Lodge & Spa is a new contemporary development of 59 apartments based around a large lake, with prices from £184,255 for a 366sq ft, one-bedroom apartment. The resort operates as a hotel with a good wellness centre and restaurant. Owners must enter into the rental pool, and get a rental guarantee of three per cent for five years.
Extending the season
Engelberg, 50 miles from Zurich, is a better known resort where the Titlis Glacier provides Switzerland's third longest ski season (behind Zermatt and Saas Fee). It's a year-round resort with golf and hiking in the summer and 50 miles of skiing on north-facing, challenging pistes over winter - the most dramatic of which descends 6,500ft over seven miles.
Swiss developer Eberli Group has begun building 115 apartments in nine chalets, ten minutes' walk from the town centre. Studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom furnished apartments start at £227,650 through Investors in Property, with a 20 per cent reduction for buyers who sign a ten-year rental agreement.
A mountain base
British skiers have been visiting beautiful, old fashioned Wengen in the Bernese Oberland for nearly a century and established the Downhill Only Club in 1925. Access to Wengen is only by a gentle 15-minute train journey which climbs 1,300ft from Lauterbrunnen in the valley below. "The short train journey is part of Wengen's charm," says David Swindells, who with his wife Rita paid £357,600 for a two-bedroom apartment in 2005. "It gives you time to adjust to the slower, laid-back pace of the village."
The Swindells, from Devon, are part of a sociable group of British owners in this most unflashy Swiss ski resort, two hours from Zurich airport. Prices start from £330,800 for a 441sq ft apartment.
Lauterbrunnen, at the foot of the mountain, is an agricultural Swiss village seven miles from Interlaken where Investors in Property is selling two- and three-bedroom apartments in Chalet Primuli from £291,600 for 904sq ft.
Ten buildings are complete and sold, mostly to Swiss buyers, and the final 18 apartments will be completed next year.
Top ski resorts
Even the most prestigious resorts have slope-side property close to £400,000. In upmarket Villars, with its international community and schools, Knight Frank has resale apartments from £366,370.
Just over the £400,000 mark, the last two-bedroom ski-in and out apartments at Mer de Glace in Nendaz costs £449,000 for 925sq ft through Savills Alpine Homes. Nendaz is at the heart of The Four Valleys, sharing the same slopes as starry Verbier but with a dramatically less stellar price tag.
* Investors in Property: 020 8905 5511; investorsinproperty.com
* Savills Alpine Homes: 020 7016 3740; alpinehomesintl.com
* Knight Frank: 020 7629 8171; knightfrank.com