For Swiss efficiency and Italian culture - a particularly pleasing combination - seek out the southern Swiss canton of Ticino. It's a region of lakes and mountains but also of palm trees, vineyards and bougainvillea - all thriving in a warm Mediterranean climate. This is the heart of Europe: Milan and its international airports are an hour away, and motorways connect to Nice, Venice and Zurich.
Italian-speaking Ticino comes with all the reassuring financial stability that has made Switzerland a winner with investors and lifestyle buyers. The strong Swiss franc has made property pricier for UK buyers, but Ticino is more affordable than Geneva or Zurich and with no restrictions on purchasing homes under 2,150sq ft, it is dramatically easier for non-Swiss residents to buy. In addition, income and wealth taxes are below those in Valais and Vaud, the areas of Switzerland where most British buy.
"The beauty of Lake Maggiore and Lake Lugano in Ticino are a big part of its appeal for buyers," says Hannah Coppersmith of Pure International. "The majority have a long-term view to retire to Switzerland and their wish list includes good views, a short walk to shops and easy access to a lively city."
Ticino is south of the Alps and north of the Italian lakes so will not appeal to hardened skiers, but Ticino does have five small ski resorts, including family-friendly Cardada with seven lifts and five runs above Locarno.
An hour away though the Gotthard Tunnel, able skiers could choose the Swiss resort of Andermatt, currently undergoing substantial infrastructure improvements. The chic Italian resort of Sestriere is 2.5 hours away.
Ticino's largest city is Lugano, a significant financial centre and tourist destination with a large international community. The most sought-after property is in the city centre or on the forested banks above Lake Lugano.
Ticino sales agents Wetag Consulting have apartments of 592 to 1,162sq ft in Lugano, walking distance from the city and lake, from £287,220, or a one-bedroom penthouse with terrace and garden above Lugano for £836,200.
Fifteen minutes from Lugano in Morcote, Switzerland's southern-most village, Pure International is selling 20 off-plan apartments at Laguna d'Oro. Views over Lake Lugano and south-west to the Lombardy hills have made pretty Morcote a tourist hit.
The properties are in four dramatic, modern white cubes on the banks of Lake Lugano and feature expansive windows. These are well-finished apartments of up to 4,000sq ft, with terraces. Communal facilities include an indoor pool, gym, spa and gardens, while nearby a public marina provides mooring to lease. They are due to be ready by the end of next year. Prices for two- to three-bedroom apartments with underground parking start from £1.02 million.
New homes in Ascona
Forty-five minutes north of Lugano the classy market towns of Ascona and Locarno on the banks of Lake Maggiore are popular with international buyers. "Ascona is the Belgravia of Ticino, its most expensive part," says Coppersmith. "The lovely streets and waterfront restaurants around the lake ooze money."
In Ascona, Pure International is selling 46 off-plan apartments in the grounds of Delta Park, an upmarket family-run hotel visited by wealthy international guests for half a century. One- to six-bedroom apartments of 850 to 3,638sq ft with wide terraces overlooking Lake Maggiore are due for completion next year and cost from £1.03 million with cellar and parking. Owners at Delta Park Residences have access to the hotel's extensive facilities including concierge, spa and fitness club, tennis courts, and free use of Losone Golf Course.
Resale lakeside homes
Apartments in Ascona include a two-bedroom modern flat of 753sq ft for £429,000 and a central two-bedroom penthouse of 1,162sq m for £618,000, both through Engel & Volkers. Wetag has a three-bedroom south-facing ground floor apartment of 2,045sq ft with private garden close to Ascona Yacht Club for £1.37 million.
Contacts and factfile
* Pure International (020 3031 2860; pureintl.com).
* Wetag Consulting (00 41 (0) 91 751 3106; wetag.ch).
* Engel & Volkers (00 41 (0) 91 785 1480; engelvoelkers.ch/ascona).
* Allow 2.5 per cent for buying costs in Ticino. British buyers must apply for a permit which takes up to nine months.
* Average annual management fees start from £6,740 at Delta Park and from £10,180 at Laguna d'Oro.
* BA, easyJet and Ryanair fly from London Gatwick, Heathrow or Stansted to Milan, one hour from Ticino.
'We would never dream of leaving'
James Greco moved to Ticino in 2001 after being offered a job with an asset management company. He persuaded his wife Christin to leave Kingston upon Thames before she had even seen this area of Switzerland, yet 10 years on they say they would never dream of leaving.
"The area has great schools for our two children, the local government is well-run and there is a very low level of crime," says James, 49. "There's a real international community in Ticino and we've made many friends."
The couple, with children Francesca and Oliver, aged 13 and 11, live in Corona, five miles from Lugano in a five-bedroom home overlooking the lake. The children are already fluent in Italian and learning French and German at school.
"Being so close to Italy means that this part of Switzerland has all the benefits of the efficient Swiss with the bonus of a Mediterranean culture," adds James.