Serious skiers who hit the pistes from dawn to dusk will know France’s vast Trois Vallées. Ski regions do not come much bigger than this: 375 miles of interconnected pistes, where one ski pass covers the chic resorts of Courchevel and Méribel as well as the less attractive but well-positioned Les Menuires and Val Thorens.
Property prices there have always been high, especially since wealthy Russians swooped on Courchevel, sipping Bollinger in its picturesque mountain restaurants. But buyers who are not Russian oligarchs need not despair: French developers are selling apartments in traditional villages with excellent direct lift access to Les Trois Vallées pistes from £48,900.
A flower-filled alpine village of 400 residents an easy two-hour drive from Geneva with good TGV rail access three miles away. It is home to the Three Valley Express, a 15-minute lift that takes skiers directly to Val Thorens, Europe’s highest ski resort.
Used by French and Italian day trippers, the opening of Le Hameau des Eaux d’Orelle, 186 south-facing apartments spread across eight buildings on a steep slope half a mile from the lift, should introduce more budget-conscious buyers to the area.
Prices, including furniture, range from £65,300 for a tiny 270sq ft studio to £142,800 for a three-bedroom apartment measuring 590sq ft. Purchased through the French leaseback scheme, there is no VAT to pay and owners receive between 2.45 per cent and 3.5 per cent rental return. The development will have its own supermarket, swimming pool and sauna.
Brides les Bains
If Orelle is too quiet, Brides les Bains is an attractive year-round spa town in the Méribel Valley.
The overweight French visitors who flock there in summer for a three-week diet paid for by French social security give way to fit skiing instructors who rent a property for the winter season. They are undeterred by the fact that Brides les Bains sits in a valley and so very little sun reaches the town in winter.
“Getting to Brides les Bains is easy from the motorway, and the Olympe gondola lift takes you from the heart of the village to Méribel Mottaret in 25 minutes,” says Gregory Guzo from the local tourist office. “It’s ideal for families looking to combine good skiing with our thermal baths and inexpensive restaurants.”
Established French developer Lagrange is selling Residences les Cybeles, 132 studios and two-bedroom apartments of 300 to 600sq ft in a refurbished development 10 minutes from the lift. Under the leaseback scheme buyers will get up to 4.90 per cent rental returns. “This is not our highest-quality development,” says Perrine Leclercq of Lagrange, “but we think it is an exceptional investment opportunity for budget-minded buyers in a year-round resort.” Prices range from £48,900 to £108,800 with underground parking at £3,400 and furniture packages from £4,680.
St Martin de Belleville
Further up the mountain, en route to Les Menuires, is the idyllic village of St Martin de Belleville, where bargains are increasingly hard to find. With perfect mountain views and a 17th century church, St Martin has mastered the art of keeping its traditional charms while providing access directly to les Trois Vallées. Best of all, unlike the previous two resorts, you can ski back down to the village itself.
“European buyers like the direct link with local life here,” says developer Fabrice Jay. “Our popularity has risen rapidly, especially with British buyers.”
Jay is selling high-quality apartments and chalets at the entrance to St Martin from £297,800 to £917,000. Les Chalets de Nant Giraud can be configured to buyers’ own requirements. They face south-west and have underground parking, a games room and gym.
For more information about all the properties, call Erna Low Property on 020 7590 1624, or visit www.ernalowproperty.co.uk.
* The property at Orelle and Brides Les Bains is sold through the French leaseback scheme. Running costs will average £2.30 and £2 a square foot a year respectively if purchased through leaseback.
* Les Chalets de Nant Giraud is sold as outright ownership. Annual running costs will average £19 a square foot, with a further £1 a square foot in local taxes.
'It’s safe, and ideal for our five children'
James and Claire Lloyd from Winchester are already looking forward to a fourth Christmas and New Year in their four-bedroom chalet in the heart of St Martin de Belleville with their children, Hector (14), Hugo (12), Archie (10) and twins Flora and Kitty (seven).
They bought the chalet in 2003, spending about £476,000, including furnishings, and remain delighted with the village today.
“It is a typical Savoyard village, which retains its charm in winter,” says James.
“It’s safe, and ideal for our five children and it has a lovely atmosphere.”
The Lloyds had considered buying in several small alpine villages but knew altitude was important.
“We ski at Christmas and Easter and so had to go high to guarantee good snow early and late in the season,” says James. “With snow cannons and good piste management we could always ski home last year, and that is a huge advantage.”