Last season was skiers’ heaven following excellent snowfalls across the Alps, so this winter skis are being dusted down with renewed confidence.
More than 1.3 million British skiers head to France each year, all searching for that winning combination of deep snowfalls and sunny blue-sky days.
That is what the southern Alps, the sun-soaked Haute Alpes, provides. This quiet region has 300 days of sunshine a year, a strong snow record, good skiing infrastructure and year-round activities to enjoy.
Even better, property there is up to 25 per cent below prices in the Savoyard hotspots further north yet there is a relaxed, family-friendly vibe in this sunny region between Italy and the chic South of France.
Ninety minutes from Grenoble and two hours across the Italian border from Turin, Vars is part of La Forêt Blanche ski domain, with a towering top height of 9,022ft and 111 miles of tree-filled pistes.
One of Europe’s most scenic roads, Le Grand Alpe Rue, curves through the mountains, while in summer popular activities include hiking and mountain biking in the National Park of Queyras.
Above the existing village an entirely new resort, Vars 2000, is under construction. Over the next six years there are plans for three hotels, 30 shops and restaurants, and new lifts, while a nine-hole golf course is planned beside Le Hameau des Rennes.
This is a low-level development of 17 wood-clad chalets, each with between four and 16 apartments, for sale through Erna Low Property. “Vars is in the Provence Alpes region,” says developer Philippe Billy. “It’s a high resort, two hours from Aix-en-Provence, that’s popular with families but until now there has been little suitable property to rent. We have sold 70 units here so far, mainly to French buyers.”
Prices at Le Hameau des Rennes start at £156,000 for leaseback one- to three-bedroom apartments with underground parking and guaranteed rental returns of up to four per cent.
Serre Chevalier is France’s fourth largest ski area with 140 miles of pistes, 74 lifts, eight peaks and a top altitude of 8,973 feet. Turin airport is 90 minutes away and the Mediterranean coast is three hours’ drive.
In Chantemerle, one of the 13 villages that make up Serre Chevalier, French firm MGM is building L’Orée des Neiges, 27 one- to three-bedroom apartments due for completion by Christmas 2009. Off-plan leaseback prices start at about £159,000 for a fully furnished flat where MGM will manage rentals and maintenance.
Or, if you want urban, year-round life, nearby Briançon is the place to head. This is Europe’s highest town (4,334 feet) and a newly crowned Unesco World Heritage Site with a scenic Old Town and magnificent 15th century Vauban forts dominating the skyline. The Prorel cable car provides high-speed access to the Serre Chevalier ski domain.
“It’s unusual to find a working town linked into a large ski area,” says Ben Norrington of Space Group. “And the Unesco award was a huge boost to Briançon, bringing more visitors to the town.”
Briançon has a thriving weekly market held beside the Parc de la Schappe and a population of 13,000, which doubles in the busy winter and summer seasons.
Space Group is selling phase two of La Schappe, a silk mill in the heart of Briançon built in 1842. La Schappe is an exciting project combining an industrial renovation with extraordinary modern design.
When building is completed in 2011 the original building will have 176 apartments, now all sold, with a further 88 flats - phase two - in two extensions, built to resemble cocoons.
Prices for phase two range from about £115,000 for a compact studio to about £527,500 for a 1,195sq ft three-bedroom loft, all with winter terraces. There is no leaseback scheme but owners can elect to join a rental programme run by Ramada Hotels.
Skiers have been ploughing down the slopes of Montgenèvre on the French-Italian border for more than 100 years. The first international skiing competition, in 1907, was held there.
Montgenèvre is a small resort with a good altitude (6,100 feet) and direct access to the 249 miles of the Via Lattea, or Milky Way, pistes.
The 2006 Turin Winter Olympics saw improvements to this region with new lifts and snow cannons, while in Montgenèvre itself the local authority is spending £63 million on infrastructure upgrades.
MGM, France’s largest Alpine developer, is selling Le Chalet des Dolines, a leaseback residence with 50 ski-in, ski-out apartments. Owners will have access to an indoor pool and gym. Prices for fully furnished units start from about £140,000, excluding VAT.
At 4,100 feet, Vaujany cannot claim to be the highest resort but with links into the large Alpe d’Huez ski area, it has excellent skiing on its doorstep. There’s a new cable car that takes skiers up to Pic Blanc, at 10,925 feet, while Vaujany is a family-friendly resort with many bars and restaurants.
Alpe d’Huez, an hour from Grenoble airport, is known as the Sunshine Island for its mainly south-facing 155 miles of pistes. Of all the southern Alp ski areas, this is the one most popular with British buyers, says Isobel Rostron of property search agent Aspect International.
“Unlike most of this area, Alpe d’Huez prices are comparable with popular resorts further north such as Chamonix and Morzine,” says Rostron. “But I would still tip Alpe d’Huez for good potential capital growth because of its high altitude and year-round appeal.”
Erna Low Property is selling Le Jardin Alpin in Vaujany, a scheme of 20 apartments divided between four chalets. Off-plan prices start at £150,000 for one-bedroom with the first units due for completion next September. Phase one of this project sold well says Bertie Sanderson of Erna Low.
“Villages such as Vaujany are popular because they link into a large ski area yet property prices remain reasonable,” says Sanderson. “British buyers like Alpe d’Huez because it combines Alpine charm with fabulous skiing.”
* All prices exclude VAT at 19.6 per cent. Under France’s résidence de tourisme leaseback-scheme buyers who put their property into the rental pool for at least 48 weeks a year are exempt from VAT.
* New-build property is exempt from taxe foncière for two years. After that expect to pay between £800 and £1,180 a year.
* Erna Low Property and La Schappe: 020 7590 1624; www.ernalowproperty.co.uk
* MGM: 020 7494 0706; www.mgm-constructeur.com
* Aspect International: 01242 231395; www.aspectintl.com