Wish Yule were here

Buy abroad and discover new Christmas pleasures. Cathy Hawker meets families with two homes
The McCulloch family
The McCulloch family have a five-bedroom farmhouse in the Val d’Isère region
Where are you spending Christmas this year? For some lucky overseas home-owners the season of goodwill is spent not fighting through frantic shoppers in Oxford Street or trekking around the log-jammed M25 but further afield, enjoying a different culture and climate. It’s one of the joys of owning a home abroad and a chance for many to establish family traditions with a Yuletide twist.

The French Alps

This will be the seventh Christmas for Paul and Sarah McCulloch in their chalet in the French Alps, and their traditions are well established. The first task is for Paul and their three sons —Joey, seven, Jack, six, and Bobbie, three — to choose a tree from the woods above their chalet in the Tarentaise region. They drag it back into their farmhouse and once the lights are turned on, Christmas has begun.

“My brother and sister-in-law come every Christmas,” says Paul, a company director from West Sussex. “This holiday is a chance to catch up and relax together in a beautiful, quiet area.” The McCullochs’ five-bedroom farmhouse is in a small hamlet close to the pretty village of Sainte Foy in the vast Val d’Isère ski region.

Chalets in the Tarentaise Valley
From £1.2 million, chalets in the Tarentaise Valley. Through French Mountain Property (0845 324 3521)
When they first saw their home, the roof was missing and the floor was covered in hay. After 18 months of renovation, using local antique pine, their chalet is a warm mountain refuge.

Christmas Day begins with a walk through the woods, often spotting chamois (mountain deer). “The sun always seems to shine on Christmas Day from a vivid blue sky,” says Paul. “Rather than ski we prefer to have a long stomp over the mountain paths to meet friends.”

Back at home, Sarah is the chef. She shops in Bourg St Maurice, choosing goose or turkey from a butcher there, and buying saucisson, cheeses and vegetables at the weekly market.

“We have no television in France,” says Paul. “The best fun is opening the chalet doors and charging outside. Our Christmas has a sense of organised chaos, centred on family, friends, good food and a beautiful Alpine village. Perfect.”

For similar property in the Alps contact French Mountain Property (0845 324 3521; www.frenchmountainproperty.com). Apartments and chalets cost from £246,700 to £1,93 million.


Skiing features in the Christmas plans of the Woodward family from Dorset, though the snow on Monte Amiata, Tuscany’s highest peak, rarely lies deep or crisp. “It was pretty muddy on the lower slopes last year,” laughs Stuart Woodward, “but skiing is part of our Christmas Day.”

Two-bedroom cottage in a gated resort near Florence
£372,180: two-bedroom cottage in a gated resort near Florence. Knight Frank (020 7629 8171)
Three years ago the Woodwards bought a three-bedroom cottage on an old estate two hours from Pisa airport. “Southern Tuscany is very rugged and less manicured and touristy than Chiantishire,” says Stuart.

On Christmas Day the family — Stuart, Lesley and their 15-year-old daughter Emily — go to Mass at nearby Archidosso. “We don’t know many of the carols and the sermon is a little lost on us but the locals make us feel very welcome,” says Stuart.

The family have fallen so much for the Italian lifestyle that this year they bought I Capannini, a stone villa in Mazzola overlooking Volterra’s gentle hills. They are painstakingly renovating it into a six-bedroom house with pool and caretaker’s house, using eco-efficient designs.

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