Next year is the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn, the last major Alpine peak to be conquered. Englishman Edward Whymper successfully scaled the mountain on July 14, 1865, beating the Italian climber Jean-Antoine Carrel by three days. When four men in Whymper’s group died on the descent the resulting scandal prompted Queen Victoria to consider banning all Britons from mountaineering.
The Matterhorn remains a ferocious test. It is the 10th highest Alpine peak and easily the most photographed, an iconic stand-alone jagged pyramid that ominously challenges the world’s best climbers. It is the symbol of Zermatt, a Swiss resort where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have holidayed, but where it is almost impossible for non-Swiss buyers to purchase property.
Grab a passport, ski across the border to the sunny Italian resort of Cervinia, the highest in the Aosta Valley, and the Matterhorn still dominates the skyline. The big difference is that anyone can own a home there and prices of everything from property to a ski pass or a cappuccino are a relative snip.
“The Cervinia ski area covers three valleys in two countries including Zermatt’s slopes with some of the finest and longest intermediate pistes in the Alps,” says Luca Garratt of Alpine Homes. “You can get flats in Cervinia from £318,000 but you’d pay two and a half times as much over the mountain.”
Cervinia is an hour and 40 minutes from Turin airport, with Geneva and Milan less than three hours away. It links into 220 miles of ski slopes and has a strong snow record. There is year-round skiing on the glaciers, while summer activities focus on mountain biking, thermal baths in St Vincent 30 minutes away, and Italy’s highest golf club, at the foot of the Matterhorn.
A PEEK AT THE PEAK
Alpine Homes is selling flats in Cervinia with clear views of the Matterhorn at Maison JA Carrel, two attractive chalet-style buildings on the edge of the village. Fifteen flats in Phase 1 are finished with seven sold to buyers from across Europe.
Phase 2, a further 11 flats and one chalet, will be completed by spring 2016. The apartments range from 538 to 1,388 square feet, with one to four bedrooms, and have a rustic finish with plenty of local stone and handsome chunky beams. There are wood-burning fireplaces and all apartments have a balcony or terrace.
Prices start from £345,800 for one bedroom and £522,250 for two bedrooms. Good-quality kitchens and bathrooms are fitted and included in the price, unusual in new Italian homes, and annual service charges, including heating, start from £2,380 (www.alpinehomesintl.com).
Owners in Phase 2 must make their homes available to rent for 11 months of the year through the Italian buy-to-let RTA scheme. The developer, Maison des Alps, has put in place an on-site management company to handle rentals.
“There is a shortage of high-quality rental property locally and these apartments could achieve 25 weeks rental each year,” says Alpine Homes’ Luca Garratt. “Skiing is already extensive but if future plans to link up with Monte Rosa happen, it would become easily Italy’s largest ski area.”
THE ITALIAN ALPS
Property in the Italian Alps has traditionally been bought by Italians and rarely marketed abroad. The majority of the most popular resorts are in the Dolomites but Aosta makes a less well-known yet charming destination.
“The Aosta Valley resorts are much more accessible than those in the Dolomites,” says Gemma Bruce of Aylesford International (www.aylesford.com), who points out that the transfer from Turin airport takes about half as long: “You should expect a three-hour transfer to the Dolomites.
“Prices in Cervinia start at around £318,000 for a one-bedroom flat. Valtournenche, part of the same ski area but 10 minutes lower down the mountain, has properties up to 30 per cent cheaper.”
Four one- and two-bedroom flats in a new traditional-style chalet a mile from Valtournenche start from £169,315 through Jackson-Stops & Staff (www.jackson-stops.co.uk). A 700sq ft one-bedroom flat with parking and mountain views a short walk from the village centre in La Thuile, is £330,000 through Casa & Country (www.casaandcountry.com).