Austria's appeal topples French and Swiss Alps
Austria has been Europe's star performer in the property market's troubled past four years. While nine European countries languish in the bottom 10 of Knight Frank's latest Global House Price Index — including Ireland, Greece and Spain — Austria has seen price rises of 11 per cent in a year.
It's all part of a flight to safety, says Giles Gale, of Mark Warner Property. "Buyers today are financially savvy. They know Austria is Triple A-rated and a safe place to invest," he explains. "As well as value, they are buying for lifestyle and appreciate the dual season rental appeal in a beautiful country."
Top for tourists
One hour south of Salzburg, the Gastein Valley is an established tourist resort. The valley below soaring mountain peaks has sweet, small-scale traditional villages, with a sound infrastructure and winter and summer appeal.
One lift pass covers 136 miles of linked pistes and a total of 550 miles in the neighbouring Ski Amadé area, as well as the local bus network, all for a maximum of £170 a week.
Mountain lakes, national parks, a golf course and thermal spas keep summer visitors happy. This is an area popular with Scandinavian, Swiss and Eastern European tourists.
"Property prices in Austria are substantially below those in the French and Swiss Alps," says Gale. "With a rental season averaging 25 weeks a year, it is possible to cover all your costs with a 40 per cent deposit here."
Life in a party town
There are three main villages or towns in the valley, all with direct access to the slopes and local train stations connecting directly to Salzburg.
Bad Gastein is the largest and best known, a party town with ornate Belle Epoque villas and thermal spas. The town is built on the side of steep mountains with crashing waterfalls and magical views across the valley.
Mike Love, from Somerset, head of The Nepal Trust Charity, and his wife, Pavla, bought a four-floor apartment in Bad Gastein last year, paying about £450,000 for one of the best locations in town. The ski lifts and thermal baths are both within a six-minute walk.
"We had been looking for somewhere we could ski and also walk in the mountains in summer and autumn," says Pavla. "This valley is beautiful and many lifts operate throughout summer. We take the gondola to the summit and spend the day walking the valley, stopping at mountain 'Hütten'. Austrian hospitality is world-famous."
Next to the Loves' apartment at the top of the town, Mark Warner Property has two-bedroom furnished properties from £233,940 in Sonnenwende Aparthotel, a refurbished building of 30 apartments beside the waterfall.
The west-facing apartment of 753sq ft rents for £1,620 a week in high season, providing an annual income of between £12,140 and £16,200.
Chalet Anton is a 150-year-old nine-bedroom property on sale for £724,470 with Alpine Marketing. A new development of 14 chalets facing south with private spas and pools has prices from £1,926,520 for four bedrooms.
Relax in a village
Nearby Bad Hofgastein, with a population of 7,000, is the family-friendly choice. The centre has a good choice of shops and restaurants, most in traditional Austrian dark wood chalets festooned with geraniums. The local infrastructure is good and £56 million is being invested to upgrade the lift system over the next year.
Expect to pay from £137,600 for a quality apartment of 550sq ft in a central location near the shops and lifts. Dorfgastein, 10 miles north of Bad Gastein, is smaller — a quiet village with a limited range of shops and restaurants and a gentle Austrian charm. Property here is the most affordable but supply is very limited.
A newly released off-plan building of 27 apartments — only nine for sale — in Dorfgastein, due for completion by December 2013, start at £194,270 for two-bedrooms of 592sq ft to £364,260 for a 1,076sq ft penthouse.
The quiet location next to the lifts on a gently sloping field is a rare chance to be in a ski-in and ski-out location.
CONTACTS AND FACTFILE
Mark Warner Property: 020 7692 0786; markwarnerproperty.com
Alpine Marketing: 020 8455 0505; alpineskiproperty.com
VAT: Allow between 6.5 and nine per cent in Austria for buying costs.
Renting: Most second-home property in the Austrian Alps must be available to rent for part of the year.
Airports: Nearest airports to the Gastein Valley are Salzburg, one hour away, and Munich, two and a half hours away.