It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.
As the Starks of Winterfell keep telling us, “Winter is Coming!” So, the intrepid Alpine Property Search embarked on an exhaustive recent trip to review the state of 21 French ski resorts. And, to help with the deluge of information a buyer needs to digest when deciding on a dream home in the Alps, we have inaugurated the Alpine Property Search Index as a starting point with which one can compare resorts. It ranks resorts based on a points system for five key indicators – snow record & making, size of ski area, relative affordability (compared with Knight Frank’s average of 30 resorts in France, Switzerland & Austria), year-round suitability and accessibility. The index assigns a score out of 20.
We concentrated on the following areas:
The resort with the highest score was Chamonix with 18/20.
Runners up were St Martin de Belleville, St Gervais, Les Gets and Morzine all with 17/20.
Europe’s Largest Ski Area - The 3 Valleys
Best Investment – St Martin de Belleville Best Resort – Méribel
The slopes above Méribel, looking towards Courchevel
The 3 Valleys comprises the villages throughout the valleys of the Saint Bon, Les Allues and La Belleville in the Tarentaise region, south east of Annecy. It is justifiably one of the most popular destinations in the world due to its breadth of skiing (600+km, 180 lifts), dual-season offering and wide appeal both to jet set weekenders and holidaying families. The area is a leader in the Alps in terms of continuous investment in its facilities, with the latest ski lifts and snow making equipment, a 67m euro aquatic centre as well as hotels and restaurants. There are 7 Michelin-starred restaurants in Courchevel, and one each in neighbouring La Tania and Méribel, sharing an impressive 12 Stars between them. The area is relatively easy to access. There is a TGV station in the valley at Moûtiers. Geneva airport is 2.5 hours by car and Chambéry 1.5 hours. Jetsetters can take advantage of the highest airport in the Alps situated at the top of Courchevel 1850. Helicopter transfers from Geneva take about 30 minutes and one hour from Cannes or Milan.
Let’s take a look at each resort…..
Courchevel – The Pursuit of Excellence
The foot of Courchevel’s valley
Founded on a plateau and celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, Courchevel is spread among four villages that rise up the mountain – Le Praz at 1300m, Courchevel Village at 1550m, Courchevel Moriond at 1650m and Courchevel at 1850m – which offer something for everyone. Skiers appreciate the north-facing slopes and many ski-in ski-out chalets and apartments. For weary bodies there is a brand new aquatic centre, Aquamotion, with spas and 11 pools including a lagoon, baby pool, surfwave, river rapids, waterslide and jacuzzi. Opportunities for shoppers and gourmands are abundant with luxury boutiques, particularly in 1850, as well as Michelin starred restaurants.
Méribel – Charmingly Crafted
Situated on the other side of the Saulire peak and lift, Méribel lies in the heart of the 3 Valleys. Founded by British skier Peter Lindsay in 1938 eight years before Courchevel, the resort is made up of several villages with traditional Savoyard style chalets and buildings and surrounded by wooded slopes. It is a perennial favourite with British skiers and families due to its charm, its position right at the centre of the ski area and the design of the lift system which ensures that all the villages inter-connect. Les Allues at 1100m connects directly with Méribel Centre at 1450m. Méribel Village at 1400m connects to the Altiport above the centre where, in summer, golfers can try their hands at the 18 hole par 71 course. Méribel Mottaret sits at the top of the valley at 1750m. The feel here is more purpose built for skiing with apartment blocks, though in summer it is the gateway to the Tueda nature park. The abundance of blue and red runs makes Méribel a mecca for intermediate skiers, though there are a number of challenging off-piste opportunities.
Authentic Savoyard Charm vs Ski-In Ski-Out
Saint Martin de Belleville / Les Menuires / Val Thorens
The third and most westerly valley is the Belleville. We characterise it as a valley of contrasts. St Martin (1350m) is a traditional and picturesque village with a Baroque church and some nice restaurants and bars. During the summer months it offers a welcome to mountain and road bikers, climbers and walkers. In winter the Tougnete lift at 2435m links it with Meribel’s ski domain with 3-4 blue and red runs down. From this point it also connects to the ski areas of Les Menuires(1850m) and from there into Val Thorens, at 2300m Europe’s highest resort. These are purpose built ski stations with a huge variety of ski runs and a more party orientated atmosphere than their 3 Valleys neighbours.
What Can I Buy In The 3 Valleys And For How Much?
Our research and recent discussions suggest that as supply/demand is roughly in balance, prices are not expected to rise significantly from current levels in the near term.
Chalet in Courchevel
Courchevel’s prime property is the most expensive in the Alps, particularly in the Bellecôte and Jardin Alpin areas of the resort. Expect to pay upwards of 20,000 euros/sqm for chalets. There are a number of new apartment developments with prices ranging from 11,000-15,000 euros/sqm. La Tania, on a shelf between Courchevel and Méribel, has a mixture of traditional and purpose built chalets and apartments. You can buy chalets for between 10,000-12,000 euros/sqm. Meribel also has a number of new apartment projects in the centre. Prices range from 8,000-10,000 euros/sqm with chalets at 15,000 euros/sqm. Smaller apartments in Les Menuires and Val Thorens can be found for 4,000 euros/sqm.
Where Is Best Value? We think the resort offering the best value and potential for price appreciation is St Martin de Belleville, where you can purchase chalets close to the piste for between 5,700-9,000 euros/sqm. We consider the cheaper prices, plus the fact that it houses a permanent population of locals and a great dual-season offering, to make it our top pick in the 3 Valleys. A left-field option, but one definitely worth considering, is a property in Brides-les-Bains. This charming Edwardian era spa town sits at 600m altitude ten minutes outside Moûtiers and is the gateway to both the Courchevel and Méribel valleys. Its cable car whisks you directly up the mountain to Méribel, making it a favourite location for local French skiers and those who like the idea of being in a busier town. One can buy a 3 bedroom chalet with garden for 4,000 euros/sqm.
Best Resort & Investment – Val-d’Isère
The road to Bourg, looking south towards La Plagne
From the 3 Valleys, drop down towards Moutiers and carry on eastwards towards Bourg-St- Maurice. On this picturesque road you will pass the signs to La Plagneon the right hand side of the valley and to the south, followed by Les Arcs. Both resorts form the core of the Paradiski area, an agglomeration of more than 20 high altitude ski resorts connected by the dual-level Vanoise Express via Montchavin station. These are purpose built resorts with the skier in mind. While the winter sports opportunities are fantastic, I have not concentrated on properties in these resorts due to their lack of year-round appeal. At Bourg you can detour left up the mountain to La Rosière, a small village on a south-facing shelf that looks up the Isère Valley. This resort sits at 1850m altitude and is linked with La Thuile, over the Petit St Bernard Pass and the Italian border. This area makes up the Espace San Bernardo with over 150km of slopes connected by 38 lifts. Due to its proximity to Italy, La Rosière is the last place in France where you can heli-ski. There are a number of leaseback apartment developments popular with families in this quiet resort.
The Isère Valley from La Rosiere
As you head south up the Isère Valley you pass on your left the small ski station of Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise. Carry on south until you reach the dam and Lac du Chevril. Overlooking the lake and to the west is Tignes. Carry on south for a couple of miles and you arrive in Val-d’Isère.
Why L’Espace Killy?
En route to Tignes, looking towards Val d’Isere
Due to its height, L’Espace Killy does not offer many tree-lined runs but it more than makes up for this with its breadth of skiing and snow record. One hundred modern and high speed lifts; 300km of pistes; its two main resorts among the highest in Europe; all result in few queues and a ski season that lasts from December to May. The pistes of Val-d’Isère and Tignes are linked via the Tovière lift, without the need for long connecting trails.
The route towards Col de l’Iseran, looking down valley
APS characterizes this area as a mecca for winter sports. In terms of shopping or dining it does not quite match the 3 Valleys but it is more than a match for its glitzier peer when it comes to the quality of its skiing. This means it attracts a different and younger crowd of ski enthusiasts looking for a challenge and wanting to play hard both during the day and night. Geneva airport is 220km or 3.5 hours by road and Chambéry airport is a 2.5 hour transfer, so L’Espace Killy scores below average on our index for accessibility. Yet this does not deter the faithful who return year after year.
Val-d’Isère – An Iconic Resort
This is a lively town, spread around the main street that heads south up the valley. The architecture is sympathetic to the surroundings with plenty of wood and stone buildings and chalets. Local building regulations are strict on enforcing this traditional Savoyard look. The resort hosts the annual FIS competition the Criterium de la Premiere Neige in mid-December, as well as other major competitions. The skiing is up there with the best the Alps have to offer with numerous on and off-piste opportunities. The highest lift is 3450m with a maximum skiable vertical drop of 1900m, one of the largest in the world. In common with other resorts such as Chamonix and the 3 Valleys, the lift company has been investing heavily and the new Solaise telecabine will increase capacity by 40%.
Tignes – Altitude & Attitude
Tignes Le Lac
The original town of Tignes was submerged by the Lac du Chevril when it was dammed in 1952. The resorts that became modern-day Tignes are spread over Tignes Les-Brévières, at the foot of the lake, Tignes Les Boisses, Tignes Le Lacand Val Claret. With the exception of Les-Brévières they could not be more different from Val-d’Isère with their Le Corbusier-style buildings and towering apartment blocks. This is a ski-in ski-out resort, purpose built to take advantage of the amazing topography around the Grand Motte glacier.
What Can I Buy & For How Much?
Val-d’Isère’s popularity and reputation are reflected in prices which rose 6% in the year to June 2016 according to Knight Frank, the highest growth in the French Alps. Prime properties cost from 17,000 euros/sqm upwards. In Tignes there are leaseback developments at Le Lac and Val Claret with apartments from 6,000 euros/sqm. Prime chalets in Tignes can command 12,000 euros/sqm.
Traditional style chalets in Tignes Les-Brévières (1550m) can be found for 10,000 euros/sqm.
Evasion Mont Blanc & Chamonix
Best Resort – Chamonix Best Investment – Chamonix, closely followed by St Gervais
Chamonix at the foot of Mont Blanc
From Moutiers head north on the N90 through Albertville. At Ugine the road forks eastwards up a steep river valley, the Gorges de L’Arly, before emerging onto a verdant plateau which brings you to the heart of the Evasion Mont Blanc ski area and some of the most beautiful resorts of the Haute Savoie, nestled around Mont Blanc. Why Evasion Mont Blanc? The region comprises four resorts: Megève, Combloux, St Gervais Les Bains and Les Contamines. All are dual season resorts with permanent populations and attractions for the property hunter. New chalets made of old wood, skiing between the pine trees, golf, thermal spas, high-end boutiques and gourmet restaurants – all can be found here. The different resorts share parts of their ski domains and their proximity to one another is another attraction. While you may not be able to ski directly to every resort, they are a short drive down the road from one another meaning you can take advantage of an overnight powder dump in the bowls of Les Contamines in the morning, enjoy a spa in St Gervais in the afternoon and have dinner in Megève. The ski area is surprisingly large with 116 lifts, 445km of pistes, 3 snow parks and 38 mountain restaurants. The Mont Blanc Unlimited pass includes access to Chamonix, Courmayeur in Italy and Verbier in Switzerland. Summer attractions include golf, lake swimming, canyoning and summer luge. Its close proximity to Geneva, 70km and one hour by car, means it scores a maximum 4 accessibility points on our index.
Megève – Old World Charm
Square in Mègeve
This medieval farming village was put on the map by the Rothschilds in the early 20th century. It is now a chic resort with Michelin-starred restaurants, designer shopping and boutique hotels around its 13th Century cobbled centre. Yet it is not resting on its laurels – the Commune is investing 100m euros in its lift system and 60m euros in its wellness centre.
A bridge in Megève
Combloux – “The Pearl Of The Alps”
Such was the moniker given by Victor Hugo to this picturesque village on a shelf with magnificent vistas over Mont Blanc. It sits in the middle of the area almost equidistant between Megève and St Gervais, both around 5kms away.
Mont Blanc from Combloux
St Gervais Les Bains – A Smart Option
St Gervais offers a number of reasons why it is increasingly considered the most up-and-coming resort in the French Alps. This may sound like a contradictory statement for a 19th Century town built around its thermal springs, baroque church, casino and France’s highest rack railway, the Mont Blanc Tramway. Yet it is the plethora of year-round attractions combined with its relatively cheap property that lend credence to the assertion. The village is enjoying significant investment in renovation projects with much of the town centre having been rebuilt in a sympathetic style. In 2017 there will be a direct railway connection to Geneva making access even more convenient.
Saint Gervais Les Bains
Les Contamines – For Powder Hounds
Up the road from St Gervais and at the end of the Val Montjoie sits Les Contamines, a picturesque one-street town. Surrounded by peaks of the Mont Blanc massif and north-west facing it offers excellent bowl skiing.
What Can I Buy?
Megève is the priciest resort, particularly for properties in its sought-after Mont d’Arbois area. It is popular with Geneva buyers according to Knight Frank, with Swiss residents comprising 25% of their clients. Prices have fallen by 3.5% in the 12 months to June 2016 due to an excess supply of prime properties not selling. Expect to pay 13,500 euros/sqm for prime and 20,000 euros for ultra-prime. Combloux is more affordable than its neighbour with prime prices between 8,000-10,000 euros/sqm. With prime property priced at 7,000 euros/sqm, St Gervais stands out as the best value resort in the area, if not the whole of the French Alps.
Chamonix – Legendary Centre Of Alpinism
Mont Blanc, as seen from the road up the valley to Servoz
Why Chamonix? What makes Chamonix unique as a resort is that it was a popular climbing destination long before winter sports became fashionable. Its steeply-sided valley, surrounded by the towering peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif to the south and the Aiguilles Rouge to the north, has attracted daredevils for centuries. Skiing took off at the start of the 20th Century and the inaugural Winter Olympic Games were held here in 1924. Its proximity to Switzerland and Italy make it a realistic day-trip destination to/from Verbier and Courmayeur. And with Geneva airport 85kms away, one hour by car, it scores a maximum 4 points on our accessibility rating.
The Glacier des Bossons as seen from Servoz
Chamonix is a mountain town with a permanent population of 10,000. The local authorities have been progressive in their investment plans in order to fully capitalize on all the valley has to offer the tourist. The Compagnie du Mont Blanc is committing 477m euros over the next 10 years to upgrade the lift system. And with 2m accredited overnight stays each summer this is a dual-season resort par excellence with visitors enjoying the climbing, walking, parascending, canyoning, mountain-biking, golf etc. There is very little ski-in ski-out property and of the five ski areas only Brévent-Flégère are lift-connected, meaning a complimentary bus journey up or down the valley is necessary should you wish to try them all. This does not appeal to everyone. Yet for those who relish the idea of being at the world centre of mountaineering, at the foot of Mont Blanc and with total vertical of 2,000 metres available to ski, Chamonix’s breadth of piste and off-piste skiing makes it a strong draw. For a period of ten years from my late twenties I could not stay away. Even when I persuaded myself to venture further afield to other world class resorts like Val-d’Isère or St Anton, I made sure to set aside a long weekend of off-piste skiing on the Grands Montets or La Vallée Blanche and a couple of nights on the town.
The Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix
What Can I Buy?
A resort with year-round appeal and ongoing infrastructure investment is a safe bet for potential buyers. Consequently prices have risen by 10% over the past two years. Apartments cost between 6,500-9,500 euros/sqm with chalets starting around 10,000 euros/sqm. In our opinion this still represents excellent value for money considering all the valley has to offer.
Le Grand Massif
Best Investment & Resort – Samoëns
Heading towards Flaine
Made up of the villages of Samoëns, Morillon, Les Carroz and Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval as well as the purpose-built ski resort of Flaine, this is the fourth largest interconnected ski area in France with 140 lifts and 265km of slopes. Situated between Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc and despite its relatively low altitude, its microclimate ensures warm summers and a cold front and good snowfall every winter. Geneva airport is 60km or one hour by road so it is a high scorer for accessibility. Of the four villages Samoëns is the largest with traditional Savoyard buildings and plenty of shops selling local produce, and bars and restaurants centred around its medieval covered market. Situated at the foot of the vertiginous rock face of Le Criou (2227m) it is equally popular in summer due to its extensive walking trails in the surrounding mountains. The only downside in winter is that you cannot ski back to the village, though you can leave your equipment at the lift station.
Le Criou towering above Samoëns
Other activities include mountain-biking and white water rafting which starts at the top of the valley at Sixt near the source of the Giffre river and continues downstream to Morillon, with opportunities to jump off cliffs at the deepest sections (we all enjoyed it so much that we went on consecutive days on a visit two summers ago). All together this is a great place to lay down roots and is justifiably popular with overseas buyers.
The best skiing is found at Flaine (1600-2500m) which is interlinked with the other resorts. Conceived by a geologist and created in the 1960s it is a monument to Bauhaus-style minimalism and home to works of art by Picasso among others. In summer there is extensive walking as well as a golf course to the right of approach into the Flaine bowl.
What Can I Buy?
There are some new build leaseback developments in Samoëns. Traditional chalets in Samoëns, Morillon and Les Carroz are priced between 3,000-6,000 euros/sqm. Flaine has more ski-in ski-out apartments and plenty offer guaranteed rental income. Prices around 5,000 euros/sqm.
Looking down from Flaine over Cluses and towards Geneva
Les Portes du Soleil
Best Resort & Investment – Les Gets & Morzine
Les Gets with Mont Blanc in the background
The world’s second largest interlinked ski domain, after the 3 Valleys, with 200 lifts and 600km of slopes. You can ski over the border into Switzerland on the same pass. The French resorts are Avoriaz, Châtel, Les Gets and Morzine. Within one hour from Geneva airport these are highly popular in both summer and winter. Why Les Portes du Soleil? Each village has its own characteristics. Morzine (950m) is an established old town with plenty of character and things to do year-round. In summer it is the centre of downhill mountain biking in the Alps with a dedicated clientele of young thrill-seekers flocking to its challenging trails. There is also a large swimming complex with a 50m outdoor pool and 25m indoor pool as well as 11 tennis courts. The summer luge is particularly popular with families.
Les Gets bike park
Les Gets is a pretty village in a gentle valley between Taninges and Morzine. Chalet-style buildings line its main street with bars and restaurants alongside. It is a favourite with young families due to the gentle skiing on both sides of the valley as well as the swimming lake at the top of the village which becomes a focal point for teenagers in the summer
Les Gets ski piste
There is an 18-hole golf course up the mountain which doubles as a piste in winter. From here you can walk to/from Morzine, stopping for a gourmet lunch in the popular Le Vaffieu restaurant at the top. As with Morzine there is extensive mountain biking as well as some relatively simple road bike trails utilising the lift system. A popular day route is to cycle down the valley to Morzine, ride the chairlift up to Avoriaz and to cycle down through the picture postcard hamlet of Les Lindarets with its goats wandering the streets, and back to Les Gets via the emerald-green Lac de Montriond.
As with most of the French resorts there is investment occurring in Les Gets and a new cable car is planned which will connect the Mont Chéry side of the valley with the Chavannes side, negating the need to transfer by foot or bus through the village itself.
Avoriaz is a ski-in ski-out, car-free resort at 1800m altitude. Built in the 1960s like Flaine, its wooden-clad buildings render the architecture less brutalist than its Grand Massif neighbour. The snow record, skiing and snowboarding are renowned. Due to its position at the top of the mountain it is popular with families who want to stay put for the holiday. While there is enough to do in the summer it does not score as highly as other resorts on the dual-season aspect of our rating system. Châtel is the most northerly of all the French Alpine resorts and is just over the border from Switzerland. While only 1200m in altitude its north-facing outlook ensures a reliable snow record. There has also been investment in the lift system making connections more convenient than previously, when a bus transfer was necessary. It is home to the famous Fantasticable, a zip wire that sends you from one side of the valley and back at 60mph. We did it in the driving rain one summer, which was quite painful and spoiled the view (!) if not the adrenalin rush.
What Can I Buy?
Busier villages such as Morzine and Les Gets command higher prices. Some architecturally designed chalets are appearing in both villages that would not have been seen five years ago. We noticed a fair number of new apartment developments in the centre of Les Gets on this visit. Expect to pay from 7,500 euros/sqm for centrally located new builds in Les Gets. Chalets start from 9,000-10,000 euros/sqm with older properties at either end of the village circa 7,000 euros/sqm.
Les Gets chalet
Prices are similar in Morzine. A good value option is to look at the villages down the road such as Essert-Romand or Montriond where property can be found for 6,000 euros/sqm. Châtel has very little ski-in ski-out property. There is a number of new build and leaseback developments at 6,500 euros/sqm. Older chalets can be found from 4,000 euros/sqm.