LIVING THE HIGH LIFE IN HAUTE-SAVOIE
You’ll feel on top of the world in this Alpine département with its ski resorts, sunshine, lakes and culture. Annaliza Davis reveals why its property market is a peak performer
Stunning lakes, the breathtaking Alps and sweeps of protected areas of natural beauty – with so much in the département to make your heart skip a beat, Haute-Savoie is a seductive option for house-buyers. Nestling snugly in the southeast, bordering Switzerland and Italy, it sits roughly between Geneva, Chambéry and Chamonix. The key towns and cities in Haute-Savoie include Annecy (with over 50,000 residents), Thonon-les-Bains and Annemasse. As for Chamonix-Mont-Blanc and Évian-les-Bains, despite their renown, they are not especially populous. Chamonix counts just under 10,000 residents, while Évian – source of the mineral water – has only 8,000. There’s a clear connection between the tourism potential and desirability of locations here, because tourism is so vital to the local economy.
LOCATION: WHERE TO FIND WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR
The area offers mountains, lakes, cities and historic towns full of culture – your preferences and priorities will dictate where you focus your search. Chamonix will inevitably top the list for ski properties. France’s skiing capital sits at the base of Mont-Blanc, offering a resort height of 1,035 metres and running cable cars all year – even as high as 3,842 metres up to the Aiguille du Midi. Even so, don’t overlook Les Portes du Soleil ski area – including Morzine, Avoriaz, Châtel, Morgins, Les Gets and Champéry – which always rates highly and boasts over 550km of slopes. Ski aficionados also recommend Espace Diamant as it offers great skiing, plus summer tourism.
When you’re shopping around for your ideal property, it’s worth creating a wish list of your main requirements as a guide, before visiting the region’s estate agents in person to continue your house-hunt. If you’re aiming to make a permanent move, practical considerations such as shopping, schooling and healthcare will be crucial, whereas if you’re seeking to invest in something to rent out year-round or seasonally, you should prioritise factors such as proximity to ski lifts, restaurants and bars. Either way, it’s important to keep the spring and summer months in mind: you’ll want more than just skiing if you live here all year, and for investors, a thriving summer season can maximise returns on a property.
FOOD & DRINK IN HAUTE-SAVOIE
BEYOND THE FONDUE
We often think of fondue as a traditional après-ski dish, but the French are more likely to relax after a day on the slopes with raclette. Each diner has a small ‘paddle’ into which they place a slice of raclette cheese. The moreish fromage is then melted and poured over a mix of boiled potatoes, charcuterie and, occasionally, vegetables.
Alternatively, there’s tartiflette, a mixture of potatoes, bacon, onions and Reblochon cheese. Many winter dishes include ham, bacon and dairy products such as Tomme and Reblochon cheeses. Haute-Savoie also boasts fabulous mountain honey and woodland fruits (such as berries, cherries, apples and pears), which are often used in regional desserts. Also try Génépi¸ a herbal liqueur similar to absinthe, often served on the rocks and said to cure altitude sickness!
What about the economy?
Tourism is more vital to Haute-Savoie than in any other region of France, accounting for 14 per cent of the economy. The area draws a particularly great diversity of tourists and the resulting income is split fairly equally between eating out, accommodation and leisure/sports. Its particular advantage as a holiday destination is its year-round appeal: as well as attracting skiers and snowboarders during winter, this area’s beautiful towns and villages and natural landscapes bring in walkers, water sports fans and families the rest of the year.
While the majority of tourism income in this part of France focuses on mountain activities, there is also a strong market in water-sports activities, lakeside relaxation (there are several lakeside beaches in the département) and well-being treatments such as spa resorts.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN PROPERTY TYPES IN HAUTE-SAVOIE?
If you’re not desperate to be immediately adjacent to ski lifts, you’ll get more for your money. A three-bedroom farmhouse in La Vernaz can cost under €300,000, while a 400m² property with pool and 1,200m² of land near Geneva is closer to €950,000. Look beyond the ski chalets and apartments and you’ll find a wide variety of styles here.
A traditional Savoyard chalet is made from materials such as larch, which can withstand the extremes of the weather, from the glare of the alpine sun to heavy snow. Roofs can be constructed from stone, timber or metal. They feature overhanging eaves to protect from snowfall in winter and provide shade in summer. They also have generous balconies to make the most of the views.
Mazots were raised outbuildings used to store valuables away from the main chalet, where fire risks were higher. Few of the 19th-century originals remain, but modern versions are available. Small yet adorable, they can make wonderful miniature Alpine guest houses.
TOWN & CITY APARTMENTS
A two-bedroom luxury pad five minutes from the Geneva border with good access to the airport, can be yours for under €400,000, or opt for something smaller and simpler for under €200,000. In characterful locations, such as Évian and Annecy, you can choose from the historic town centre or the more contemporary outskirts.
NEW-BUILD SKI APARTMENTS
Purpose-built, new developments usually include ski lockers, good access to slopes, and certain décor options, plus the advance planning gives you time to prepare your move. You can buy a new 34m² apartment in Thollon-Les-Mémises for €150,000 for possession in January 2019. Always check annual charges, rental potential, ski conditions and accessibility.
PROPERTIES: AN OVERVIEW
Around 24 per cent of properties in Haute-Savoie are second homes, so the area is geared to the rentals and holiday lets market. For ski chalets, it’s hard to beat Chamonix for facilities and choice. Plentiful runs, reliable weather and solid tourism make it a great investment, but this comes at a price. Three- or four-bedroom chalets start at €650,000, but are usually closer to €999,000.
Apartments offer more choice: a one-bedroom 27m² ski flat in south Chamonix is possible for €185,000, but allow €470,000 for a more spacious two-bedroom 70m² property. In other ski resorts, such as Les Gets, you can invest in a newly renovated, south-facing 35m² apartment for €145,850. How about holiday apartments away from ski resorts? With €160,000, you can buy a three-bedroom 67m² apartment in Publier near Évian or a 30m² flat with views in Annecy. Head to peaceful Vacheresse, south of Lac Léman (aka Lake Geneva), and invest €199,000 for a beautiful three-bedroom duplex with garden, cellar and fabulous views.
Those house-hunters seeking a ready-made income can buy an existing holiday business, such as a ski chalet, holiday let or up-and-running guest house. The location and scale of the business dictates the asking price, but it can be reassuring to invest in a property with a proven track record of regular lets.
Regarding budget properties, it’s all about location and priorities. Economise by buying a little further from the ski lift or away from the top resorts, perhaps literally heading a little way down the mountainside. A mere €80,000 can net you a well-placed 17m² ski studio in Thollon-les-Mémises (a modest ski resort east of Évian) or a 45m² lakeside apartment in Meillerie. There are not many renovation opportunities here, but outbuildings or rundown properties occasionally come on the market – you just have to be ready to move quickly.
Lakeside properties are in high demand – especially in historic Annecy (twinned with Cheltenham Spa), where you’ll pay upwards of €350,000. However, waterside apartments with mountain views cost a much more reasonable €200,000 in Doussard.
As for family homes, you’ll have a choice of properties with €300,000 in your pocket – such as a 70m² house in Thollon-les-Mémises (east of Évian) or Lully (50 minutes east of Geneva). A budget of €400,000 will open up detached homes to you in popular Évian-les-Bains, including stone-built houses. Properties with no outside space are cheaper and need minimal maintenance, but can be harder to rent out or sell on, while a small courtyard offers the bonus of a spot for your sunlounger or bike.
If you’re investing to rent out, remember that although properties in the top resorts have a high price tag, the rental yield can be more reliable long-term.
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