03 January 2024 The Times

Where to buy an authentic holiday home in the French Alps

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You have to venture a little off-piste to find the real Alpine treasure — smaller villages with year-round charm and cheaper prices

Think of French ski resorts and you’ll probably summon the famous behemoths: Val-d’Isère, Val Thorens, Méribel and Tignes, locations that provide skiing on perfectly prepared slopes for an international crowd. But what if you crave a year-round village atmosphere, something authentic, quieter, more … le vrai France?

“That’s what clients increasingly want,” says Louis Andrews, director of the chalet rental specialist OVO Network. “They’re looking for village resorts with real Alpine character, local restaurants, picturesque mountain scenery and life beyond the ski season. Places with a more genuine Alpine experience, the antithesis of the purpose-built, high-rise resorts.”

The genuine Alpine experience should not come at the cost of convenience though. “Yes, many buyers want smaller, charming resorts,” agrees Guy Murdoch from the estate agency Savills Ski. “But only as long as the infrastructure is there. No one wants to be in a small village with nothing to do.”

France has plenty of smaller villages close to the big resorts that offer great value without dialling down the natural beauty or comfort. Andrews says his best chalets in these locations can achieve rental returns of 10 per cent or more, but they must be high-quality, four or five-star standard and come with all the extras: hot tub, sauna and cinema room. He points to Chalet Ladroit in Les Clefs as an example, 25 minutes by car from the La Clusaz mountain village, with an indoor heated pool, sauna and hammam.

Where to buy
Combloux

Ten minutes from super-smart Megève and sharing its ski area, Combloux is the quiet country cousin to its glamorous and glossy neighbour, with snow-sure Chamonix 40 minutes to the east. The village, population 2,100, looks across to Mont Blanc, with 62 miles of ski slopes on one side of the valley and via the Evasion Mont-Blanc lift pass 250 miles of slopes on the other side, including Megève and Saint Gervais-les-Bains, 14 minutes away towards Chamonix.

“Buyers like Combloux for its traditional Alpine beauty and convenience, with easy access to Megève and the extensive slopes, and summer activities including beautiful hiking paths there and at Chamonix,” Murdoch says. “The views of Mont Blanc are especially impressive from Combloux. It’s also just one hour from Geneva airport, so if you have a home in Combloux and know the snowfall is good it’s much easier to escape to the slopes for the weekend than if you had a three-hour plus transfer from the nearest airport.”

Murdoch puts the prices of chalets and apartments in Combloux at typically about a third less than in Megève. “Combloux has fewer restaurants, shops and sports facilities than Megève but is certainly dual-season,” he adds.

Orelle

Imagine if the Three Valleys, one of the world’s largest and most prestigious ski domains, with 370 miles of linked pistes running through the villages of Méribel, Courchevel and Val Thorens, had a fourth valley. The good news? It does: the Maurienne Valley, where ten tiny hamlets make up the village of Orelle. The addition of two high-speed lifts in 2021 means Orelle links directly into the eastern edge of the Three Valleys through Val Thorens, reaching Cime Caron at 3,200m in less than 20 minutes.

The new lifts have already raised interest in Orelle, Andrews says. “Our expansion into Orelle demonstrates how we can achieve high occupancy, up to 90 per cent, and high returns for properties in previously unheard of places. Orelle is a secret gateway to the Three Valleys, so that as well as the 150km in Orelle, you have access to the finest skiing in Méribel, Courchevel and Val Thorens while staying in a wonderfully natural and peaceful village.”

Manigod and Le Grand-Bornand

The Massif des Aravis, midway between Annecy and Chamonix, is a mix of traditional farming villages — it is the home of reblochon cheese — and ski resorts with 143 miles of runs and a top altitude of 2,477m. La Clusaz is the main name here for winter sports, but consider too the smaller villages of Manigod and Le Grand-Bornand.

Manigod, at 1,550m, is a little over one hour from Geneva and 35 minutes from Annecy, with 77 miles of slopes and a direct ski lift to La Clusaz.

“The whole Aravis Massif area is a gem,” says David Bhagat from the Property Vision International associate Alpine Property Intelligence. “It’s close to Geneva and Annecy, popular with the French and relatively undiscovered by the British. Le Grand-Bornand is a slightly larger village and property market than Manigod with property prices from €5,000 a square metre. Unlike in Manigod there is no direct ski link to La Clusaz, but it’s only three miles away with a regular bus service.”

The first time Paul Murray, 53, saw the Manigod valley he fell for its raw, natural beauty. “The mountains are majestic. I had never seen anything like it before. We had considered buying in France and Switzerland but as soon as I saw the valley it had to be there.”

That was in 2015. Paul and his wife, Annabel, and their children, Callum, 17, and Isla, 15, have holidayed in Manigod for several weeks every year since, as well as renting their place for up to 30 weeks a year. “I wanted a mountain base that would be a real family home, somewhere our children would come with their friends and holiday with us even when they had left home,” says Murray, who works in financial services. It has turned into a wonderfully sociable home. “Last Christmas we had three families around the table. It has been a really happy personal decision to buy this chalet.”

As well as the views Manigod’s peace provides welcome respite from a busy work life. “I didn’t want to be in a big ski station,” Murray says. “Manigod is just 3km from the ski slopes connecting to La Clusaz but is a traditional farming village, locked in time, where the cows head up to high pastures in summer and come down for winter. And the real secret is that summer is even better than winter. The cycling here is superb, and we drive down to Lake Annecy, 25 minutes away, to swim.”

Other Alpine locations to consider
Châtel — Savills put prices here at up to 20 per cent below those at Les Gets and Morzine. Makes up for a lack of traditional charm with proximity to Geneva and links into the vast Portes du Soleil.

Sainte-Foy — In this village in the Tarentaise, Savills says chalet prices are typically €8,000 to €10,000 a square metre compared with an average of about €30,000 in Val-d’Isère, 25 minutes away. Especially good for young families but not fully open year-round.

Champagny-en-Vanoise — This resort links to La Plagne and the wider Paradiski area, including Les Arcs and Peisey-Vallandry. Alpine Property Intelligence is selling Le Valloise, a new development with apartment prices from €373,000, or €9,000 a square metre.

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