Home to the some of the world’s best ski resorts, Haute Savoie is the go-to corner of the French Alps for anyone in search of a top-notch mountain pad that’s as fun to visit in the summer as during the snowy winter months…
Location and landscape
Boasting the highest peaks in the Alps, Haute Savoie is a mountainous nook that borders Switzerland and Lake Geneva on its eastern and northern sides, as well as a section of the Italian Alps in its south-eastern corner, which includes the mighty Mont Blanc. It is one of the 12 departments that make up France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.
The various mountain ranges within Haute Savoie are characterised by forested slopes, deep mountain passes, traditional Savoyard villages and, up above the snow-line, plenty of glaciers. Awash with freshwater, it includes glorious Lake Annecy, lots of rivers and a selection of pretty spa towns. Much of the terrain falls within one of nine national nature parks.
Notable areas and resorts
For starters, there is Chamonix, the oldest and most established resort in the French Alps, located beneath Mont Blanc and offering some of the most challenging skiing in the world. A picturesque town, with boutique shopping and international restaurants, it’s also a hub for climbing and all types of mountain-based activities, making it as popular in the summer as in the winter. Skiing is spread across five areas in the Chamonix Valley, including Les Houches, Grands Montets and Brévent.
Elsewhere, Megève, with its chocolate-box architecture and old-world charm, is arguably the chicest resort in the area and attracts the more affluent homeowners. Or for endless and diverse pistes, family friendliness and reliable snow, the Portes du Soleil ski area is hard to beat. It includes the popular resorts of Avoriaz, Morzine, Les Gets and Châtel. Similarly, there is the impressive Grand Massif area, which links Flaine with four other resorts.
A highlight of Haute Savoie is the diversity of resorts, from the more modern purpose-built ones, such as Avoriaz or Flaine, to the older, more traditional ones, many of which retain their farming roots and picturesque Savoyard architecture.
First and foremost, people buy for the skiing and all the trimmings that come with it, not least the après-ski. Other winter-based fun to be had includes ice skating, tobogganing, cross-country skiing, ice climbing and husky sledging. Look closer though and typical resorts there offer a huge choice of activities that don’t require snow, making them attractive all year round. Besides trekking, mountain-biking or horse-riding, there are golf courses, tennis clubs, rivers and lakes for water-based thrills, and plenty of opportunities for aerial activities, such as para-gliding or hang-gliding.
In tune with the healthy living that mountain life embraces, many resorts have swimming and leisure complexes, with spas and wellness centres. Meanwhile, the larger resorts provide admirably for those who can kill a few hours browsing shops and fashion boutiques.
The average UK buyer is looking for a lock-up-and-leave apartment that’s just a short shuffle from the ski lift and amenities. Prices for this will vary hugely, depending on resort, location within a resort and whether you buy new or resale. For a well-situated apartment in swanky Megève, for example, you won’t have a huge choice below €400,000, and typical chalets there reach into the multiple millions of euros. Meanwhile, in more traditional and less trendy Châtel €200,000 upwards should get you plenty to choose from.
A common way to buy a French ski home is through a leaseback contract. This means that your property, usually bought brand new, is leased back to an operator, who manages the property the moment it is ready for use. It is a completely hands-off form of ownership, and in return owners receive a fixed rental return and typically can choose between two and six weeks’ personal use a year, although more flexible terms are increasingly available.
Leaseback properties are situated within serviced ‘résidences’, which typically have a reception, communal areas and selection of facilities, such as a pool and sauna. If you don’t want to be tied to the conditions that come with leaseback, opt for the traditional freehold ownership model, which would still allow you to rent out your property independently.
Geneva Airport is the gateway to the Haute-Savoie. On the Swiss-French border, the international airport receives flights from every corner of the UK, including all main London airports, as well as destinations from around the world. As a guide, a typical transfer to Chamonix, Les Gets or Megève takes just 70 minutes, while resorts like La Clusaz, Combloux, Les Carroz d’Arâches, Samoëns and St Gervais-les-Bains are all around an hour.
The Eurostar ski train could be another option, taking you direct from London to one of three towns in the Alps, including Bourg-Saint-Maurice, in around nine hours. Otherwise, the drive from Calais to the centre of Haute-Savoie shouldn’t be much more than eight hours, so loading up the car is feasible too.
Written by Overseas Guides Company.
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