With the recent global economic travails and concerns over inconsistent snowfalls, European ski resorts have been some of the biggest losers in the real estate market recently. Prices throughout the Alps have been badly affected over the last couple of years, with France having been particularly vulnerable.
However, there is one resort that has defied the tremors shaking Alpine real estate: Courchevel. The famous, and glamorous, resort is located at the eastern end of a huge ski area called Les Trois Vallées, which incorporates the other first-class Alpine villages of Méribel, Méribel-Mottaret, Les Ménuires and Val Thorens and covers more than 370 miles of slopes.
While there are fears among experts that long-term global warming could push the snowline up in years to come, the Trois Vallées domain boasts slopes at altitudes up to 10,500 ft, so it is one of the best-positioned in France to guarantee long seasons.
Split into four separate villages all named after their metric altitude—1850, 1650, 1550 and 1300 Le Praz—Courchevel really does offer something for all skiers and it is therefore not surprising that it has a huge global following. Much press coverage has been given to the resort’s popularity with Russian oligarchs—Roman Abramovich, Vladimir Potanin and Mikhail Prokhorov are all said to have visited—and it’s a firm favorite with American film stars including George Clooney, Uma Thurman and Bruce Willis.
There has also been much ado in the press about the over-inflated prices that have been paid to own a small piece of Courchevel. For example, there is currently a two-bedroom, two-bath chalet near the center of Courchevel 1850—the most luxurious and expensive of the four villages—for a staggering €6,300,000, which makes the price per square foot one of the most expensive in the world.
Situated in the Savoie region in the heart of the French Alps, to the west of the Italian border, Courchevel was designed by French architect Laurent Chappis in the 1940s specifically to attract the rich and famous. It boasts 62 ski lifts, 119 downhill slopes and nearly 100 miles of ski runs.
Courchevel 1850 is the pièce de résistance in terms of facilities and accommodation—with its own mini-airport and a plethora of top-notch restaurants and hotels. There is almost no more space on which to build, so prices remain some of the highest in the Alps, and there is rarely a bargain to be found. Apartments are definitely more affordable than chalets, with a two bedroom apartment in an attractive,wooden Alpine-style building currently on the market for €575,000.
But enthusiastic skiers with smaller budgets need not be put off by such enormous figures. There are pockets within the Courchevel area where prices are more affordable and the skiing just as accessible.
Courchevel 1550, the resort’s original village, and its neighbor 1650, also known as Moriond, also have excellent access to ski lifts, and command pretty elevated prices for property, although significantly less than higher up the peaks. Matt Hodder-Willliams from real estate agents Knight Frank explains: “You’re still looking at paying around €3 million for a four-bedroom, four-bath chalet in 1650, whereas the same chalet in 1850 would cost you between €5-6 million.”
Prices in Courchevel 1300—usually referred to as just Le Praz—fall slightly lower. Expect to pay around €1.5 million for a four-bedroom chalet. Of course you must also be prepared for less reliable snowfalls, although access to the other, higher sections of the Trois Vallées is still very good. Le Praz enjoys a much more family-oriented atmosphere, and is certainly the most attractive of the Courchevel villages, still retaining much of its traditional Savoie character. Those après-skiers who want to enjoy the bright lights of 1850 can always board an excellent free shuttle bus that runs between resorts from around 8 am until the early hours of the next morning.
A three-bedroom apartment currently listed with Knight Frank in Courchevel 1300 is priced at €895,000—although such properties do tend to be snapped up almost as soon as they are advertised, such is the resort’s popularity. Jessica Delaney, from Investors in Property says, “The Alpine resorts in general have taken a dent but Courchevel is Courchevel. As with all property markets, location is very important. Properties in Courchevel will always hold their price. But it is true to say,”she adds, “that the lower you go down the mountain, the lower the prices go.”
Hodder-Williams couldn’t agree more, and he urges buyers looking for a bargain to look slightly beyond the confines of Courchevel proper to secure real value for money. For example, an eco-development of brand new Alpine chalets is currently being built in the hamlet of Le Freney, just a little over half a mile from Le Praz and less than a three-minute drive to ski lifts that have access to the entire Trois Vallées. These top-of-the-range chalets, built by local builders, can recycle and store water and have been designed with triple glazing and a double ventilation system. Prices begin at €719,000.
Another very interesting village to investigate is La Tania, which is connected to Courchevel by a cable car. La Tania, which lies at 4600 ft (1400 meters), was only built in the early 1990s in preparation for the 1992 Winter Olympics held in Albertville. Designated as a home base for competitors and journalists, it is set in a beautiful pine forest with lots of wooden chalets, and it’s traffic free. For many, it is the prettiest village of them all, popular with families and those seeking good value. Here, a one bedroom apartment in a newly renovated apartment block is currently on the market for a reasonable €186,000.
Courchevel has often been compared to Aspen, in the United States, but Americans buying in the French Alpine resorts so far have been few and far between. “We do have a lot of American inquiries about Provence, and are noticing more and more for the Alps, from people who just love anything French,” says Hodder-Williams.
“The Courchevel area is undoubtedly the best ski area in the whole of Europe,” says Hodder-Williams, “and it’s popular with people from all over the world. And now, with the improved infrastructure, it’s so easy to get to Courchevel from Geneva or Lyon—both of which have big international airports—and that makes it even more appealing.”
Courchevel, approximately a two-hour drive from either airport, is also a sure bet for investors looking for a stable buy-to-rent property. “The rental market is certainly good,” notes Hodder-Williams. “It may not be as strong as it was two years ago, but there is always a shortfall of accommodation in the area, and if you are willing to be flexible in your pricing, it’s pretty reliable.”
Originally published in the March 2010 issue of France Today.