A chalet for all seasons

With snowfall becoming less reliable, resorts are striving to offer rental income all year, says Graham Norwood
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The 2007 ski season looks like a perfect warning to resorts and developers who need to take account of milder winters - some Alpine resorts opened later while north American ski destinations restricted tourist numbers because of limited snowfalls.

But a few developers are ahead of the game. In the past 12 months an array of new schemes have combined high-altitude skiing and year-round facilities to reassure buyers who may be wary of traditional ski resorts with ever-shortening seasons.

In Spain the Pradollano, 30 minutes from Granada in the Sierra Nevada, was officially the first ski-resort in the whole of Europe to open for the 2006-7 season.

The lowest ski station is 2,100 metres above sea level and the highest 3,300 metres, making it snow-assured. The Granada authorities are now considering a cable-car service direct from Granada city centre, scheduled to open in 2010.

"It's the altitude that makes Pradollano worth a look. Although the sunniest resort in Europe, the temperature is low enough for it to start snowing in October, with the season extending to April," explains Barbara Woods of The Property Finders, a buying agency that locates properties in the resorts for would-be British purchasers.

To add to Pradollano's year-round appeal, the coastal beaches of Salobrena and Almunecar are 45 minutes away and the Alhambra can be reached in 30 minutes.

"If you're looking for excellent rental potential then pick villages most popular with Spaniards. Typically, Spaniards will rent an apartment for the whole season and use it at weekends and public holidays," says Woods, who suggests that suitable rentable properties with views of the Sierra start at €200,000 (£142,000) and can rise to €750,000 (£535,000).

Meanwhile, some schemes in the more traditional ski resort areas of France and Switzerland are also preparing for warmer climes.

In the Swiss canton of Valais, work recently started on a thermal spa complex at the 2,500-metre level near Grimentz to increase the resort's year-round appeal. There are already 100km of trails for walking and biking, a golf course and plenty of lakes for swimming and fishing, plus summer activities such as tennis too.

There are properties being built there which are marketed in the UK by Pure International. Le Flives is a collection of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments from £295,943 with the emphasis on high spec interiors with large windows and lots of natural light.

Pure is also launching a contemporary ski-in apartment and chalet scheme named La Residence in an elevated position overlooking the village, priced from £240,000 for an 80 sq m apartment to £420,000 for a 140-sq m chalet. The firm says this project will appeal to a young, design-conscious audience, and it features in-chalet IT, floor-to-ceiling windows and spacious loft-style interiors.

It appears these developments are not affected by a one-year moratorium on sales to overseas buyers in seven communes of Switzerland, revealed in a shock announcement just before Christmas (see box).

There is similar construction underway in the French Alps to turn traditional ski areas into wider holiday resorts.

New homes in Champagny en Vanoise, said to be one of the prettiest villages in the French Alps, are being completed in the next few weeks. French developer MGM is building 80 two-bedroom apartments in a wooded corner of the Paradis skiing area, which boasts 420 km of slopes surrounded by stunning scenery.

"The nearby Bellecote glacier, at an altitude of 3,000 metres, helps to ensure snow throughout a long ski season from December to May," says MGM's UK sales manager, Natalie Turchet.

Other facilities will include an indoor pool, sauna and jacuzzi as well as steam and fitness rooms. The area, in the heart of the Vanoise National Park at Champagny, is little-known by British skiers but ideally suited to family holidays. It is an hour by car from the airport at Chambery and two hours from Lyon.

The scheme is particularly targeted at investment buyers. Properties are available under a leaseback scheme including a guaranteed rental and reduced VAT payments on the purchase price. Units start at £190,000.

No round-up of new ski developments could be complete without Bulgaria, now a member of the European Union and becoming increasingly familiar to British holiday home buyers.

Bansko, where a golf and equestrian centre opened last summer as part of the resort's continued efforts to attract year-round buyers, is attempting to move upmarket with its holiday homes.

St George's Lodge, for example, describes itself as a five-star ski and summer-leisure complex with 149 apartments built to British standards, using natural materials such as stone, granite and marble. There will be a swimming pool, sauna, gym and full ski facilities as well as a bistro and bar opening onto a large piazza.

There will be a total of 3,000sq m of non-ski entertainment and leisure space, a significantly higher proportion than most developments in Bansko. Prices of apartments, built by Parc Investments Group, range from £48,500 for a studio to £322,000 for a penthouse.

Bulgaria has come into its own so far in the 2007 ski season with Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo reporting 15cm of new snow daily in early-to-mid January, attracting skiers worried by the relative lack of snowfall in western Europe.

Tourist numbers in Bansko are likely to exceed the one million mark for the first time by the end of the 2006-7 ski season, say tourist authorities - a sign that even if the weather is making skiing difficult these days, enthusiasts are willing to travel to and buy in new locations to find snow.

The Property Finders, 020-7518 0335, www.thepropertyfinders.com; Pure International, 020-7331 4500, www.pureintl.com; MGM Properties, 020-7494 0706, www.mgmfrenchproperties.com; St George's Lodge apartments from Savills, 020-7016 3740, www.savills.com.

Buying in Switzerland

International buyers hoping to snap up holiday homes in some popular ski areas of Switzerland have been hit by an unexpected ban on foreign purchases.

Seven communes - Outer Verbier, Grimentz, Heremence, Nendaz, Riddes, Val d'Illiez and Veysonnaz communes in the Valais canton - have invoked a one-year moratorium on foreign buyers to clear a backlog of 1,000 purchases already agreed and awaiting formal authorisation.

"This rather sudden announcement might appear draconian on the face of it and will be a disappointment to some developers and agents who have been exploiting the sale of Valais property to overseas investors," admits Jeremy Rollason, international developments director of British estate agent Savills International.

"Purchasers of properties in the affected resorts who have not had their application acknowledged prior to January 1 will not be able to exchange contracts in 2007," warns Sean Collins, managing director of Pure International, one of Britain's largest agents selling properties in Switzerland. His firm is postponing the marketing of chalets in one of the affected areas until 2008 at least.

All other cantons remain unaffected but buyers are recommended to contact estate agents for up-to-the-minute details of the restrictions.