Overseas: Mountain high

With fabulous views and year-round appeal, the Alps are the perfect place to buy a holiday home. By Laura Latham
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While the Brits flock to the coast during the summer and keep the mountains for winter pursuits, Europeans discovered long ago that there's more to the Alps than skiing.

A second home in the peaks offers all the fresh air, outdoor activities, blue skies and even lakeside beaches you might want and, if you avoid expensive, trendy resorts such as Courchevel or Gstaad, prices are often more affordable than around the Mediterranean.

Jessica Delaney, of Investors in Property, which specialises in Alpine homes, can't understand why more Brits don't spend summer in the mountains. "There are lovely areas with wonderful scenery and stunning lakes, the weather's great and there's lots to do."

Delaney is a fan of Austria, and the Carinthia province in particular. This region, south of Salzburg, is known as Austria's Lake District, yet has been largely overlooked by second-home owners.

Carinthia had its heyday in the early 1900s, when visitors flocked to famous spa towns, such as Bad Gastein. These places became less popular with tourists over the years but are still lovely, with fin de siècle buildings and majestic waterfalls. In addition, a programme of regeneration is set to provide a wave of new leisure and wellness resorts, alongside traditional-styled property developments.

Prices in the region can range from as little as £60,000 for one-bedroom apartments, with two-bed homes from £100,000 and larger chalets from £250,000. For something newer, with better facilities and location, expect to pay from £150,000 for an apartment up to between £350,000 and £600,000 for a four- or five-bedroom new build.

Investors in Property has three-bedroom chalets from as little as £140,000, luxury apartments in Bad Gastein from £195,000, and stunning three- to five-bedroom mountainside properties in Gerlitzen from £340,000.

Switzerland also attracts those wanting to enjoy the great outdoors all year round, though prices are dearer. Near Lake Geneva is the well-heeled mountain resort of Villars, which, unlike dedicated ski resorts, is busy year round and offers a fine selection of chic shops and restaurants. In summer, visitors relax amid the meadows in average temperatures of 24oC, sail and swim on the lake and hang out at the many festivals, such as Montreux's legendary jazz event.

Property includes chalets starting at £3m and apartments in new complexes from around £400,000. Pure International is currently marketing Le Cantarella, on the main road into town. Properties offer two- to five-bedrooms with spectacular views across the pine-forested Dent Valley. Prices start at £513,000, which may seem steep until you realise how sought after Villars has become. "Owning here means you have the opportunity to enjoy all the amenities of a five-star resort at an affordable price," says Pure's Tessa Chaffey. She also claims such properties will rent for around £1,500 to £2,000 per week in peak season. Meaning it makes great sense for non-skiers to use it all summer and rent it out at a premium through winter.

Around an hour from nearby Montreux is the Rhône Valley, where Chesterton International is selling a range of attractive units in the area, built by local developer Dumas. Properties include one- to three -bed apartments, opposite the public spa in peaceful Ovronnaz, from £199,000 and several high-spec developments in Nendaz. These start at £320,000 for a one-bedroom in the centrally located Les Etoiles de Nendaz, up to £676,336 for a penthouse in the Résidence Elizabeth.

"Demand for property is high but there's not enough supply to meet it," says Philippe Dumas, who is seeing an increase in UK buyers. "It was fashionable for the British to spend summer in the Alps in the 1800s and now it's back in vogue."

Investors in Property: 020-8905 5511, www.investorsinproperty.com; Chesterton International: 020-7201 2070, www.chesterton-international.com; Pure International: 020-7331 4500, www.pureintl.com

Buyers' guide

*Non-residents are only allowed to buy one property in Switzerland, which may have no more than 200m2 of dedicated living space.

*Non-Swiss can buy only in authorised areas subject to local authority (Canton) permission, which may mean joining a waiting list. A faster option is to buy in a development pre-authorised for sale to non-nationals.

*Non-resident owners in some areas of Austria must make their property available for rent, however, you can register as a company and reclaim the VAT on the purchase and upkeep.

*If you're not planning to use your home in winter or want to rent it, you'll need to make arrangements with a local management company to help with issues such as maintenance and snow clearance.