Think French ski resorts and the chances are it's the ever-popular Alps which come to mind. The Alps have seen some of the strongest price rises across the country, while traditionally the Pyrenees have always been something of a poor relation. But today, growing numbers of British buyers are discovering that this lesser known region offers wonderful skiing, great accessibility and characterful property at affordable prices.
Stretching for 430km, the Pyrenees are geologically older than the Alps and, although they may not have lakes on the scale of the Alps, hot springs are dotted throughout the region, which are perfect for après ski. Forming around a sixth of the total, the Pyrenees of Languedoc-Roussillon rise from the eastern Mediterranean near the charming town of Collioure and end near the duty-free enclave of Andorra. While lacking the glamour and sheer size of the Alps, the appeal lies in their characterful villages, often Spanish influenced, the vast choice of property and, increasingly, new developments which are much in demand with investors who want low maintenance property.
Selection Property's Philippe Robin has been selling throughout France for over five years and tips Languedoc-Roussillon, and in particular its ski resorts, as a future hotspot. "The region has the strongest predicted economic growth of all 22 French regions," says Robin, who finds that most clients are investors looking for property which they can rent out and use themselves for several weeks per year. The company has several leaseback options, which are increasingly appealing to investors. "They offer guaranteed rental income and an on-site maintenance and management service so owners do not have to worry at all when they are not there," says Robin.
Selection Property also has a range of Alpine homes for sale but Robin finds that, for intermediate skiers, the Pyrenees hold more options. "If you're not into black pistes and sheer thrills then the Pyrenees are perfect as the wooded terrain is so pretty and you can also try cross-country skiing."
Alpine property prices are also steeper than the Pyrenees. Leaseback options in Saint Gervais in the Alps start from €232,000 (£166,000) for one-bedroom apartments, compared with Pyrenean development Le Pic de L'Ours at the popular resort of Font Romeu, where comparable apartments start from €144,000 (£103,000). Both developments offer rental returns of 4 per cent on furnished apartments with various options for personal use.
Le Pic de L'Ours lies within the heart of Fort Romeu's ski station, with unobstructed views over the surrounding mountains and valleys. Within walking distance of ski lifts, there are 102 apartments ranging from studios to three bedrooms with on-site facilities. Considered one of the best- equipped resorts in Europe, Font Romeu features 460 snow guns covering 54km of pistes and 26 ski lifts. There are also 100km of pistes for all levels of cross-country skiing and the area's exceptional weather conditions make it an attractive training base for many professional athletes, including the France football team.
While many buyers have been lured to ski resorts within emerging markets such as Bulgaria, Robin believes that there is now a shift back toward traditional markets such as France: "We're finding that people have serious budgets and realise that, while emerging markets may be cheap, in France you not only get a stable economy and political situation but you also get wonderful infrastructure."
Investment company Assetz are also selling throughout the region, and they too tip Languedoc-Roussillon as a key property hotspot for 2007 as they say it will experience higher levels of growth. Assetz France's Martin Sadler says: "The fantastic climate, excellent après-ski and sulphur baths have made Languedoc extremely popular both with skiers and out of season holidaymakers and the region also ranks as the number one retirement destination for French residents."
Some homes in the region offer the dual-season opportunity of coastal living and access to the mountains. Finca Majorca, in the beautiful village of Collioure, is not far from the foot of the Pyrenean Mountains, where 25 villas with two to four bedrooms and private gardens and 27 one- and two-bedroom apartments with balconies start from €162,400 (£116,000). Some properties have sea views.
But many buyers choose this region for its sheer choice of period property which, after renovation, can bring healthy profits. After giving up a stressful job in the City, Alex Charles renovated three properties in Languedoc-Roussillon, where he now runs Crème de Languedoc, a website full of property and travel advice for anyone considering this region.
Charles sold all three properties at a profit and says that there are plenty of renovation projects in the area but buyers must decide from two options: "The first is to buy a chalet near any of the region's seven ski resorts, which would give you great access to skiing and to the area's natural beauty in the summer. Or you could buy a house in the mountain foothills which are relatively close to the slopes but are also less remote and you'll also have access to beaches in the summer."
Buying somewhere which has dual-season interest is important for anyone relying on rental income and, apart from the mountains and coastline, the region abounds with interesting sights such as the Cathar castles and the Abbey of Saint Martin du Canigou. Crème de Languedoc currently has a range of property directly within ski resorts and in the foothills. A three-bedroomed, semi-detached farmhouse in pretty Mont Louis is around 90 minutes from the coast and an hour from Perpignan. A short drive brings you to ski resorts at Font Romeu and Cambre-d'Aze, also known as Saint Pierre del Forcats, a charming ski resort with 35km of runs which is especially good for families. With stunning mountain views, the house is ready to move into and is on the market for €95,000 (£68,000). In the same village, a stone barn with 600 sq m of land but needing complete renovation is on sale at €212,000 (£152,000). A fully renovated, four-bedroom detached chalet within five minutes of the pistes is on offer for €375,000 (£268,000).Reuse content