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Alpine Scene

Press articles from Switzerland

Extract from "Nendaz: Skiing at night by the light of a full moon"
By Colin Nicholson - 8th March 20010 - The Telegraph

Colin Nicholson discovers the joy of special evening ski sessions.

Winter Park Ski Resort

The eerie, snow-covered landscape took on a slightly lunar feel.

One of the more vexing things about a skiing holiday is that, no matter how early you get up to catch your plane, by the time you arrive the lifts seem guaranteed to be closed. So how did we end up skiing on the first day of our holiday when we had only arrived in the resort at teatime? Because the Swiss resort of Nendaz, like many other francophone resorts, holds a monthly moonlit skiing evening.

It felt wrong to be catching a gondola in the dark at 7pm and there was something ominous about seeing the lights of the village disappearing behind us. Why were we embarking on this jaunt when we could be snug in some cosy bar?

Our doubts evaporated when we arrived at the Tracouet mountain restaurant to find the party in full swing. Alpenhorn players were entertaining a 200-strong crowd and we were all offered a glass of wine as an aperitif before supper.

These evenings started because mountain bars and restaurants were holding "lock-ins", where locals finished the evening by skiing down the mountain half-cut after one too many vins chauds. This was a headache for ski patrollers, who like to ski down the pistes to check that everyone is safely down, but preferably half an hour after the lifts close, not last thing at night. So the resort adapted these illicit gatherings into a monthly event to coincide with the full moon, with the ski patrol doing a final check of the pistes at 11pm.

For about £20 (£13 for children), you get a lift pass for the evening, the aperitif, copious helpings of pasta and a glass of vin chaud on the piste. It's particularly popular with local families, who get a discount with a season pass, and for us it was most welcome as we were self-catering and hadn't gone shopping.

Most people only discover the huge 4 Vallées ski area through the expensive resort of Verbier. But, recently, tour operators such as Crystal have started offering affordable self-catering accommodation in Nendaz, which is right at the heart of the region.

After we had tried every combination of sauces on our second helpings of pasta, and when the band in the restaurant took a break, we thought we'd better venture outside for some skiing. At first we felt ill-prepared, as most people wore headlamps, but we soon found we could see a lot by the light of the moon, with a little help from floodlights by the lift.

The eerie, snow-covered landscape took on a slightly lunar feel. We could still see the other skiers clearly, so it didn't feel dangerous, and going up on the drag lift their little lights made them look like fireflies, dipping and swaying as they descended the short piste.

At the bottom of the lift, staff were dishing out glasses of warming, low-alcohol vin chaud, so we did a surprising number of runs. But when we were ready to call it a night, we faced a point of no return. Should we follow the others heading down the mountain, or should we take the gondola?

In some resorts the descent is made in the company of guides or ski instructors, as you'd expect if you were skiing off-piste on the moonlit glacier of the Vallée Blanche in Chamonix, or the glacier at Les Deux Alpes. The same is true in Alpe d'Huez, where instructors escort you down the 10-mile Sarenne run - said to be the longest piste in the world.

Other resorts, such as La Clusaz, place more emphasis on the après side of things and in Tignes you are guided by instructors holding flaming torches. We decided on the gondola, in a very sensible, British sort of way.

Coming down, we watched the fireflies dancing beneath us and I was suddenly seized with regret at our decision. Of course, there will be other opportunities. Because the phases of the moon are the same the world over, this month's events, whether in Val d'Isère or Val d'Irène in Québec, will be over the weekend closest to the full moon on March 27. And for families who prefer to plan further ahead, next year's full moons fall at the start of the Christmas break, half-term and in the middle of the Easter holiday.

Studying the fireflies more closely, we noticed that four of them seemed to bounce about in a line. We thought they could only be a young family, with the father leading the pack, two under-10s in between, and the mother picking up stragglers. How ridiculously cowardly we had been

Extract from "Fringe Value"
By Haig Simonian - Published: January 15 2010

A shared first letter and a big ski lift system apart, little otherwise links Verbier and Veysonnaz in French-speaking Switzerland. Verbier is trendy and expensive, its challenging and extensive skiing plus the celebrity factor having made a once quiet village into a stellar European resort. Veysonnaz, one of a handful of villages in the same "Four Valleys" lift system, is small, quiet and utterly unpretentious.

But as Verbier’s property prices have climbed as high as its towering Mont-Fort peak and construction has neared its limits, the rest of the Four Valleys is coming into its own.

"In the 1950s and 1960s, Verbier, Nendaz, Veysonnaz and the other villages were probably quite similar. Then Verbier took off: the British arrived and it profited much faster than the others," says Manu Broccard, director of the Coeur du Valais tourist region covering much of the area.

"The other villages developed much more slowly. But that allowed them to be different. Verbier is for people who are sporty and like skiing but also like partying and big names. If you’ve got a fat wallet, Verbier is great. But there’s more to the Four Valleys than that."

As Verbier’s prices have rocketed, buyers have refocused. The other villages all access the same 410km of pistes and the substantial off-piste potential that underlines the Four Valleys’ attractions. But the satellites do so at significantly lower prices.

"The villages are becoming more familiar as buyers have grasped the value they offer - even by Swiss standards. Prices in Nendaz are about half those of Verbier, while Veysonnaz and Les Collons are about a third cheaper still

But as Verbier’s property prices have climbed as high as its towering Mont-Fort peak and construction has neared its limits, the rest of the Four Valleys is coming into its own.

"In the 1950s and 1960s, Verbier, Nendaz, Veysonnaz and the other villages were probably quite similar. Then Verbier took off: the British arrived and it profited much faster than the others," says Manu Broccard, director of the Coeur du Valais tourist region covering much of the area.

"The other villages developed much more slowly. But that allowed them to be different. Verbier is for people who are sporty and like skiing but also like partying and big names. If you’ve got a fat wallet, Verbier is great. But there’s more to the Four Valleys than that."

As Verbier’s prices have rocketed, buyers have refocused. The other villages all access the same 410km of pistes and the substantial off-piste potential that underlines the Four Valleys’ attractions. But the satellites do so at significantly lower prices.

"The villages are becoming more familiar as buyers have grasped the value they offer - even by Swiss standards. Prices in Nendaz are about half those of Verbier, while Veysonnaz and Les Collons are about a third cheaper still

All the satellite villages offer broadly similar levels of convenience, lying about 15-20km from Sion, which is about 90 minutes’ drive by motorway from Geneva airport and on Switzerland’s intercity train network. Last year’s completion of the Lötschberg tunnel even accelerated rail times from the north. And this winter Snowjet has started twice daily weekend flights from London Stansted to Sion’s tiny airport. Meanwhile, new and improved lifts have linked the outlying villages better than ever into the Four Valleys system.

Each has retained its own character. La Tzoumaz, lying at 1,500 metres and the closest to Verbier, has remained surprisingly small and quiet, partly because it only recently improved lift access.

Nendaz, sitting at 1,400 metres on a shelf on the south side of the Rhone valley, has, by contrast, mushroomed. The village now has 25,000 guest beds as individual chalets and small apartment blocks have sprouted above and below the two roughly parallel streets that form the main shopping area and provide access to the ski lift.

Veysonnaz, a bit further round the mountain and also at 1,400 metres, caters for much the same family market but is far smaller, with only 5,000 beds. Further round still comes Les Collons, an even smaller and more dispersed hamlet, with just one hotel and a few restaurants scattered around the hillsides.

None of the villages, apart possibly from Nendaz, offers any real nightlife and none commands anything like Verbier’s name recognition. However, for buyers attracted by the skiing but excluded by Verbier’s prices or put off by its Sloaney image, all warrant consideration.

Which to choose depends on personal preferences and budgets. Nendaz is the most town-like. Its Mer de Glace project on the main street will offer apartments in four chalet-like blocks on three levels. All will have access to the spa and services available to guests of the 80-room, four-star hotel also being incorporated, with prices from SFr1.24m-SFr2.26m.

But while Mer de Glace apartments will be free of the usual Swiss permit requirements for non-residents, owners will be obliged to rent out their properties for part of the year. That reflects the new arrangements introduced in the canton of Valais to help combat underused holiday homes and overbuilding.

Les Collons, at 1,800 metres, and Les Masses, at 1,500, are more isolated. Both lack a real centre and buyers will need a car to get around. But the villages win hands down on scenery. While Nendaz and Veysonnaz, facing north, look down on to the workshops and apartment blocks of Sion on the floor of the Rhone valley, Les Collons’s panorama is unadulterated alpine wonderland.

Extract from "In frosty market, Switzerland Sizzles"
By Sara Seddon Kilbinger - New York Times 6th March 2009

For years Switzerland has been best known for its dizzying array of ski resorts and breathtaking scenery, not to mention its status as a financial hub but now its gaining recognition for something else entirely: a housing market that has defied the global downturn and where business is booming.

Strong demand for upmarket homes, partly driven by the limited supply, has pushed up prices in the past year. Most notably, prices for chalets in the traditional Alpine ski resorts have risen by as much as 20% in the last year alone"Buyers are showing strong particular favour for the Cantons of Vaud and Valais in the Southwest, predominantly French-speaking part of the country, made popular by its well known ski resorts, including Verbier and Four Valleys resorts in Valais.

The Swiss residential market is considered a safe investment, both historically and because of its tax haven status, which attracts high net worth individuals.

In addition to restricting the number of homes available to foreign buyers, the market is tightly regulated, forbidding a foreign buyer to resell a home for 5 to 10 years depending on the region and development. As such it is not possible to "flip" properties for quick profits which brings great stability.

Recent sales suggest that the market has yet to be affected by the global recession.

According to the Swiss firm Wuest & Partner, which tracks national house prices in conjunction with the country’s Federal Statistics Office, average house prices in Switzerland rose by almost 4%  from 2007 to 2008 against a backdrop of falling prices elsewhere in Europe.

In popular tourist areas, prices have risen even more steeply owing to limited supply and a surge in foreign buyers in recent years, said Herbert Stoop, a managing partner at the advisory firm DTZ in Zurich: "Prices in tourist destinations in Switzerland have risen exorbitantly in the past 5 years as they are so exclusive. Prices in many areas have risen by 50% in the period.

Foreign buyers in Switzerland are predominantly from Britain, the United States, Germany, Italy and France.

Extract From Daily Mail, City Focus (Switzerland)
By Sam Fleming - June 2009

"Anyone who is under the impression that Britain was alone in suffering a housing crash should think again. The global financial collapse has sent dozens of the worlds property hot spots into deep freeze, research shows.
Latvia and Dubai have suffered the biggest housing crashes of any country worldwide with values tumbling a third over the past 12 months following the implosion of speculative bubbles.

Singapore and the US follow in third and fourth place suffering declines of 23.8pc and 16.pc respectively. Britain lies in fifth place with a 16.5pc decline, the survey by estate agents Knight Frank revealed.

By contract the countries that sat on the sidelines during the decade’s property boom are enjoying fairer conditions.

Israel has enjoyed a 10.9pc surge in values over the last twelve months to March, closely followed by the Czech Republic at 9.9pc and Jersey at 6.9%.

Switzerland whose prudent citizens have long eschewed the excitement of property speculation in favour of renting came in fourth on the league table with a 5.6pc annual increase.

Knight Frank said that the best performing markets are those which are smaller and suffer from fewer structural imbalances.

Switzerland offers a good example. While former banking champion UBS was holed below the waterline because of its sub-prime investments, the domestic property market has remained a tame affair. Between 1985 and 2005, prices rose a paltry 1.5pc a year.

Nearly two-thirds of families rent and foreign investment is subject to government restrictions.

A surge is Swiss home values during the late 1980’s triggered prompt action by the central bank, bringing the mini boom smartly to an end"

Extract from "Its tough if you are not Swiss"
By Nicola Venning -16th February 2008 - Financial Times

Nicola Venning reports on buying a snow home in Switzerland without the hassle.

Like many buyers seeking an alpine home, British born Konrad Czajka was enticed by Switzerland’s cosy snow covered villages, superb powdery slopes and comfortable high quality homes. But when he and his wife Janina, tried to buy an apartment, he was shocked by the complicated buying process, particularly in certain cantons. 

"Nothing is straightforward, " says Conrad who runs his own healthcare company near Shipley, West Yorkshire. "The Valais [canton] was off putting because of the restrictions and the problem getting permits".

Swiss authorities have recently restricted the number of foreigners buying in the country after a backlog of applicants, rising demand and fears of over-building spooked the authorities. Now the number of foreign buyers who can buy is regulated by a strict permit system. 

Although these controls are effective throughout Switzerland, they are tightest around cities such as Geneva and some of the more popular alpine cantons, with fashionable resorts, such as Verbier in Valais. 

Though it is still possible to buy in the Valais, most purchasers tend to be in the canton’s lesser known resorts where the rules are not so strict.

But if you want a snow home without the hassle, the simple solution is to buy in another, less restrictive district such as neighbouring Vaud. 

One of the most charming alpine resorts is pretty Villars sur Ollon in the heart of the Vaud Alps and part of the wine growing district. This cosmopolitan village is now busier than ever as an increasing number of apartments is being built to satisfy demand. Not surprisingly, prices have been rising between 8 - 10 per cent a year. 

"Villars has been the best performing [in property terms] place in Switzerland over the past five years" says James Hickman, managing director of Caxton FX Currency Exchange. "Its very scenic and there are no restrictions on foreigners buying. 

Unlike many alpine villages that almost shut in the off season, there is a healthy year round community that attracts the international jet set. Formula one racing drivers such as David Coulthard and Jacques Villeneuve have homes there. 

Family friendly Villars is a 90 minute drive from Geneva. There is also an express train from the city to the town of Bex where you can change trains to Aigle village. From here its only a 20 minute trip by bus or taxi up the mountain to Villars . 

Though relatively low at 1,300m Villars has direct links to the Glacier Les Diablerets at 3000m where it is possible to ski the 125km (78 miles) of terrain until May. In fact people have been skiing here for more than 70 years. In 1938 Villars was voted one of the top resorts in Europe though this accolade was short lived due to the outbreak of the second world war.

However if its real alpine tranquillity you seek, consider some of the quieter outlying villages. Quaint Les Diablerets at the foot of the glacier about 13 miles away is almost 20% cheaper than Villars.  Alpine Property Investments has 6 remaining 1000 sq metre mountainside plots out of 10. A three-bedroom 160m2 sq metre chalet starts from SFr 1.3m including the land, with completion due next February.

One very traditional former farming village is charming Leysin, a 15 minute drive from Aigle train station. Famous for its sunshine it was a popular place for convalescents in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Because of its international schools, there are many American and French property owners.

Alpine Property Investments is building 26 individual chalets on the slopes next to Leysin’s telecabine. Eleven will be built in the first phase this year on plots of 800 - 1000 metres in size. Prices including land and chalet start from SFr 1.2m. The company is also selling less expensive apartments from SFr 710’000 CHF and large chalets from SFr 1.18m.

Nick Gaillet who works for Shell and his wife, Amanda, bought a 4 bedroom chalet for themselves and their 4 children through Alpine Property Investments last year. The 5 year old residence, the former family home of a German family, cost SFr 1.25m - about half the price they would have expected to have paid in Villars.

"We did not want an established area like Villars which I don’t think is affordable" says Nick. "Leysin is off the beaten track and low key, though there is a lot of construction going on at the moment and more English people are buying in the area".

Although buying is easier in the Vaud canton, it is also more expensive. Purchase costs can be anything between 2.5 - 5% here compared to just 2.5% in the Valais. However one big advantage in the Vaud is that foreign buyers have to hold onto their homes for only 5 years - rather than the 10 that they have to hold it for in the Valais - before they can sell.

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