April 2009: This piece was in Homes Overseas - selected transcript of the piece and images below.

French Frosting

The craggy, snow-capped French Alps have lured British holidaymakers and second homebuyers for years - and it's easy to see why, especially as the array of towns and villages nestling in the mountains offer some of the best skiing around,
says Richard Webber

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The appeal of the French Alps extends far beyond the snowy winter months. During summer, valleys are bathed in sunshine and meadows carpeted with flowers, ideal conditions for those visitors enjoying the plethora of walking, hiking, biking and mountaineering opportunities.

A stalwart of the European property scene, France has one of the most mature markets around, resulting in high entry prices. But, according to Jeremy Rollason, managing director of Alpine Homes, a mature market has its advantages. "When there is economic instability, it is traditional markets, like the French Alps, which prove more solid than emerging markets." Inevitably the credit crunch and weak pound has impacted the French market. "Only well-priced properties with excellent specs are selling," admits Jeremy. "Buyers are dipping their toes in but not the volume over the last five years. But the fundamental product is still strong - after all, the Alps will always remain desirable."

Dominic Flint, head of marketing at French Mountain Property, concurs with Jeremy. "There is still plenty of interest but British clients are taking a cautious approach. At the top end of the market, though, clients - perhaps with foreign assets - are willing to commit."

Compared to the peak of 2007, prices have dropped up to 25 percent - in some cases more. Gascoignes International is discounting a new project in La Joue du Loup, in the Devoluy area, by up to 50 per cent...

The weaker market means vendors are inclined to consider offers, but Flint does not expect discounts like La Joue du Loup to become the norm. "There hasn't been a UK-style slide because not all the Eurozone countries and beyond are suffering as badly as the UK," Flint says.

The Alps remain consistently in demand, says Andrew Hawkins, head of Chesterton's International division. "Most Alpine destinations appeal internationally so the new-build property market, on the whole, seems to have remained pretty stable. Resale prices, however, are down, but many believe this is an accurate and welcome price correction..."

Increasing numbers of people are attracted by properties offering more than traditional winter use. "Some are looking to buy in ski villages lower down the mountains which are, therefore, ideal for summer use," says Martine Davies of Gascoignes International.

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Flint agrees: "Many buyers are looking beyond ski resorts to chalets in working villages which they can enjoy year-round. Active holidays are becoming increasingly popular. Buy a property 15 minutes outside Val d'Isere and you'll probably pay a quarter of the price. More people are now happy to drive to a resort."

La Plagne, Les Arcs and surrounding villages are "creeping back into the British consciousness", suggests Flint. "They were popular during the 1980s but price hikes by chalet and hotel owners meant that during the recession of the early '90s, British tour operators pulled the plug."

But with the Vanoise Express now linking the resorts, Brits are again looking beyond Val d'Isere and Tignes; villages with access to Le Arcs and La Plagne are back on the British radar, says Flint, who is marketing six apartments in the village of Montorlin, close to La Plagne, from around £276,000...

The popularity of the French Alps means rental income is possible. At Les Clos des Chozeaux, a luxury chalet where apartments start at £1.5 million, you could expect a rental potential from £2,200 per week during winter and £1,800 per month in summer.