Alpes suisses

Un paysage de carte postale

Iyna Bort Caruso

Mountains cover nearly two-thirds of Switzerland. The country’s defining geographical feature has been the backbone of Swiss tourism for more than a century.

This living postcard of a country has one of the highest rates of foreign residents in Europe--22.8 percent, according to Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The draw is no mystery. The standard of living strikes an enviable work-life balance with a low crime rate, high health care standards and famously beautiful scenery.

In the Alps, peaks like the iconic Matterhorn and Jungrau fire the imagination. Resort towns such as Zermatt, St. Moritz and Davos have built-in international cache. The region’s vast network of mountain trails attract outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes, and the well-developed infrastructure caters to the well-heeled.

The Swiss Alps real estate market has been a consistently solid one with few speculators. The influx of international buyers focuses on top-tier properties. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Swiss vacation homes are typically more expensive than their counterparts in other alpine regions.

Foreign nationals who live aboard are generally permitted to buy vacation homes in tourist areas, but purchases are regulated. Buyers face restrictions, which include quotas set by the federal government as well as limitations imposed by the local canton or state. Conditions vary. In some areas, buyers are prohibited from buying beyond a certain size, limited to residences that are already foreign-owned or re-selling within a certain period of ownership. Other areas are more liberal and non-residents enjoy a wider choice.

These days, mountain homes are being reinterpreted to expand on the vernacular architecture of Alpine chalets. Examples are the designs of Swiss Pritzker Prize-winning architect Peter Zumthor who built minimalist vacation cabins on a mountainside in the hamlet of Leis. Other visionaries have abandoned wood logs for sculptural forms in concrete. The result is Alpine chic.