Property in the Port Du Soleil
3rd February 2012
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Property in the Port Du Soleil



I feel like a roving property reporter, and having just been fortunate enough to spend a week skiing in Morzine, which is a small French alpine town, located close to the Swiss border, approximately 80 miles from Genève thought I would take a quick look at their built environment.  The town nestles in a valley, from where the skiing runs can be accessed by cable car and chair lift. It is a traditional picturesque alpine town, straddling the banks of a river, which expands into an absolute torrent when the spring melt occurs.   A lot of the buildings in the middle of the town are quite old, although over the last forty years, as in many other Alpine areas, there has been a lot of building taking place.


A lot of the old buildings are of stone construction, with wooden roofs and rock slabs for tiles, and the new buildings tend to be a mixture of reinforced concrete walls with block wall infill and rendered, painted outer surfaces. The architects have broken up the overall look by using extensive wooden cladding, to soften the appearance of the town centre. Window sizes tend to be quite small, and many of the older houses have wooden shutters on the outside, to protect the windows through inclement weather, a typical alpine look.


The houses are designed to survive a mountain environment, which is cold, rugged and windy.  Weather fronts passing through have a propensity to dump large volumes of snow on the buildings at regular intervals through the winter period. On the last day we were there, the village received 5 centimetres of snow overnight, the villages further up the valley were actually snowed in, awaiting the morning road clearance, which was completed by the local council with very swift efficiency. Regularly the depth of snow on the roofs will exceed 75 centimetre depth, this in turn requires the roof structure to support quite a weight of water, in addition to the weight of the roof it self. 


The gutters and down pipes are without exception made of metal, either copper or galvanised steel. They are strong, and can cope with the weight of large volumes of ice building up in the gutter without bending.  Down pipes tend to be either short and point away from the building after a fall of approximately one meter or more substantial directly coupling into under ground drains. The big difference between Morzine and Evesham; is that the metal gutters were still in place, there is little theft taking place in the town. In fact it was very evident that the locals took a real pride in the appearance of their town, no graffiti was evident.


Without exception the alpine lodges have warm roofs, that is the ceilings of the top bedrooms are just below the roof structure, minimising wasted space internally, and the overall size of the buildings are quite large, again maximising the ratio of internal space to external wall area, an important equation when you are considering heating a building in extreme cold conditions.  No wasted cold attic spaces here. The structure of the roof is supported by purlins, which sit on top of the walls.  The thickness and size of the wooden beams tend to be substantial, capable of supporting large loads, they also tend to be made into architectural features, and look very attractive, when you are sitting under them, sipping the mulled wine.


Modern external roof construction is heavily insulated.  It still uses wood and felt to provide a waterproof layer, but the outer layer has changed from slabs of sheet rock to metal profiled sheeting, with snow rails, to prevent snow from sliding quickly off the roof onto passers by below.  Not quite so picturesque, but a practical solution to a problem.


Wall construction is also starting to change.  Quite often the modern chalet will have an outer stone construction, with an insulation sandwich, similar to our cavity wall construction, but it is by no means used everywhere.  Windows are either double or triple glazed and the modern window frames still tend to be of wood construction, to retain the aesthetic alpine look. Use of concrete is quite common, but the working environment does throw up some special requirements. Quite often one has to pour wet concrete with antifreeze, to prevent it from freezing before it has a chance to set. Also building in working temperatures of minus 20 degrees centigrade throws up a whole range of problems, particularly when the temperature remains below zero for many weeks on end.


Internally, heating tends to be either by wet central heating system, using fuel oil to run the boiler, or electric panel heaters.  No North Sea gas here. Where used, radiators tend to be controlled by thermostatic radiator values, giving room by room control.  Occasionally, one sees under floor heating, but only in the newest of apartments.  In private houses and hotels, you still tend to see fireplaces with wood burning stoves, as they form a feature and are extremely pleasant to sit in front of, particularly after a hard days exercise. In all sorts of nooks and crannies, one sees large piles of firewood cut ready for burning, and you cannot beat the smell of burning pinewood.


Floors also tend to be quite practical in design.  Ground floors are usually solid, with a tiled surface.  The first and second floors tend to be typical joisted wooden floors, with carpets in the older buildings.  In the newer buildings, extensive use of precast concrete floors was made, as it is a relatively simple form of construction to complete. I saw very few fitted carpets, practicality rules the day.  Walking in with wet shoes and ski boots tends to make a mess of the floor, at least with a tiled surface you can simply mop the floor down.


My overall impression of their built environment is that the architecture of the last thirty years has resulted in some very utilitarian looking buildings.  However, as the French try and expand their tourism industry, they are paying more attention to the external appearance of their buildings, to recapture the classic alpine look one would expect to see on the lid of a biscuit box, while still retaining modern design functionality. I have not been back to the resort for three years, and was astounded by the volume of new building which has taken place.  Still, whatever the building style anything looks nice if it is covered with a meter of snow, and I hope it will not be too long before I am able to get away to the Alps again.

This is an original article by Tony Rowland, The Property Doctor of Timothy Lea and Griffiths Estate and Letting Agents, Evesham.
About the Author

Alan J

Member since: 10th July 2012

Whilst running The Best of Evesham I am also locally focussed on doing what I can for the local community in profiling what is going on.A prolific user of Social Media-We offer Social Media Management...

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