Reviving a mountain hideaway

A chance trip to the French Alps inspired Lucy and Rob Mundell to buy a place there. Now they run it as an exclusive getaway spot – for winter or summer


Ten years ago in March, London-based graphic designer Lucy Mundell, whose family hail from Limerick, entered a competition in a local London freesheet. The question posed was: “Is Morzine in Switzerland or France?” She hadn’t a clue, nor had her husband Rob, an electrical contractor, but she opted for France.

What happened next changed their lives. They won the competition – a week’s skiing holiday in Morzine in the French Alps. Neither knew how to ski or had ever been on a “cold” holiday before, but they were hooked and returned year after year with their three children.

Their attachment to the area grew so strong that they eventually bought a house with the help of a Swiss ski guide, Nick Evequoz, who had become a close friend since their first trip.

Their first setback occurred when, after they had bought a small house in the village of Montriond near Morzine, it was compulsorily purchased by the local authority under an ancient French “right of pre-emption”. It took them 10 weeks to retrieve their money and recover from the shock of losing it.

Undeterred, in 2008 they finally located a bigger property nearby called La Ferme du Lac Vert, close to a beautiful, jade green lake after which the farm was named.

“We didn’t realise completely what we had taken on because we didn’t open the big barn at the back until we had exchanged contracts,” recalls Rob.

They needn’t have worried because the barn turned out to be ideal for conversion with the rest of the farmhouse and is now a beautiful space big enough for 24 people.

Costly undertaking
Restoration work began in January 2010. It was to be a costly undertaking and a major challenge. Built in 1842, the place had been abandoned since the 1970s. It was to take them more than a year, with local builders and craftsmen using traditional methods and recycling old wood to retain its Savoyard character.

“The French don’t have the same building regulations as we have and the onus is on the owner to guarantee standards, so it is always advisable to use French registered artisans for all structural work,” says Rob, who had extensive experience of project management and meeting deadlines.

“We found that the top floor of the three-storey building had to be reinforced with concrete for fire regulations, so that extended the contract by four weeks and cost us €40,000 more, but I’m glad we did it,” says Rob.

An added stress was keeping his business in the UK going at the same time. “My French technical knowledge of building, restaurants and hotels has become very proficient,” he says .

Lucy, whose graphic design background gives her an artist’s eye for decor, has furnished the chalet’s interior sympathetically, using farm implements found during the restoration, along with various objets trouvés and quirky items sourced from vintage shops and online. These include a magnificent opium bed from Indonesia, handsome Ottoman lamps and Swiss army blankets used to upholster beds and chairs.

A major extravagance was the installation of a reconstituted stone staircase and Gaudi-style metal handrail by local sculptor Robert Vernet.

Breathtaking views
La Ferme du Lac Vert is now a guest house and one of the most beautiful places to stay in the area with breathtaking views of the mountains and pastures. The couple bought the house for €585,000 and spent €1.5 million on restoration; its current market value is now estimated at €2.5 million.

But the Mundells – who were childhood sweethearts – intend to retire there eventually. They are restoring an adjoining building – a mazot – initially for private rental, but ultimately for their own use.

Operations manager is Elizabeth Elliott from Sutton in Dublin. She runs the guest house with her partner Sharif Gergis, a talented Egyptian/Irish chef.

Within months of opening, it has become a top-rated winter ski destination on the TripAdvisor website. Now they are targeting summer visitors to attract to its mountain slopes and alpine pastures outside the ski season.

A 90-minute drive from Geneva, Morzine is part of Porte du Soleil, the world’s largest ski area, which also offers numerous summer attractions: hiking, swimming, kayaking, horse riding and foraging. It also hosts one of the largest mountain bike events in Europe.

Though privately-owned, the chalet is for hire by the room and on an exclusive basis throughout the year. Summer prices from June to September start from €65 per person per night including breakfast; €45 per person for dinner with wine.

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