The age-old debate of the merits of the seaside against the joys of the hills is something we've all run into when booking a week or two away, but if you're looking to buy a holiday home then getting it right is even more important. Arabella Youens and Emma Hughes discuss the merits of sand vs slopes and bobbling boats vs bracing climbs.
Why the beach life is the best life
A subject on which opinions at home strongly diverge is coast versus mountain holidays. For me, the sight of the sea stretching over the horizon, the sunlight refracted off the waves and the sound of them rolling onto the shore are mesmerising.
My husband, however, is from a family of non-swimmers, so his childhood summers were spent in the Alps, walking, examining wildlife and having his international education ‘saved’ by English schoolmasters moonlighting as tutors. It amazes me that this experience failed to disrupt his love for the landscape. This summer, he’s won the argument and we’re off to Austria’s Tyrol, where, I’m promised, there is a microclimate.
According to a report published in the Journal of Research in Personality last year, this division of opinion is not uncommon. We can all be split into beach and mountain tribes, say the study’s authors, psychology professors from the University of Virginia. Extroverts prefer sand and sea; introverts are drawn to peaks and streams. Their theory is that beaches are noisier, with more people to watch and socialise with, whereas mountains offer seclusion and isolation.
I agree that large tracts of the Mediterranean in August are a misanthrope’s worst nightmare, but, for a holiday home, a house with a coastal outlook has to win. As a place to transport oneself away from the day-to-day grind, the seaside has no equal. You sleep better, in cleaner air that has higher levels of oxygen (sorry, altitude). The sound of waves can be soothing (where does howling mountain wind feature on anyone’s meditative soundtrack?).
The vastness of the sea and ebbing of the tides can wash away a day’s niggles, whereas, although the permanence of mountains can be reassuring, it can quickly give way to claustrophobia, particularly if you’ve overdone it on the Savoyard cheeseboard the night before. Finally, there are the endless opportunities to swim; there are only so many times a year that I feel like waking up and climbing a mountain.
Coastal property hotspots: Five great places to buy a house by the beach
- Pollensa, Mallorca
- Palau, Sardinia
- Ile de Ré, France
- Cape Town, South Africa
Why you should head for the mountains
I grew up next to the sea — the Channel, to be exact, specifically the stretch that laps at the fringes of Brighton. In the summer, it was heaven — we had calm, blue waters that looked as if they’d been ironed and twinkled in the sun and the merest whisper of a cooling sea breeze.
But the winters. Oh, the winters! To this day, I shudder just thinking about them. With nothing between us and it, the sea wreaked unrestrained havoc. Paint peeled, there was ice on the inside of the windows of the room I slept in and everything planted to jolly up the place died almost instantly.
Early on, I resolved that, when I grew up, I would live as far inland as I could without actually becoming a Hobbit.
Mountains, by contrast, are lovely all year round. Winter? Blankets of snow and festive forests (lovely). Summer? Lush pastures and clanging cowbells (lovely). Spring and autumn? More of the same, but with streams swelled by the thaw and coppery leaves respectively (lovely — you get the picture).
If you’re going to invest in property, it’s better to buy in a place that has something to recommend it for more than eight weeks a year. Also, sand gets everywhere.
How wonderful to be able to walk out of your back door and, as Thoreau put it, spend a couple of hours ‘sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements’.
Whether you’re in the Alps or the Rockies, there’s no barrier to entry. Outside the New Testament, walking on water is a non-starter and boats are hard to come by, not to mention sea-sickness. With the mountains, anything is possible — and isn’t that how you want to feel when you’re at home?
Mountain property hotspots: Five prime locations to get a mountain home
- Megève, France
- Joshua Tree, California
- Swartberg Mountains, South Africa
- Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, USA
- Snaefellsbaer, Iceland
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