What is a Chalet?

What is a Chalet?

When it comes to answering the question ‘what is a chalet?’, it’s fair to say most of us could probably give an approximate working definition without too much trouble. After all, these iconic dwellings are renowned the world over as being among the most immediately recognisable signifiers of traditional Alpine living.


For many people, a classic Swiss ski chalet exemplifies the chic, cosy style they’re looking for in a European mountain getaway. However, to better understand exactly what the difference is between a true chalet and other similar property types, there are a few key architectural and aesthetic nuances you should know about.


Read on to find out what truly defines a classic Swiss ski chalet - whether it’s presented in a time-honoured traditional context, or modernised and updated with a sleek contemporary twist.

Chalet definition

In recent decades, the working definition of a ‘chalet’ has expanded far beyond what was once a fairly specific set of criteria. Today, it’s frequently used to refer to almost any type of holiday home, in any region on the planet. This widespread adoption is largely thanks to the enduring romantic view of the classic Swiss chalet design.


Such is the universal allure of these snug yet stylish traditional wooden homes, the ‘chalet’ description is now applied liberally to all kinds of aspirational vacation hideaways - lakeside huts, forest cabins, and even beach shelters. In truth though, the original term referred strictly to a type of dwelling built and used almost exclusively by Swiss mountain herders.


The most traditional designs combined rustic timber framing with low, square eaves and a long shallow roof slope. The lower portion of the building would often be part-buried in the ground for added warmth and rigidity, further contributing to the iconic silhouette of a hardy shelter dominated by low-swooping roof beams.


From a strictly practical standpoint, this approach resulted in a sturdy and cost-effective way for cattle or goat farmers to cope with seasonal work on the higher, snowier meadows and pastures of the upper Alpine slopes. By the 1920s and 1930s, early adopters had started to recognise the potential of these unique retreats for hosting group leisure trips into the heart of ski country.


Even so, it wasn’t until the swinging ‘60s that the concept of the ‘catered chalet’ holiday really took off into the mainstream. Back then, of course, the rustic charm of the original basic chalet layouts was very much a key part of the experience; they were seldom decked out as luxury dwellings until the late-1970s and early 1980s, when the jet-set crowd began to arrive on Switzerland’s trendy winter sports scene in a big way.


Fast-forward to today, and modern Swiss mountain chalets - while still drawing their core inspiration from the characteristic angles and profiles of those earliest versions - are typically built to offer a far more luxurious experience than the herders of old could possibly have imagined.

Modern chalet living with Steiger&Cie Sotheby’s International Realty

Regardless of which picturesque ski resort you choose to buy a modern Alpine chalet in today, you can of course expect it to feature a full range of modern conveniences, along with a good degree of additional design flair. No longer the squat, rough-hewn outbuildings they once were, today’s high-end mountain properties deliver a very much evolved take on the simple rustic cabins that inspired their iconic architecture.


Depending on the type of property you’re looking to invest in, standard features could include anything from lofty ceilings, multi-bedroom layouts and cosy log-burners, to sleek modern kitchens, breaktaking views through vast sliding glass doors, and even private sauna or jacuzzi facilities set on expansive panoramic decks.


Crans-Montana, Verbier and Zermatt are among the leading examples of ski-centred mountain towns that seem tailor-made for that relaxed and modern Swiss chalet lifestyle. Each offers a wealth of high-end existing developments to buy into, in addition to various stunning new plots with the thrilling potential to create your own dream chalet on.


Whether you’re looking to relocate to a new primary home, or to acquire a managed property for seasonal rental in between your own visits, Steiger&Cie Sotheby's International Realty is the leading name in international property sales and development within the beautiful Canton of Valais.


Our network of interdisciplinary collaborators affords us a unique position for consulting on all facets of the Alpine real estate lifecycle, including:


  • Chalet sales and acquisitions through our boutique broker service, delivered via our partnership with Cardis Sotheby International Realty
  • Luxury property development, renovation, and concept/design consultancy
  • Management and oversight of various property developments and real estate types, including Switzerland-based boutique hotel and private rental projects
  • Professional and discrete boutique concierge services


For more information on available properties in any of our three Valais locations, please feel free to contact a member of our expert sales team today.