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Villa, chalet, mansion: what’s the difference?

When perusing our property listings, you’ll see many terms used to describe stately homes, including villa, chalet and mansion. While all are quite luxurious, there are distinct differences between the three types of property. If you’ve always wondered what is the difference between a mansion and chalet, find out below.

Puigcerdà - Property styles can be confusing, so find out how villas, mansions and chalets differ.

Villa: an airy country residence

Think of a villa and a luminous summer estate probably springs immediately to mind, all landscaped gardens and grand towers. The term originates in the Roman Empire, when it was used by the likes of Cicero and Pliny the Younger to describe their holiday homes in the Italian countryside. You’ll find ruins dotted about today, the most famous of which is perhaps the fanciful terraces of Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli.

Villas can also carry a classic connotation, with soaring wooden beams and country kitchens. This falls in line with Pliny’s description of the ‘villa rustica’, which is more of an elegant farmhouse than a sophisticated estate. These rambling residences received an upgrade during the Renaissance, with greater emphasis on symmetry and lush garden features. Today’s villas can be quite modern and minimalist, but there is still the same emphasis on outdoor landscaping as well as an airy interior.

Chalet: a rustic winter retreat

There are plentiful benefits to owning a chalet, including immediate access to ideal ski conditions and a charming, cosy ambience. This traditional timber house style is primarily distinguished by its wooden construction, sloping roof and mountain-framed setting. The term ‘chalet’ was originally used to refer to alpine shepherd or cowherd dwellings, as the building would be used to store milk and butter.

Since then, chalets have become synonymous with any wood-framed mountain retreat. Expect quaint shingled roofing and intricately carved balconies inviting you to get outside with a warm drink to enjoy the view. Chalet estates may also include storage barns, stables and guesthouses in addition to the main property, alongside luxurious details, from built-in hot tubs and indoor saunas to gourmet kitchens.

Mansion: a spacious high-end home

Are you still wondering what is the difference between a mansion and a chalet? Both can be quite sizeable, but mansions can be built from an array of premium materials and are characterised by their luxurious amenities. From multi-car garages to Zen gardens and wine cellars, these properties are built to stand out for their opulence – browse our luxury living blogs for some idea of what to expect. There are no legal definitions regarding a mansion’s size, but a generally accepted guideline is a minimum of 5,000 square feet in an urban setting like Manhattan and significantly more in an affluent neighbourhood like Beverly Hills.

No matter the size, it’s really the features that make a house a mansion. Modern properties should have games rooms and swimming pools, while historic properties may have grand ballrooms and salons. There will be ample room for leisure to suit the homeowner’s lifestyle, including home cinemas, gyms and even private spa facilities.


In the end, there are no hard and fast rules about what defines a villa, chalet and mansion, only historical data. What you see listed may be up to the homeowner’s interpretation of their property, which is why it’s always helpful to gain the insight of a qualified real estate agent.

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