Perched on a lofty, sun-baked shelf in the Swiss Alps is the tiny town of Villars-sur-Ollon. With its proximity to Geneva, the area's popularity has soared since the advent of cheap flights from the UK. But Villars-sur-Ollon has long been popular with plucky Brits, who came here in the late 19th century in search of jolly mountain japes armed only with tweed jackets and Kendal mint cake.
Nowadays, it's a town with a year-round soul, rather than a seasonal playground. It is an agreeable place in which to live, with no high-rise blocks and quiet, pine-sheltered residential streets concealing the mountain retreats of the rich and not-wishing-to-be famous. Within the town are a couple of nursery slopes which are perfect for pint-sized learners, and other niceties include tennis courts and pool, an ice rink and plenty of good restaurants.
Now there is a newcomer: Chalet RoyAlp, which opened in December. It is the first new hotel to be built in the town in years and represents a step forward in terms of luxury accommodation, more Vermont Ski Lodge than darkened Alpine retreat. As you walk into the roomy reception, a massive log fireplace is encircled by suitably large Chesterfield sofas. The hall opens up to the main stairwell and then gives in to a double-height ceiling bar with floor-to-ceiling windows allowing for a sweeping view of the Dents du Midi peak. Beyond lies a smoking room and a games room complete with pool table. However, the management insists it is very much a family place. Indeed, it has already hosted a family from Spain – the royal family.
Chalet RoyAlp Hotel & Spa, Domaine de Rochegrise, Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland (00 41 24 495 9090; royalp.ch). The hotel occupies its own site, with plenty of outdoor space, and is walking distance from the town centre (although a shuttle bus will whisk you there in no time). It's also adjacent to the train station from where it's a 20-minute, picturesque ride up to the lifts.
Time from international airport: Geneva is 1hr 15mins away by car, or get the train direct from the airport to Aigle (1hr 45mins), from where it's a 20-minute bus ride to Villars, which is included in the train ticket (SFr42/£26 one way).
The building comprises three five-storey blocks set at an angle to each other, guaranteeing privacy on every balcony. The bedrooms are finished to a high standard with bespoke sofas and armchairs, and the walls are clad in new Swiss fir; alpine, but still fresh and modern. Bathrooms are equally high-spec: grey slate and wet rooms abound.
If you're unhappy with the flat screen TVs in your room, there is a 30-seat cinema that screens current movies and has a special children's programme. Speaking of children, they are made to feel very welcome with their own soft games room and a funky den with iPod docks, sofas and a Nintendo Wii.
The RoyAlp is aimed at those after an indulgent break, whether enjoying the snow sports, or rejuvenating in the superb spa, which has its own 20m pool and a voluminous hot tub. For now, there are two restaurants – one decked out like a mountain lodge serving fondu and other variants on the melted cheese thing that the Swiss do so well; and one with a more international flavour and an excellent wine list. A fine-dining restaurant is set to follow.
Freebies: Swiss sweets, Jardin Des Alpes toiletries.
Keeping in touch: All rooms come with complimentary Wi-Fi and direct-dial phones.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Doubles from SFr407 (£255), room only. Seven-night packages are available via Carrier (0161 491 7670; carrier.co.uk) from £1,970 per person, including flights.
I'm not paying that: Chalet Balthazar offers apartments in the centre of town (00 41 24 495 4586; villarsapartments. com). Rental starts at SFr720 (£451) per week, self-catering.