A new four-star hotel in downtown Chamonix is a rarity, especially one built from scratch like the Heliopic. Opened last December, it is the resort's most recent addition, looming large on the road up from Geneva, in a prime spot next to the Aiguille du Midi cable car station.
Its substantial twin buildings vaguely suggest overgrown chalets, with gently pitched roofs and wooden facings on the balconies. Inside, the lobby stretches nearly the entire length of the main building, a low oblong with a conspicuous absence of furniture. At check-in, a moving neon band reads, "Life is beautiful" in English and French, a warm welcome reinforced by the staff, who smile politely at foreigners speaking halting French.
Every morning and evening, guides use the wall-mounted 3D maps of the Mont Blanc area to outline the available ski expeditions to the guests. In the children's corner are plump cushions in front of a television showing cartoons and a small playroom for splashing paint around. The most popular features, though, are the complimentary pick'n'mix' sweet dispensers.
Guests can gather in the large bar or the tiny open library beyond it, but if you are not in the mood for an après-ski tipple, there's a range of treatments on offer at the Heliopic Spa, which also has a basement swimming pool, ice grotto, Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna.
Grey is the new beige in 102 bedrooms, 44 standard doubles, 40 superior doubles, and 18 family rooms. Although the design is minimalist, with wooden floors, no pictures or decorative features, and no cupboard doors, the rooms are soothing and immaculately clean. Each has a large television and balcony with mountain views. Crisp white sheets are complemented by grey check wool rugs, cushions and curtains, and grey felt lamp shades.
The bathrooms are equally functional, and four of the rooms are fitted for disabled visitors, with roll-in wet rooms for wheelchairs.
The hotel has efficient, complimentary Wi-Fi throughout.
THE FOOD AND DRINK
Dinner is served, rather slowly, in a two-level restaurant cheerfully decorated in green and orange. The menu changes regularly, but with luck you will find old ski favourites such as raclette and fondue.
Alternatively, guests can forage for the basics in l'Épicerie du Midi, a well-stocked deli with a similarly lively decor (think draughts-board floors and red bar stools) that serves breakfast and a variety of coffees.
OUT AND ABOUT
OUT AND ABOUT
The Heliopic is an excellent base for exploring the Chamonix valley, a short walk from the railway station and the pedestrianised central area, on the banks of the River Arve.
Regular buses connect with the extensive shuttle to ski areas (included in the lift pass), among them are Grand Montets and Le Tour in Argentière, La Flégère and Brévent in Chamonix town, and Les Houches, on the road to Geneva.
The Aiguille du Midi cable car, just 45 metres from the hotel's front door, is the access point for the iconic Vallée Blanche off-piste descent, in the shadow of western Europe's highest mountain, Mont Blanc.
In foggy conditions, check out Courmayeur at the Italian end of the Mont Blanc tunnel: the sun often shines on its south-facing slopes when Chamonix is trapped in cloud. For an après ski thrill, try the Chamonix Luge Alpine Coaster at Les Planards.
As befits a resort that has been welcoming travellers for well over a century, Chamonix is full-on throughout the day and late into the night. Plan Joran, on the Grand Montets, is tops for a classy lunch, while Les Vieilles Luges at Les Houches is a convivial spot to sit out a whiteout.
The Swedish-run Chambre Neuf, opposite the railway station, and the Canadian-owned MBC, a microbrewery on the outside of town, are the best for beer, music, and occasional table dancing when the lifts close, while Rue des Moulins is the pub crawl of choice after dinner. The established clubs, Garage and Cantina, are facing a serious challenge from upstart White Hub, which stays open until 7am.
Hotel Heliopic, 50 place de l'Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France (00 33 4 50 54 55 56; heliopic-hotel-spa.com). Doubles start at €85 (£67) a night in December.
Minty Clinch was a guest of Inghams (01483 791114; inghams.co.uk), which offers a week's half board in Hotel Heliopic from £759pp, including return flights from Gatwick to Geneva, and transfers. Supplements for regional airports range from £29 to £59.Reuse content