Stay the night: Les Neiges d'Antan, Cervinia
Don't judge this hotel from its outward appearance – inside it's a one-off, says Rhiannon Batten. And then there's that view...
Sunday 22 May 2011
There's little chance of losing your way at Les Neiges d'Antan, a family-run hotel in Italy's Aosta Valley.
Through its restaurant (and some bedroom) windows you can see the Matterhorn, or Monte Cervino as they call it on the Italian side, in all its toothsome, Toblerone-shaped glory. And there are myriad pictures of the famous peak, in a pleasantly mismatched collection of frames, on several of the hotel's walls.
But staying here isn't only for mountain-spotters. In winter, the hotel is a popular base for skiers, because it's only 10 minutes' drive, in a free shuttle, to the slopes at Cervinia, which is also lift-linked to Zermatt. In summer, guests are lured by fabulous hiking, mountain-biking, and the occasional yoga retreat or wine-tasting weekend. Lovely woodland walks lead away from the front of the hotel or, if you want to stretch your legs in a more challenging fashion, current owner Ludo Bich can direct you to the best mountain trails.
Why stay here rather than in one of Cervinia's pretty old wooden chalet hotels? Because although the hotel looks like any other modern, mid-range European hotel from the outside, inside it's a complete one-off, with properly roaring open fires, a convivial wood-panelled bar, a lounge lined with Ludo's vast vinyl collection (guests are welcome to use it as a jukebox) and thoughtful touches such as telescopes for star-gazing.
Another surprise? It's deeply green, with solar panels for electricity and heating and hot water powered by a giant woodchip boiler (occasionally also fed hazelnut shells, the by-product of a nearby Nutella factory).
There are just 24 rooms: 12 classics, nine superiors, and three suites. The main difference is in style – the classic rooms are simple and modern, whereas the superior rooms have more mountain charm, with wood panelling, floorboards and heirloom furniture. Bathrooms also vary slightly, with classic rooms having a bath or a shower and superior rooms having both.
The food and drink
Gastronomy is the hotel's other major selling point. According to Ludo, it was his family who created "Seuppa alla Valpellinentze," a cheesy, cabbage soup, a bit like a savoury bread and butter pudding, that's now ubiquitous in the local area. If that sounds decidedly rustic, the restaurant isn't. Wooden tables are dressed with smart linen cloths, the silver cutlery and cruets are vintage, and the wine glasses are Riedel. Even if you're not staying here, it's worth booking in for the ultimate slow lunch – local smoked trout with redcurrants (€15/£13), organic locally produced polenta with "meat three ways" – beef, chicken and rabbit (€15), and, perhaps, a seasonal fruit ice cream (€6). Don't miss the wine, either. Ludo has both a vast wine cellar and access to bottlings that others might not – I plumped for a great local pinot noir. Prices range from €20 to €580 per bottle, with plenty to choose from in between.
Wi-Fi aside (which is free throughout the hotel), the main "frill" at Les Neiges is its spa. Small but stylishly formed, it's less about having a treatment here (though massages can be booked), more about unwinding at the end of the day. Potter between a sleek wood-fired sauna, an outdoor hot tub, and an igloo-shaped steam room before retreating to a lounger in the relaxation area.
Children and dogs are welcome; dogs incur a €5 per day supplement. There is no wheelchair access.
B&B from €75 per person per night.
Crêt Perréres, 11021 Breuil-Cervinia, Aosta, Italy (00 39 166 948 775; lesneigesdantan.it).
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