Méribel, a resort widely perceived as Surrey on skis, enhanced its upmarket appeal when Le Kaïla, its first five-star hotel, opened last December. The name hints at Kailash, a sacred mountain in Tibet. Conjuring up uninhabited snowscapes thousands of miles away may seem fanciful in downtown Méribel, but stepping off the hurly-burly of the main street into an exotic cocoon is a seductive form of imaginative travel. To look up is to be amazed by a curving wooden staircase, a crystalline chandelier contrasting with banisters as delicately carved as the woodwork in a Buddhist monastery.
In 1962, Marius Dallery started a Méribel construction dynasty with the Hotel Chaudanne. A decade later, his son Claude took over, building two more hotels, Le Tremplin and l'Eterlou. To celebrate the group's 50th anniversary, he and his daughter, Aurélia, tapped into the 21st-century passion for treatments and taupe and came up with Le Kaïla, a place that goes the extra yard in the pursuit of perfection. For the most part it succeeds, though over-anxious service suggests an unnecessary lack of self-confidence.
The public rooms are open plan: restaurant at one end, log fire and grand piano at the other, a long curvy bar in between. There's a wheeled champagne dispenser, half a dozen vintages in ice-cube nests ready for pouring into flutes from an inset drawer. Meanwhile, the couches are deep, the fabrics soft and the colours muted ivory, chocolate and moleskin. The smoking room, enclosed in glass and furnished like a library, is already so popular it's due to double in size. As befits a family hotel, there is a children's playroom with supervised activities for ages four to 12 from 4pm and a teenage area, with pool table, PlayStation and darts.
A walk-in wine cellar displays bottles of Château Pétrus for consideration on the way to dinner in l'Ekrin restaurant. The 1995 vintage costs €5,500, in case you were wondering. Beyond the cellar, chef Mickaël Mibord, in his twenties and oozing talent, masterminds a refreshingly small menu. His style is traditional with a twist. The ingredients for the daily-changing four-course menu (€75) are farm sourced, with additions from suppliers in Les Halles in Paris. The breakfast buffet is sensational, with a comprehensive cook station, DIY orange squeezer and a mean green machine that liquidises wheat grass – just add goji berries.
The predictably lavish Nuxe spa has single and double treatment rooms, sauna, Turkish bath and a vat of cool-off ice cubes, but the P‑shaped swimming pool is the scene-stealer. The larger end gives swimmers mountain views unobscured by buildings, while the narrow part forms an aqua channel with sunken exercise bikes, contra currents, water-jet beds and fountains. Very innovative, very classy.
Méribel is at the centre of the Trois Vallées, the world's largest linked ski area, with 183 lifts serving 600km of groomed runs. Le Kaïla offers rapid access, with ski rental in the deluxe Eskale shop in the basement and a speedy lift to a slopeside exit on the fourth floor. Clip in and you're off, heading either for the Saulire Express to Courchevel or the Tougnette gondola with connections to Les Menuires and Val Thorens. If you end up in the outlying village of St Martin-de-Belleville, enjoy lunch at Le Montagnard (00 33 4 79 01 08 40; le-montagnard.com) at the bottom of the long blue Biolley piste. In an area that has the best and priciest mountain restaurants on the planet, this one is affordable and authentic.
Le Kaïla has 38 rooms and suites, 10 with interconnecting options for family use. It is Alpine chalet-chic, with oak floors and sloped ceilings with big timber beams, juxtaposed with faux-fur throws and cushions, thick mushroom-hued carpets and standard lamps fashioned from reclaimed tree branches. The bathrooms have slate floors and granite tops, and the larger ones have Jacuzzi tubs. A sound system that supports iPad, iPod and iPhone keeps you in touch with the outside world, though you may want to keep it at bay.
Le Kaïla, Route de la Montée, Méribel, France (00 33 4 79 08 89 03; lekaila.com).
Doubles start at €430, including breakfast.
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