Ski chalets: Experience the personal touch
Enjoy the intimate atmosphere of a chalet without the stress of organising a large group holiday, writes Nicola Homer
Saturday 22 January 2011
Chalet holidays conjure a convivial image of sitting around an open fire with friends, regaling them with stories of your day's adventures on the slopes while sharing a bottle of red wine. But arranging such a trip can be a challenge. It's hard enough to co-ordinate diaries in the office, let alone in your home life
Plenty of people face the prospect of solo skiing, but crave the bonhomie of a chalet. Happily, this intimate experience is now within reach for individuals and couples.
Mark Warner has pioneered the "chalet hotel", pairing the relaxed atmosphere of a chalet with the service and facilities of a hotel. The Val d'Isère catered chalet specialist YSE takes bookings from individuals, couples and small groups who wish to share with like-minded people. And now VIP (Val d'Isère Properties) has a "club chalet" concept where you reserve a room in a private chalet with a club-hotel atmosphere.
"Most other luxury independent operators do not take 'split bookings' until close to the departure date," says Nici Hardy, VIP spokeswoman. "We are offering four properties – in Val d'Isère, Méribel, Alpe d'Huez and Morzine – which can be booked by the room, at any time."
I opt for the Savoyard-style Club Bellevarde, the largest of VIP's club chalets, with a dozen rooms carved from an imposing building of stone and farmhouse timber that looks older than its nine years. After the transfer from Geneva airport, we're greeted by the live-in staff and welcomed into its warm living area, with sofas centred around an open fire.
At a farmhouse-style table, we sit down to a buffet lunch of local charcuterie and cheese. The floor-to-ceiling glass windows draw my gaze to the wooden terrace with its hot tub, beyond which soars La Face de Bellevarde Olympic downhill run.
The chalet has two hosts, plus a chef who trained at Gordon Ramsay's Pétrus, and a mountain guide. On the first evening, there's a chance for everyone to socialise over a glass of champagne: it's the perfect time to meet like-minded guests, and make plans to ski or snowboard together.
I meet a fellow beginner who came to improve his technique in advance of joining a party of friends and family. The next day, we join the same skiing lesson and were soon sliding down the slopes beneath blue skies.
For those who can manage a blue run, a mountain guide is on hand three days a week, a service included in price of the package. Children and novices can take lessons – at extra cost – with instructors at the highly regarded ski and snowboard school Oxygène.
Under the guidance of Stefano Nani, an Italian engineer-turned-ski teacher, we navigate the Bellevarde and Solaise runs. "Val d'Isère has easy pistes for beginners that are located high up on the mountain, which means that you are guaranteed good snow conditions and a beautiful view of the Italian face of Mont Blanc," he says. "For skiers who are hoping to improve their technique, you can find all kinds of terrain here: mogul fields, long blue runs and amazing black runs such as the Olympic La Face."
Ah yes, La Face was a fine prospect. But I'm happy merely to mull it over while restoring my sugar levels with afternoon tea and cake.
Back at the chalet, there's plenty of space to relax. My room features wooden beams and heated floorboards, plus en-suite bathroom, complete with a full-power shower and bath, Molton Brown toiletries and fluffy white towels.
There are many ways to revitalise, from a soak in the hot tub to a soothing massage offered by a local company, Pamper Off Piste. If you are feeling more energetic, you can take a swim in the local leisure centre, tucked away at the foot of La Face.
At dinner, I savour my time around the table with a glass of wine and enjoy the abundance of bonhomie, while seasonal food bubbles away on the stove in the open-plan kitchen.
This sort of chalet holiday makes it easy to meet like-minded people and enjoy superb skiing and cosmopolitan nightlife. It's also great for couples and families, who can find their own space in the living area of the chalet. If you long for a real chalet experience yet lack a large group of friends with which to share it, this could be the answer.
* VIP (0844 557 3119; vip-chalets.com). Prices at Club Bellevarde in Val d'Isère start at £919, including flights from Gatwick to Geneva, transfers and catered accommodation, but excluding ski lessons, equipment hire and lift passes.
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