Skiing: Beyond the slopes

Tania Alexander turns her attention to the more laid-back resorts where there's more than the mere thrill of the piste on offer. She tells you where you can find charming chalets, chocolate-box villages, sleigh rides, gluhwein and even cowboys
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The Independent Travel

THERE ARE two types of skier. There is the hard-core type who is interested in only the major resorts where they cram in as many kilometres on thepistes as possible. Then there is the holiday skier who is looking for something more, be it a chocolate-box Alpine village or some stunning scenery totake their breath away. If you choose a resort for its charm, you may not need to find such an extensive ski area. The bonus is that pistes are less likelyto be as crowded, so you will spend less time queuing and more time skiing and enjoying the view. Most of the resorts mentioned below are in theAlps, since a pretty Alpine village is what most people dream of when they book their first holiday. If it is scenery you are after, rather than old-worldcharm, the Dolomites in Italy are truly spectacular. At a pinch, you can also find resorts in the US that have a certain charm of their own, particularly ifyou are fond of cowboys.

THERE ARE two types of skier. There is the hard-core type who is interested in only the major resorts where they cram in as many kilometres on thepistes as possible. Then there is the holiday skier who is looking for something more, be it a chocolate-box Alpine village or some stunning scenery totake their breath away. If you choose a resort for its charm, you may not need to find such an extensive ski area. The bonus is that pistes are less likelyto be as crowded, so you will spend less time queuing and more time skiing and enjoying the view. Most of the resorts mentioned below are in theAlps, since a pretty Alpine village is what most people dream of when they book their first holiday. If it is scenery you are after, rather than old-worldcharm, the Dolomites in Italy are truly spectacular. At a pinch, you can also find resorts in the US that have a certain charm of their own, particularly ifyou are fond of cowboys.

Megeve, France

If you have only ever ski'd in purpose-built French resorts, this one will be a breath of fresh air. The village itself is very pretty, with cobbled streets fullof fashionable shops, stylish bars and restaurants, and horse-drawn sleighs that gather around the church in the main square. There is also an open-airice rink. From 21-24 January you can watch "polo" on the snow, and also "ski-joring" (in which you get dragged around on skis by horses). One ofthe bonuses of this resort is that it also offers a decent-sized ski area - 240km of pistes, many of which are tree-lined slopes with wonderful views ofMont Blanc. There is plenty to do, both on and off the slopes, so it would be a good choice for taking non-skiing partners, too.

Where to stay

Les Fermes de Marie is a tiny hamlet of authentic Savoyard farms which have been rebuilt to form a charming and luxurious hotel about 10 minutes'walk from the centre of Megeve and the ski lifts. It is full of antiques and colourful Provencal fabrics. It has three restaurants and a comprehensivebeauty treatment centre. It can be hard to get a booking here, but the company owns two other hotels in Megeve - Le Mont Blanc and Lodge Park.

Getting there

Megeve is about 75 minutes' drive from Geneva. This is an easy journey as only eight miles of it are off the motorway. Alternatively you could get atrain from Paris to Sallanche and then a taxi. White Roc (tel: 0171- 792 1188) offers seven nights' half-board at Les Fermes de Marie from pounds950-£1,200. Made to Measure (01243 533 3333) offers seven nights' b&b at Le Mont Blanc from £803-£857.

St-Luc, Switzerland

There used to be only one way up to St-Luc - by mule. Now it is a rather windy drive up into the Valaisanne mountains to get to this tiny, sunny village,where there are only about 350 inhabitants. The architecture is typical of the Anniviers valley. Most of the buildings are old timber houses, built onstilts. Photographs from the 1920s suggest that St-Luc has hardly changed in this century. You can still see the original timber house that wasdescribed as ancienne in 1924. Part of the village was burnt down in 1845, and again in 1858. The locals were careful to preserve the remaining antiquechalets, and tastefully rebuilt more houses of stone. The original village bread oven in the main street is still used once a year - the second week inJanuary. It is also known as "the resort of the stars" as a special astronomical pathway has been built up in the mountains, from which you can observenine different planets at marked stops and an astronomical observatory. There are 75km of pistes.

Where to stay

The most unusual place to stay is Hotel Weisshorn. This is perched like an eagle's eyrie halfway up the Tornot mountain. From the village, it looks likesomething out of a James Bond film. The only way to get there is on skis or by walking one-and-a-half hours through the woods. Make sure you aretravelling light as you have to carry your own luggage. The hotel is quite basic. The most refined hotel in the village is Bella- Tola, which has beenowned by the same family for four generations and looks like a beautiful old Victorian villa with waxed pine floors, ornate painted ceilings, woodenshutters and wrought-iron balconies.

Getting there

It is about two-and-a-half hours' drive from Geneva. Otherwise you can get the train to Sierre and then a bus. There are no British tour operators inSt-Luc but the Switzerland Travel Centre (tel: 0171-734 4577/78) can make the arrangements for you (book hotel, flights, rail passes etc). HotelWeisshorn SFr85 (£38) per night half-board; Hotel Bella-Tola SFr80- 110 for b&b. Office du Tourisme St-Luc (tel: 44 27 475 14 12).

Alpbach, Austria

It was once voted the prettiest ski resort in Austria. If you are looking for chocolate-box charm, this is the place to go. Any new building in thisTyrolean village has to conform to the traditional style of wide overhanging eaves, wood facings and carved balconies. As it is only a small village, it isvery friendly and apres-ski is typical of the region, with lots of noisy teatime beer dances, and sleigh rides to the Rossmoos Inn for gluhwein. An idealresort for those wishing to learn to ski, as the ski school is extremely good and there are some excellent nursery slopes beside the village. There is alsoenough to keep unambitious intermediates and families happy.

Where to stay

Alpbacherhof is a smart four-star hotel, offering a high level of comfort and informality. What makes it particularly charming is that although it offersall mod cons (satellite TV, hairdryer, minibar and phone in all rooms), the staff are very friendly and it still has a typical Tyrolean feel to it. Facilitiesinclude an indoor heated pool, steam room, sauna, sunbed and two restaurants. The food is very good, with a choice of two restaurants with wonderfulscenic views. If you are looking for something smaller and more modest, you can stay in a gasthaus (guest-house) such as Leirerhausl, a charming littleHansel and Gretel house, run by Frau Margreiter, who will set you up for the day with a hearty breakfast (homemade jam) and if you book half-board,you can also have dinner at the Alpbacherhof.

Getting there

Transfer time from Innsbruck is about one-and-a-half hours by car. Or you can take the train to Zell am See and then a local train. Alpine Hotels (tel:01451 843120) offers seven nights at the Alpbacherhof from £549- £695 half-board including flights and transfer. Inghams (tel:0181-780 4444) has seven nights at Leirerhausl (exclusive to Inghams) from £274- £398 for seven nights' b&b, and from pounds466-£622 half-board at Alpbacherhof.

Telluride, USA

This town in Colorado is a National Historic Landmark and is the place to come if you are looking for authentic cowboy charm. Its history dates backto the gold-mining days. It had a rough reputation for whoring and drinking and was the site of Butch Cassidy's first bank robbery. It is set up like asmall Wild West town with a main street full of rustic old buildings, restaurants and bars. There is nothing glitzy about the resort, yet property pricesare high. It is set in a beautiful valley that is strangely reminiscent of the Alps. The majestic San Juan mountains tower all around the resort. There isgood skiing with wonderful views to suit all standards - 1,050 acres in total. Other activities include sleigh rides, ballooning, ice skating and visitinglocal craft shops.

Where to stay

The Camel's Garden is the place to stay if you're with a loved one as it's decidedly sexy, with giant tubs for two in the en-suite bathrooms, huge bedsthat you have to climb into and a giant outdoor tub for apres- ski relaxation. It's located right next to the gondola and the Oak Street lift. There is norestaurant in the hotel but there is a big selection of places to eat in the high street (five minutes' walk) and also a trendy cafe next door to the hotel.

Getting there

It will be much easier this season with the introduction of British Airways' daily non-stop flights from London to Denver. You then take a connectingUnited Airlines flight to Montrose, which is about an hour's drive from the resort. Ski Independence (tel: 0990 550555) has seven nights at TheCamel's Garden from £899-£1589, including flights. Ski the American Dream (tel: 0181-552 1201) has seven nights' b&b at NewSheridan Hotel from £715-£1075, including flights.

Samoens, France

Samoens is a fascinating old French farming town, which dates back to the 5th century and certainly does not look like an ordinary ski resort. Theapproach into the resort is on a long, flat, tree-lined road in the base of the valley. The old village prides itself in being the only ski resort in France to belisted as an artistic and historical site. There is so much to see that there are two- hour guided tours of the village, twice a week. The architecture is veryattractive - small, narrow streets of old stone houses and even a small chateau. In the centre is a cool shady square with a majestic church and a lindentree which was planted in 1438. Skiing takes place 15 minutes' drive or ski-bus away in purpose- built Flaine with its 260km of pistes. If the snow isgood you could ski back down to Samoens.

Where to stay

You will find good accommodation in Samoens, mainly two- and three-star hotels. Hotel Edelweiss is a small, intimate, two-star, family-run hotel with acosy wooden lounge and fireplace. It is about 800m uphill from the centre of Samoens, overlooking the village. The raclette (cheese dish) that theymake in the restaurant is particularly good. Alternatively, Hotel Neige et Roc is an attractive and comfortable hotel with its own fitness room, and loungewith welcoming log fire. It's about 200m from the centre.

Getting there

Geneva is about one-and-a-half hours' drive from Samoens. Alternatively you can catch the TGV train from Paris to Cluses which is a 45-minute busjourney from the resort. It's also one of the nearest resorts to drive to from Calais (approx seven hours). La Grange (tel: 0171-371 6111) has sevennights at Hotel Edelweiss from £238-£288 per person including ferry crossing and half-board. Or seven nights at Hotel Neige et Rocfrom £369-£423 per person, including ferry crossing and half-board. Motours (tel: 01892 518 555) has seven nights' self-catering inResidence la Renardier from £113-£165 per person, based on four people sharing a studio, including ferry crossings.

Madonna di Campiglio, Italy

The Dolomites are visually different from the Alps - craggy granite peaks that glow a glorious pink at sunset. This smart Italian resort is set in theBrenta Dolomites. The old Campiglio burnt down at the beginning of the century but has since been tastefully rebuilt. It's a bustling town, with lots ofsmart expensive shops, tempting pastry shops, cafes and restaurants. It's not as glitzy as Cortina but it still attracts a lot of wealthy, fur-clad Italians.Visually, Campiglio is very enticing for the skier as it's surrounded by pistes in every direction. It has 90km of its own - 150km when you use the linkwith Marilleva and Folgarida.

Where to stay

The most luxurious place to stay is Relais des Alpes, which is well situated in the centre of the village, just a short walk to the lifts and ski school. It's avery rustic-looking building, with low-tone lighting and excellent facilities, including a spectacular swimming pool in the basement of the hotel. TheirChristmas and New Year gala dinners are renowned. Carlo Magno is also a good hotel, a couple of kilometres from the resort centre (a ski-bustransports you back and forth) but with beginners' slopes right outside. It has superb views of the Brenta Dolomites.

Getting there

The nearest airport is Verona which is about two-and-a-half hours' drive from the resort. This season there is a resort transfer bus from the airport,costing £15. Inghams (tel: 0181-780 4444) has Relais des Alpes for seven nights' full board (including wine) from £708-£1,308including flights and transfers; and Carlo Magno from £484-£874 for a week's half-board. Momentum (0171-371 9111) has CarloMagno Hotel, half-board, £498-£665.

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