Treble chance: Three ski resorts in three countries in four days
Why settle for one resort when you could ski three? Matt Carroll tastes the high life on a chauffeur-driven trip to the pistes of St Moritz, St Anton and Livigno
Saturday 10 March 2007
Arriving at Zurich Airport, I felt a bit like a pop star. Having grabbed my luggage and trudged through customs, I was met by my driver, Antonio, who eased my bags from my hands and whisked me off to a waiting car. With the heated leather seats already working their magic, I sat back, stretched out and settled in for the ride to St Moritz: the first and finest stop on a four-day whirlwind tour of three of Europe's coolest ski resorts. After St Moritz I would head to Livigno in Italy, before making my way over to St Anton in Austria. After all, why limit your ski holiday to one resort - or indeed country - when you can "do" three?
This is the philosophy behind a new ski break being offered by Baobab Expeditions this season. In principle, it seems like the perfect solution for the time-pressured skier. Most of us can only get away for one week each winter - which normally means basing yourself in one place.
With Baobab, however, you can take in up to three resorts in a week.
The company's tailor-made packages are designed to maximise your slope-time at each destination. Before booking the trip, a representative spends around 45 minutes discussing exactly what you want from your holiday, so that the whole thing runs seamlessly once you hit the ground. At the end of your day on the pistes, Baobab's drivers collect your baggage and chauffeur you on to the next resort in time for dinner.
Sounds great; must cost a bomb. This was my reaction when I first heard about the concept. However, according to managing director Richard Pfaeffli, that's not necessarily the case. "We can create itineraries to suit most budgets," he said confidently.
The less quantifiable cost, of course, is to the environment. Resorts across Europe have been lamenting the lack of natural snow this winter, and plenty of skiers ascribe this to climate change caused by man's activities. This is perhaps the opposite of eco-tourism, in that having a chauffeur-driven car rather than a reliable Alpine train scores an astronomical carbon-count.
Still, at least I didn't go for the helicopter-transfer option, nor the Range Rover, settling instead for a more humble four-wheel drive Ford.
My mode of transport may have been modest, but I certainly hit the jackpot with the first hotel. St Moritz is probably Europe's glitziest resort, and Badrutt's Palace is the swankiest place to stay. Every season it attracts legions of celebrities. Over the years it has seen the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock and Elizabeth Taylor swagger along its ornately decorated corridors, and, more recently, George Clooney, Claudia Schiffer and Prince Charles.
The moment you walk through the heavy swing doors, a sense of the Palace's grand history wafts up your nostrils, transporting you back to an age when ball gowns, elbow-length gloves and big fur coats were standard issue. It's the kind of place where everyone looks famous, even if they're not. On more than one occasion I caught myself staring in awe as an unfeasibly tall, impossibly skinny girl tottered past on the arm of an immaculately groomed older man. It felt as if I'd fallen inside a page of Hello!.
Even more amazing is the fact that only 38 per cent of the people who come to St Moritz actually ski. Most of them are content to don their diamond-encrusted ski-suits and head up the mountain for a glass of fizz and a few air kisses, before making their way back to the comfort of their suite.
Personally, I couldn't wait to hit the slopes. This may have been my only opportunity this season and I was itching to get involved. For those of us who are more interested in skiing than posing, St Moritz has plenty to get excited about. The resort is made up of several ski areas, with a free bus service to get you from A to B (when the chauffeur has his day off). The pistes themselves are pretty mellow, with a lot of red runs that would probably pass for blues at most other places.
After a long, languishing breakfast spent staring out across the petrol-blue lake, my driver escorted me over to the Corvatsch area, where I spent the day getting my ski legs back.
My only disappointment, thus far, was the fact that I couldn't see any of the spectacular scenery that surrounds St Moritz. A huge bank of cloud had descended on the area, shrouding the minty fresh peaks in giant-size clods of cotton wool.
But the flip-side of all this precipitation was the fact that it brought a lot of snow with it; in a year when Europe is suffering one of the driest seasons on record, I was not about to complain. Instead, I spent the day packing in as many runs as possible before making my way - red-cheeked and grinning - back to the base station in order to rendezvous with my driver.
While everyone else queued up for a place on the bus back to town, I eased myself into the back seat of my 4x4 while the driver got on with packing my kit away.
Livigno is a couple of hours' drive from St Moritz, which provided the perfect opportunity for some après-ski shut-eye. On paper, the idea of having to up sticks and shift to another resort after a day's skiing sounds like a lot of hard work; in reality, it all ran incredibly smoothly. The only thing I had to worry about was which CD I wanted to listen to en route.
If the idea of something so organised sends shivers down your spine, you could always drive yourself instead. Baobab will provide you with a vehicle, complete with a pre-programmed satellite navigation device to ensure that you don't get lost, allowing you to come and go as you please.
I preferred having someone else to do my thinking for me, however. After a whole day spent out in the fresh air, the last thing I wanted to do was engage my brain; the next time I opened my eyes, we were pulling up outside the Hotel Posta, in Livigno.
In contrast to the pomp of Badrutt's Palace, this place is more down-to-earth. Forget crystal chandeliers and a uniformed staff member to open every door, the Posta is all about wood walls and woolly jumpers - the kind of place where you can kick off your ski boots and jump straight into the bath. Which was exactly what I did as soon as I'd checked in. Livigno is not as high-end as St Moritz, but you can still have a great time there. The resort is tax free, which makes the cost of eating out extremely reasonable, and there are some great bars. With my jelly legs having recovered sufficiently to allow me to walk again, I took to the streets to sample Livigno's nightlife.
The town itself is located in a wide, open valley, where the surrounding hillsides are littered with pistes. Everything is oriented around one main street, lined with little shops and bars, and you'll find a lot of side roads peeling off on either side, which are great for shopping.
When it comes to the skiing, Livigno has a lot less terrain than St Moritz (114km of pistes versus 349km respectively), but the majority of them are above 2,000m so you're pretty much guaranteed to get good snow. This is the place where I learnt to snowboard, seven years ago; I'd hardly made it away from the nursery slopes on my first visit, so I was keen to explore the resort more thoroughly this time round. As well as arranging your transport, Baobab will also organise your equipment hire and passes for each resort - along with any lessons or guides you might need.
With a full day's skiing in St Moritz already under my belt, I decided to indulge in a long, sun-kissed lunch on the terrace at Ristorante Via Vai before heading over to St Anton earlier than planned. Another great thing about having a car and driver at your disposal is that you can easily change your itinerary if you wish. Only a couple of hours after soaking up the Italian sun, I arrived in Austria just in time for après-ski beers.
Of all the resorts on the tour, St Anton is the liveliest; its party scene is almost as legendary as the skiing. The advanced terrain here is awesome, but any beginners in your group might struggle. I was content to cruise rather than scare myself silly - my favourite run being the long red/blue/black combination that takes you from Schindler Spitzer across to Rauz, featuring 1,000 metres of vertical drop.
Just as I was getting into the swing of my skiing, though, the pop-star fantasy came to an end; it was time to head home. I'd only been away for four days, but the constant shifting between different languages and cultures had made it seem like a lot longer.
The price of the itinerary that Matt Carroll followed is around £920 including flights from London, chauffeur-driven transfers and accommodation, through Baobab Expeditions (020-8694 2198; www.baobabexpeditions.com); a more modest expedition for a week could start at around £750 per person.
You could alternatively travel by train from London via Brussels or Paris to Zurich in 11 hours, through Rail Europe (08708 371371; www.raileurope.co.uk).
Badrutt's Palace, Via Serlas 27, St Moritz, Switzerland (00 41 81 837 1100; www.badruttspalace.com). Doubles start at Sfr800 (£340), including breakfast.
Hotel Posta, Plaza dal Comun 67, Livigno, Italy (00 39 03 42 996 076; www.ilposta.it). Doubles start at €150 (£107), including breakfast.
Raffl's St Antoner Hof, St Anton, Austria (00 43 5446 2910; www.antonerhof.at). Doubles start at €320 (£229), half board.
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