The complete guide to: Skiing

In the fourth part of our fortnightly guide to skiing, 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 the pistes 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 to take 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 likely to 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 the Alps, 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-world charm, 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 if you 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 full of fashionable shops, stylish bars and restaurants, and horse-drawn sleighs that gather around the church in the main square. There is also an open-air ice 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 of the 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 of Mont 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 comprehensive beauty 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 a train 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 pounds 950-pounds 1,200. Made to Measure (01243 533 3333) offers seven nights' b&b at Le Mont Blanc from pounds 803-pounds 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 on stilts. Photographs from the 1920s suggest that St-Luc has hardly changed in this century. You can still see the original timber house that was described 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 antique chalets, 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 in January. 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 observe nine 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 like something 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 are travelling 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 been owned by the same family for four generations and looks like a beautiful old Victorian villa with waxed pine floors, ornate painted ceilings, wooden shutters 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 in St-Luc but the Switzerland Travel Centre (tel: 0171-734 4577/78) can make the arrangements for you (book hotel, flights, rail passes etc). Hotel Weisshorn SFr85 (pounds 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 this Tyrolean 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 is very 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 ideal resort 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 also enough 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 offers all 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. Facilities include an indoor heated pool, steam room, sauna, sunbed and two restaurants. The food is very good, with a choice of two restaurants with wonderful scenic views. If you are looking for something smaller and more modest, you can stay in a gasthaus (guest-house) such as Leirerhausl, a charming little Hansel 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 pounds 549- pounds 695 half-board including flights and transfer. Inghams (tel: 0181-780 4444) has seven nights at Leirerhausl (exclusive to Inghams) from pounds 274- pounds 398 for seven nights' b&b, and from pounds 466-pounds 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 back to 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 a small Wild West town with a main street full of rustic old buildings, restaurants and bars. There is nothing glitzy about the resort, yet property prices are 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 is good skiing with wonderful views to suit all standards - 1,050 acres in total. Other activities include sleigh rides, ballooning, ice skating and visiting local 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 beds that 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 no restaurant 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 connecting United Airlines flight to Montrose, which is about an hour's drive from the resort. Ski Independence (tel: 0990 550555) has seven nights at The Camel's Garden from pounds 899-pounds 1589, including flights. Ski the American Dream (tel: 0181-552 1201) has seven nights' b&b at New Sheridan Hotel from pounds 715-pounds 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. The approach 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 be listed 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 very attractive - 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 linden tree 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 is good 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 a cosy wooden lounge and fireplace. It is about 800m uphill from the centre of Samoens, overlooking the village. The raclette (cheese dish) that they make in the restaurant is particularly good. Alternatively, Hotel Neige et Roc is an attractive and comfortable hotel with its own fitness room, and lounge with 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 bus journey 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 seven nights at Hotel Edelweiss from pounds 238-pounds 288 per person including ferry crossing and half-board. Or seven nights at Hotel Neige et Roc from pounds 369-pounds 423 per person, including ferry crossing and half-board. Motours (tel: 01892 518 555) has seven nights' self-catering in Residence la Renardier from pounds 113-pounds 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 the Brenta 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 of smart 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 link with 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 a very rustic-looking building, with low-tone lighting and excellent facilities, including a spectacular swimming pool in the basement of the hotel. Their Christmas and New Year gala dinners are renowned. Carlo Magno is also a good hotel, a couple of kilometres from the resort centre (a ski-bus transports 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 pounds 15. Inghams (tel: 0181-780 4444) has Relais des Alpes for seven nights' full board (including wine) from pounds 708-pounds 1,308 including flights and transfers; and Carlo Magno from pounds 484-pounds 874 for a week's half-board. Momentum (0171-371 9111) has Carlo Magno Hotel, half-board, pounds 498-pounds 665.

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