POSTED MARCH 14TH, 2014 BY URBAN ACCENTS & FILED UNDER FAVORITE POSTS, SPACES & INSPIRATION, SWITZERLAND, TRAVEL.
Villars in the Swiss Alps is exclusive. Here you'll find two of the most sought after schools to be found anywhere – Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil is reckoned to be the most expensive school in the world – and it's in the same Chesieres neighborhood that Chalet L'Arole sits. The students can enjoy the best education in the world and many of the skiers who come here believe they're getting a world-beating skiing experience in this village-like Alpine resort.
It's the perfect setting for this imposing, four-story luxury ski chalet dating back to 1904 and refurbished in 2013 to the best modern standards. Up to 16 guests can enjoy the eight, individually-designed, en-suite bedrooms.
You can expect style in this luxury ski chalet, once the preserve of the Chanel dynasty. Many L'Arole's original features have been preserved in a refurbishment that put the emphasis on sustainability. There's the look of an English country estate to some of the paneling in the interiors where traditional materials like handcrafted wood and natural stone have been complemented with stylish furniture from all eras.
An imposing oak and glass staircase runs up the center of the building accessing the eight bedrooms (seven on the top two floors). The rooms are individually styled and six of them can be twin or double bedded. The paneled drawing room is perfect for aperitifs before dining under the wood-paneled walls of the dining room and enjoying post-dinner drinks by the open fire in the sitting room.
You can choose to book Chalet L'Arole with or without staff. If you choose to stay here on a catered basis then you'll enjoy the best quality support from discrete and highly-trained staff, including your own chauffeur.
Villars, just 90 minutes from Geneva airport, is a south-facing resort with some excellent skiing, particularly for beginners. With Verbier next door, Villars is something of a well-kept secret and great if you're looking to get off the beaten track a little, though it's part of a wider ski area with 77 ski lifts and 220 km of runs.
Beyond the classic ski slopes you'll find ice skating, a cog rail, paragliding, an AquaParc and a host of other activities throughout the year, including a number of festivals.
British super-chef Heston Blumenthal – an accomplished skier – recently chose the resort as one of his favorites and picked out the Lac des Chavonnes restaurant for its food and wine from Bernard Cave. He also had a good word to say for L'Etable, in its converted barn and producing its own excellent charcuterie. For a party he picked out Cabane Militaire. The ground-breaking chef says that Alpine cuisine has come on leaps and bounds since the school trips which first introduced him to the pleasures of the slopes.
Online guides warn that you may need to book ahead in busy periods to get a table in the best mountain restaurants at Villars. The Golf is recommended for its fresh produce and daily specials. Les Chaux is simple but good quality.
In town the 4-star Hotel La Renardiere is very highly rated. La Cantina del Toro, La Pizzeria and La Toscana also offer decent food while Vieux Villars mixes very good local styles with Chinese cooking.
The après-ski and party scene tends to be based around the village rather than the slopes. Most head to L'Arrivee for the first drink of the evening, where the strong local wine culture is celebrated. Charlie's Bar has quite a young crowd and Rotisserie des Alpes has Le Blues Bar. Hotel Golf's Le Green is one of the best hotel bars and Murphy's Bar has some of the best views. For a nice, quiet drink try the Moon Boot. Finest Holidays offers a wide range of luxury ski chalets in the Swiss Alps, Austrian and French Alps.
By Simon Miller
March 14, 2014 12:24 PM EDT
I've always prided myself on being a first-lift-to-last-lift skier, someone for whom a leisurely lunch in a mountain restaurant was, frankly, a waste of valuable snow time. A team of wild horses couldn't drag me away from the slopes – or, at least, that was my proud boast. But would my resolve hold when I skied Switzerland's Verbier in the luxurious style of über-chalet operator Bramble Ski?
Bramble Ski was set up nine years ago by British trio Colin Mayo, Duncan Robertson and Natasha Robertson, who shared a mutual passion for skiing. Mulling their combined skills of ski instruction and client service (acquired in the ad industry), they mused on how to make a living from the sport they love. Eventually their ideas went beyond chairlift chatter to become a multi-million dollar hospitality business. Their unique take on luxury ski vacations is to offer not just stylish and comfortable chalets but also a personalized experience including two days of ski guidance from a qualified instructor. It is this "ski concierge," as they call it, that bridges luxury and skiing. Needless to say, it comes at a significant price, starting at $12,500 per week.
I've long had a soft spot for Verbier, which offers outstanding off-piste skiing only two hours' drive from Geneva in southwestern Switzerland. Its slopes face in every compass direction and are of varying pitches. This ensures that mountain guides will always be able to find good snow to suit even the most demanding skiers. I went fully expecting to be challenged by the mountains, but would a five-star Verbier experience challenge my resolve to hit the snow?
We stayed at Chalet Amadouvier, where we were looked after by our own Dorchester Hotel-trained host, a chef, a driver and, of course, our ski concierge. The latter not only served as our guide and instructor, but efficiently organized every aspect of our days, from planning ski itineraries to managing equipment changes with minimum hassle, and from reserving tables at Verbier's most notoriously-booked restaurants to arranging post-ski massages in our chalet. But then, that was to be expected given that all Bramble chalet staff undergo intensive pre-season training under the tutelage of Jane Urquhart, a world expert in "staff and domestic solutions." It's all very Downton Abbey.
Under the Stars
Ski guides are recommended for getting the best out of any resort safely, but in Verbier it's imperative. The marked runs are just the beginning. There are areas of the resort that are only safely accessible with a qualified mountain guide, such as heli-skiing on the Petit Combin. If you can tear yourself away from the glamour of the resort, you might consider staying overnight at Cabane du Mont-Fort, a mountain hostel at 2457 meters (8061 feet) – the ultimate ski-in, ski-out location. The setting underneath the peaks and stars is simply spectacular – and there's no danger the local punks will beat you to the best snow.
Initially my resolve was strong to resist the siren call of pampering. On the first day, I gave the organic eggs Benedict, freshly-squeezed orange juice and morning papers a pass and hit the slopes early on a simple (and more importantly, quick) breakfast of coffee and croissants. But after a hard morning skiing, the heady mix of runs and restaurant bookings that the ski concierge dangled in front of me became too much and I succumbed to the pull of Verbier's world-class eateries.
Thus the agenda was set for the duration of the trip: Exhilarating mornings on the slopes followed by epic lunches. We skied the back of Mont Fort (must be done with a mountain guide) and lunched at Chalet Novelly. Having put the Col de Mines to bed, we then devoured wonderful filet de biche (venison doe) at Le Carrefour. After a day skiing Tortin and "Stairway," a late contemplative lunch on the terrace at Chez Dany was an utter pleasure.
So did Bramble get the better of me? Well, yes and no. Despite the many charms of both the chalet and Verbier's après-ski and nightlife, I managed to be on the slopes bright and early each day and got in a fair amount of snow. But I confess that as the afternoons wore on I started to think fondly of the roaring fire, the chilled champagne, and the penetrating massage waiting back at the chalet. The temptation to skip the last run of the day and head back home was strong but ultimately I stayed on the slopes because, after all, it was a ski vacation.
Bramble Ski only operates in the high-end resorts: Verbier, St. Anton, Lech and Villars. The chalets are all privately-owned homes, each with different features. Chalet Amadouvier is elegantly cozy; Chalet Victoria III has a modern slant; but all 30 or so of the Bramble-run properties have as standard an open fire (of course, blazing on your return), the finest bed linen and Aqua di Parma products in the bathroom.
I managed to hold onto my skier's motivation during my three-day stay with Bramble in Verbier. But if I were confronted with the company's highest level of service delivered in the Haute Montage range of properties (costing between $56,000 and $204,000 plus food and drink, per week), I think the game would be well and truly up.
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