Luxury chalet holidays
The catered chalet holiday is a uniquely British idea. The deal, in case you’re new to it, is that tour operators install their own cooks and housekeepers in chalets for the season and provide half-board plus teatime cake and, usually, travel from the UK. So you get the privacy and relaxed atmosphere of a temporary home in the mountains, without the hassle of self-catering or the cost of eating out in restaurants every night. In the beginning, in the 1960s and 70s, chalet holidays meant creaky old buildings with spartan furniture and paper-thin walls. My, how things have changed. When we first visited Méribel in 1974, en suite bathrooms were unheard of. They are now the norm. Spacious and plush living rooms with log fires are common (but spacious and plush bedrooms are less so). Spa facilities such as a sauna, steam room and hot tub are common too; some chalets even have a swimming pool. And all at prices we ordinary mortals can contemplate paying. It’s these chalets that are covered here.
Because of the huge number of chalet holidays available, choosing the right one can be difficult. Some very helpful websites have been set up by agents, allowing you to sift out chalets that suit you best.
The greatest concentration of smart chalets is found – surprise, surprise – in the British skier’s favourite French resort, Méribel. Ski Total has a wide range of properties here, including three with the firm’s top Platinum rating; they have hot tubs, of course – and a cinema and billiard room in the case of chalet Isba. Alpine Action has eight smart-looking chalets in various parts of the resort, most with sauna and/or hot tub and all with Freeview TV. Purple Ski has five top-notch and highly individual chalets – in good positions, with lovely interiors and outdoor hot tubs. Ski Olympic took a big step into the luxury market a few years back with the acquisition of the Parc Alpin, formerly run as a boutique hotel – 12 luxurious rooms, dinky swimming pool and sauna. Skiworld has two very swish places, especially La Ferme. Inghams has several chalets, including a few with sauna or hot tub. Other companies to consider include Consensio, Meriski and VIP.
Over the hill is Courchevel, a resort of parts (it has just renamed these parts, but we are using the old names here). 1850 is well established as the ‘smartest’ resort in France, with the highest prices and the swankiest hotels and chalets. Operators such as Supertravel, Kaluma, Consensio and Scott Dunn have some lovely properties here. Ski Total has some chalets bordering on the luxury category. The big UK chalet centre is 1650, where Le Ski now has 17 chalets, sleeping from two to 22. Thirteen of them have sauna, steam or hot tub. And their flagship Scalottas Lodge even has a pool with a current to swim against. One of Ski Olympic’s flagship Gold Collection chalets is here – chalet Monique, with TVs in the rooms and an outdoor hot tub. Skiworld has some smart-looking chalets here too – the 21-bed Estrella is one of its top places, with outdoor hot tub. Down in Le Praz, Mountain Heaven has a couple of chalets, including the very luxurious-looking Jardin d’Angele with sauna and outdoor hot tub.
La Tania, not far away off the road towards Méribel, has developed quite a range of comfortable chalet properties. Ski Amis has seven smart-looking places, all but one with outdoor hot tub and some with its Premium service. Le Ski has three neat-looking properties here. Alpine Action has three smart chalets near the centre, two with outdoor hot tubs.
In Les Menuires there are smart places on offer in the recently developed areas. Ski Olympic has four with saunas and hot tubs in Reberty; Ski Amis has several chalets with outdoor hot tubs in Les Bruyères and others with hot tubs and saunas in Le Bettex. And in St-Martin the Alpine Club has two luxurious chalets in the quiet hamlet of Villarabout, one newly built in traditional style with a double-height, open-plan living room and the other a beautiful 100-year-old farmhouse with spectacular views.
Val d’Isère is the great rival to Méribel in the French chalet business. The local specialist, YSE, has several very swish places. At the top end of Le Ski’s programme are two very attractive places sharing a hot tub – La Bouclia and Pierre de Compia. Skiworld’s 12 chalets include two of their top properties: Tolima, with sauna and steam room, and newly refurbished Madeleine, with outdoor hot tub. Ski Total has 15 smart places, including three very swanky chalets in their Platinum range – one with outdoor hot tub, two with saunas. Crystal’s range includes three of its Finest properties, with saunas. Other companies to look at include Scott Dunn, Consensio and Le Chardon Mountain Lodges.
In Tignes Skiworld’s programme includes some chalets with sauna and hot tub, and a swanky chalet hotel with pool and sauna. Ski Total has some very smart places with pool, hot tub and sauna, including two in their Platinum range. Crystal and Ski Olympic have some smart chalets too.
The other great French mega-area, Paradiski, offers lots of chalets in La Plagne and growing numbers at Peisey-Vallandry, on the Les Arcs side of the cable car from La Plagne. Few chalets stand out, but Ski Amis has a Premium service chalet in each of these resorts.
There are lots of chalets in La Rosière, but few notable ones. As well as Mountain Heaven’s smart-looking Penthouse, with grand top-floor living space and outdoor hot tub, Ski Olympic has two chalets in a development with its own pool, sauna, steam room and hot tub. Skiworld has five smart mid-sized properties which, it is planned, will share a hot tub, steam room and two saunas for this winter. Crystal has three chalets in its Finest programme with access to saunas, hot tubs and in one case a pool.
Chalets are not common in Avoriaz, so it’s good to see that Ski Total’s handful includes one of its Platinum chalets, with sauna and log fire. Down the hill in Les Gets, the Ferme de Montagne is a lovely cross between a small hotel and a chalet – a beautifully renovated farmhouse with eight luxury bedrooms and gourmet food. They take short-break as well as week-long bookings.
Further south in Alpe-d’Huez, Ski Total, Skiworld and Inghams all have smart places with outdoor hot tub.
In Switzerland, Verbier is the chalet capital. Ski Total has the very smart chalet hotel Montpelier with panoramic pool, sauna and steam room, separate top-floor chalet within it and another separate smart chalet with floor-to-ceiling windows and a steam room. Other companies to look at include Ski Verbier.
Curiously, Zermatt has not traditionally been a great chalet resort, but Ski Total now has a remarkable 18 properties there – mostly with six or eight beds, a couple with more and some with sauna, steam room or hot tub. Skiworld has four chalet-apartments, including three very smart modern ones in the same building. Other companies to consider include Scott Dunn and Supertravel. In nearby Saas-Fee, Ski Total’s chalet hotel Ambassador is right at the foot of the slopes with indoor pool. And Alpine Life has a lovely-looking chalet that we’ve had very good reports on, with hot tub, sauna and steam room. In cute little Grimentz (Val d’Anniviers), Mountain Heaven has the very smooth slope-side Cole Ridge, with outdoor hot tub.
In Austria, St Anton is chalet central. Ski Total leads the pack, with a dozen places ranging from six beds to the cool 32-bed Inge, with wellness area. Crystal has some good places in Nasserein. Just over the hill in St Christoph, Inghams has its flagship chalet hotel – ski-in/ski-out, with a good-sized pool. Ski Total also has two smart chalet hotels (one with an indoor pool) in nearby Lech. Others to look at in this area include Flexiski, Kaluma and Scott Dunn.
In North America, only Skiworld now has much of a chalet programme, with good places in Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, Winter Park and Whistler. Ski Independence has a chalet in Vail.
The Chalet Holiday – A primer
Generally, you can either book a whole chalet (the smallest typically sleep six or eight) or share a larger chalet with others. This works surprisingly well, usually.
In the beginning, the cooking and cleaning was done by your chalet girl – often straight out of college or finishing school, and mainly intent on having a fun season. Chalet girls still exist, but now there are just as many boys, and grown-ups, including couples. It would be an exaggeration to say that service is generally professional, but training standards have certainly improved.
Breakfast is usually a buffet with the option of some cooked items. At teatime, cakes and tea are put out. Often beer and soft drinks are sold at modest prices, on an honesty basis. Dinner is a no-choice affair at a communal table, including wine – unlimited in quantity but often severely limited in quality. In ‘luxury’ chalets the wine may be better and you may be able to pay extra for better stuff. Once a week, the staff have a day off, and you’re left to your own devices – most people like to dine in a restaurant, but you can buy in a picnic.
In chalet hotels you may have individual tables, or large ones you share with others; there may be a choice of dishes at dinner and there will usually be a bar.