Submitted by: Rachael Woolston
YOU KNOW YOU’RE at a different level of ski resort when your chalet has piste maps printed on faux silk, which double as a sunglasses wipe. No more disintegrating, soggy maps plus smear-free vision on the slopes. Genius.
It is just this kind of service at CK Verbier, a privately owned chalet company, that is typical of this Swiss resort as a whole. It is why it attracts everyone from Royalty to Russian oligarchs, and Richard Branson has a chalet here, The Lodge (available to rent from a mere £44,950 per week).
Chic chalets aside, Verbier’s true appeal is the majesty of its mountains and quality of the skiing. Sitting at 1,500 to 3,300m, it has 410km of runs, as well as ‘itineraries’ – off-piste but patrolled runs – giving you access to acres of untracked powder. Best of all, the transfer from Geneva Airport is just under two hours, making it easy for a ski weekend.
Leaving London in the early morning, I arrived at Chalet Kernow, one of seven chalets in the CK Verbier portfolio, and the one, I was reliably informed, Jamie Oliver uses. As chalet hosts Lauren and Hayley showed me around, I could certainly understand the attraction. All rooms have goose-down duvets and en suites stocked with Jo Malone products, while the huge double-height living space with floor-to-ceiling windows makes for an impressive welcome.
I couldn’t help but give in to the temptation to sink into the sheepskin-covered chair on the chalet’s impressive wraparound balcony to bask in the afternoon sun. After all, there was no need to rush – my lift pass and ski hire had already been organised as part of the service. All I had to do was get into my ski gear ready for the chalet driver, who is on call 24 hours, to drop me at the ski lift. Within the hour, I was
swishing down the slopes, the spring sunshine warming my cheeks.
The next morning, I was eager to get a full day on the slopes and breakfasted early on a delicious spread of Bircher’s muesli pots, fresh croissants, and an oven baked pan of eggs with spicy sausage and vegetables. All the food I had at the chalet, including evening meals, was of a seriously high standard, served with a lack of pretension by the friendly chalet staff.
Not wanting to waste any time searching for the best spots to ski, I’d decided to hire private ski instruction and guide service Performance Verbier (www.performanceverbier.com). The co-owner, Kent Berglund, met me at the ski lift, all long limbs and sparkling white teeth, the epitome of Swiss ski instructor. Having skied off-piste before, I told him I was keen for a challenge. “No problem”, he grinned, eyes twinkling. And he kept to his word.
After a steep but wide descent to get my legs warmed up, Kent led me down some steep, narrow colouirs, and through tree-lined off-piste descents. It left my heart racing and by the end of our half-day session, my endorphins were sky-high. At about £155 for half a day, Performance Verbier is ideal if you are only away for a weekend and prefer not to waste hours traversing lacklustre, crowded pistes. And then there is lunch, of course.
There is nothing more frustrating than being forced to stop early so that you can get a lunch table without queuing. Performance Verbier took care of that and had booked a table at Le Carrefour (www.lecarrefour.ch), a pretty, wooden chalet-style restaurant overlooking Mont Blanc. As Kent skied off, I was relieved to be able to bypass the long restaurant queue and sink into a sunny spot on the terrace.
With energy restored after the restaurant’s speciality – steak served on a sizzling hot stone – I spent the rest of the afternoon making full use of the chalet’s clever piste map.
While Verbier is renowned as a mecca for intermediate and advanced skiers, there is plenty for those new to the slopes. Near town are the wide, sun-facing nursery slopes, perfect if you want to learn and be in easy access of a well deserved break. And once you’re ready, you can head up Le Chaux for some cruising, wide-open blue runs.
After an exhilarating but exhausting day on the slopes, it was time for some après-ski at Le Rouge (www.lerouge-verbier.com), which I had been reliably informed was the best place for post-ski drinks. Nestled at the bottom of a slope of the same name, it boasts 360-degree views of the mountains. And you can forget the Jägermeister – everyone here was drinking pink champagne from miniature bottles complete with a straw (although their special shot of vodka with fresh passion fruit and slivers of fresh chilli should not be missed).
On the town
Verbier’s night life is legendary – whether you want a cosy Alpine bar or a trendy city-style hangout, there is a place for you here. I headed to the modern all-white bar of the four-star Nevai hotel (www.hotelnevai.com), which boasts an impressive cocktail menu and is next door to the infamous Farm Club (www.farmclub.ch).
An institution since the 1970s, this club has not changed much since, and it attracts a glorious mix of old and new Verbier. Leather-skinned locals dance alongside cherub-faced chalet staff, while owners of multi-million-pound holiday homes rub shoulders with ski bums at the bar. It was fun, but I was relieved to fight my way out of the crush into the fresh air at 1am. Opting to stroll back, I found a nearby bakery selling fresh croissants out of a secret back window to those in the know (it’s just down from the main square). As the flaky pastry melted on my lips, I couldn’t help wishing I had a few more days left. For me, it’s usually just about the skiing, the chance for one more run. This time, I couldn’t help wishing for just one more cocktail at Le Rouge, or one more meal at Chalet Kernow. But then I have a feeling once more just wouldn’t be enough.
The insider’s guide
Dine slope-side at Chez Dany…
Located between Les Ruinettes and Verbier ski lifts, this is a firm favourite with ski instructors, who begin calling at 9am to get lunchtime tables (they only take same-day bookings). The food is delicious, and it stays open for dinner, so you can dine straight off the slopes and finish with thrilling ride home on the restaurant’s sleigh.
+41 27 771 2524
… Or in the clouds at La Marlenaz
Get here by skiing off-piste, or don some snowshoes for a fantastically peaceful walk through the snow. This authentic Swiss restaurant in a thick, stone retreat is fantastic. If you don’t fancy walking, take the restaurant’s snow taxi, which will carry your sledges for your return journey.
Relax with Chilali
Chilali is a Pilates and massage company that has a studio in the resort, but also does private chalet visits and provides everything from private yoga classes to massage. The latter gets our vote.
Shop at Vinabagnes
Vinabagnes is a connoisseur’s wine and cigar shop which makes the most amazing chocolate salted almonds.
Fly from the Channel Islands to Geneva from £139 including taxes. Skis go free. Book with Blue Islands Airways (www.blueislands.com).
Private transfers from Geneva Airport cost from around £200 with AlpyBus
One week at Chalet Kernow costs £1,428 per person (based on full 14-person occupancy). This includes breakfast, afternoon tea, canapés, and dinner on six nights with selected wines and an open bar, and a chauffeur. Book with CK Verbier (www.ckverbier.com)
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