In the summer of 1864, Swiss hotelier Johannes Badrutt made a bet that would change the course of history for mountain resorts all over Europe. Until then, Alpine towns served as summer escapes, attracting the ladies and gentlemen of Europe with promises of fresh mountain air, breath-taking views and a collection of daring outdoor pursuits. But Badrutt claimed that his guests would find the town of St. Moritz just as agreeable during the winter months, and promised that while much of Europe endured a bitter winter, his mountain village would be bathed in sunshine. He was so confident that he made a bet with the last of his British summer guests that if they returned to St. Moritz for the winter and found it disagreeable, he would cover their travel expenses. Needless to say, Badrutt won the bet, and winter tourism was born. The rest, as they say, is history.
For the last century and a half, resorts across Europe have competed to offer luxurious lodgings, world-class gourmet encounters and one-of-a-kind winter experiences for their well-heeled visitors, making the most of spectacular mountain settings to create year-round destinations. As the travelling community has become increasingly adventurous, other new winter destinations have emerged outside the traditional Alpine regions, enchanting visitors with awe-inspiring natural wonders; confident in their proposition that cold weather is no reason not to travel. With a selection of European resorts, hotels, lodges and chalets that gets more decadent by the year, The Cultured Traveller takes a look at eight new arrivals for 2018/19 to help you plan where to spend your winter season in style.
In the Swiss resort of Verbier, there’s one rule in the skiers’ code of conduct that supersedes all others: ‘work hard; play hard’. For guests at The Experimental Chalet, the latter is a given. The chalet sits directly above the Farm Club, an iconic institution that has welcomed Verbier’s bold and beautiful for long nights of fun since 1971. Both the chalet and the club have been taken over by the Experimental Group; purveyors of refined hospitality and fine beverages at locations in Paris, New York, London and Ibiza. Many of the 39 rooms and suites, each elegantly finished by interior designer Fabrizio Casiraghi, feature spacious terraces and outdoor Jacuzzis, with emerald green furnishings that pop against stark white walls. Parisian chef Gregory Marchand has taken over the kitchens of the Chalet Restaurant, which serves hearty Alpine dishes alongside more contemporary fare; and the Group has collaborated with French skincare brand Biologique Recherche to create a spa with its own harman and solarium. Days will end and nights begin by the fireside of the cocktail bar, before the irresistible pull of the Farm Club draws guests downstairs for long nights of carousing.
For those who really want to escape it all this winter, Le Refuge de Solaise might be the answer. Perched at an altitude of 2,551 metres and accessible only by gondola, Le Refuge is the new incarnation of the former Le Solaise cable car station, the first ever built in the French resort of Val D’Isère. Comprising three private apartments and 18 luxuriously appointed rooms, plus a well-appointed dormitory for younger skiers, the chalet boasts magnificent views over the valley which are best enjoyed by the fireside in its library lounge. Its unique location half way up the mountain means guests can be the first on the slopes each morning, and owners Jean-Charles Coravel and Jean-Claude Borel have added thoughtful touches to keep guests entertained during bad weather days or long winter evenings, including a first-class restaurant, an inviting spa with 25-metre swimming pool and a film screening room. Rooms pay tribute to traditional Alpine décor, with patterned carpets and wall panels, and generous swathes of bare stone and wood. The eight-bedroom Penthouse apartment and the restaurant debut this season, but visitors will have to wait another year for the remaining rooms and spa.
With its collection of handsome accommodation, renowned nightlife and invigorating mountain experiences, Zermatt makes a convincing argument for the title of Switzerland’s most refined ski resort. This year, the town has upped the ante on the luxury stakes, with the new Matterhorn Glacier Ride, which whisks passengers up to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise ski area in just nine minutes. Four of the 25 cabins on the cableway offer a little something extra for riders, embellished as they are with 280,000 Swarovski crystals, which shimmer and sparkle in the Alpine air. These Crystal Ride cabins, designed by Italian Pininfarina studio, are inspired by the world of high-end automobiles, with 28 seats upholstered in Alcantara and leather, and an LED-lit starry sky ceiling. And there’s one more trick up their sleeve: three minutes into the journey up the mountain, the white floor fades into a completely translucent glass, revealing the snow-covered mountainside 170-metres below your boots. Not for the faint-hearted.
The collection of luxury hotels, lodges and chalets in Courchevel is unrivalled in France, with some of the country’s most exclusive hideaways providing world-class accommodation for discerning guests. When L’ Apogée Courchevel opened five winters ago, the 55-room hotel quickly claimed its place among the best of the best, with stylish interiors by Parisian design duo India Madhavi and Joseph Dirand, and some of the largest rooms and suites in Courchevel. New for this season, Chalet L’Alpensia is fresh icing on the cake: a 550 sqm five-bedroom chalet spread across five floors, complete with its own spa, home cinema and the services of a private butler and chef. Part of the exclusive Oetker Collection, L’ Apogée Courchevel offers guests ski-in/ski-out access to the surrounding Trois Vallées ski area and a host of gastronomic experiences, including sushi and sake at Koori, gourmet dining at Le Comptoir L’Apogée, and a sumptuous Cigar Lounge in which to enjoy the finer things in life.
The glamorous Swiss resort of St. Moritz was the birthplace of winter tourism, and still boasts some of Europe’s oldest winter sports institutions. Few share the celebrity status of the Kulm Country Club, which became the de facto haunt of St. Moritz’s most discerning visitors soon after it opened in 1905. The club hosted figure skating events during the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympic Games, and was a year-round destination for sports fans and socialites alike. British architect and St. Moritz resident Sir Norman Foster was commissioned to breathe new life into the club ahead of last year’s Alpine Ski World Championships; tasked with restoring the glamour of its early years, while preserving the traditional Swiss-style architecture. The new-look venue blends old and new, with two new timber pavilions that serve as seating and stages for sporting and music events, a permanent exhibition displaying vintage winter sports paraphernalia, and an Italian-Mediterranean restaurant and sun terrace helmed by chef Daniel Müller.
When the production team behind the 2015 James Bond film Spectre were tasked with finding a venue for a futuristic Alpine clinic, their search took them across Switzerland, Italy and Austria, before they stumbled upon a perfect fit: the ice Q restaurant in the Austrian resort of Sölden. Scenes shot at the venue, which is perched at 3,048-metres atop Gaislachkogl Mountain, precede one of the film’s epic chase sequences, which sees Bond hurtling after a convoy of cars down the mountain. To commemorate the resort’s moment in the spotlight, a local developer commissioned architect Johann Obermoser (who also created ice Q restaurant and the adjacent ski lift) to design Elements 007, a museum and exhibition space dedicated to the world of Bond. With an industrial-feel architectural aesthetic that emerges from the side of the slopes, before burrowing into the mountain, the opening of Elements 007 this year cemented Sölden’s reputation as one of the coolest resorts in Europe. Galleries use multi-sensory elements to tell the story of the franchise, drawing visitors into an environment that feels every bit like you’re walking into a real life Bond villain lair.
Italy’s ski resorts may not command as much column-width as those in other parts of Europe, but the opening of Le Massif in Courmayeur could change all that. With interior design that blends minimal Alpine chic with full-gloss Milanese style, the 80-room hotel is thing of stark beauty. Exposed wooden beams and weathered wall panels contrast with polished black marble columns, gilded art deco furniture and statement design pieces, creating a sleek environment that befits the latest member of The Leading Hotels of the World. Set in the heart of Courmayeur, Le Massif has its own in-house ski concierge, a full-service spa, and a kids club that offers all-day childcare for parents who want some alone time on the slopes. As well as the hotel’s own pair of restaurants and two bars, guests have priority access to the mountainside restaurant and bar, La Loge du Massif, which promises first-class Italian cuisine served alongside spectacular views of Mont Blanc from the terrace.
If dashing through the snow on a one-horse open sleigh is your kind of thing, you might like to try your hand at skijoring during your stay at Cheval Blanc Courchevel. The exclusive LVMH hotel is inviting its guests to explore the wintry landscape of the resort’s Jardin Alpine while skiing along behind a horse; one well-trained in this traditional Nordic mode of transport, which affords all the magic of cross-country skiing without having to do any work. The hotel has also introduced a traditional Russian banya for the 2018/19 season; a dry-heat sauna surrounded by mounds of fresh powdery snow, into which brazen bathers will dive, toning the body and fortifying the mind. Cheval Blanc has teamed up with Louis Vuitton to turn its entrance into an enchanted garden for this festive season, complete with a magnificent Christmas tree dressed with signature Louis Vuitton baubles: every bit the winter wonderland deluxe.