A little look into the winter wonderlands of the world’s very best chalets and lodges. As the popularity of skiing has grown exponentially over the last 20 years, and as snowboarding and other winter sports have also taken off, the demand for high end mountain-based holidays has exploded. In fact, so in love with snow and ice are the nation’s holidaymakers, that they now demand just as much from their Winter holidays as they do from their luxury Maldivian beach breaks and Caribbean Christmases.
The traditional and fairly basic chalets of old still exist, and business is as good as ever in that market, but the luxury chalet business is now in a league of its very own. Jacuzzis and hot tubs, swimming pools, gymns and spa rooms, private balconies and ensuite wet rooms, games rooms and bedside log fires, all come pretty much as standard in a luxury chalet these days. But there’s more too – in fact pretty much anything is possible.
Size doesn’t really matter when it comes to luxury – a high end boutique luxury chalet can be just a few hundred square metres in size. One may accommodate up to ten people, another 20 or even 30. Ski accommodation varies in size. Eight hundred square metres is very large by European standards, but if it’s size you are looking for, the luxury chalets of the American and Canadian ski resorts simply have much more space on the mountainside than those in Europe! Some have over 15,000 square foot of interior space, and 5,000 square feet of outside patio and decking (including of course an outdoor fireplace, firepit, open air spa and summer kitchen!).
Resort-wise, even the smaller resorts can now offer real high end luxury. The most top-notch prestigious resorts in the Alps such as Courchevel, Verbier, Zermatt and St Moritz can cater for the most discerning of tastes. One of the most expensive chalets in the world in fact – the Tivoli Lodge in Klosters – costs well over £60,000 a week to rent over the New Year period.
There are companies that can make this kind of luxury a little more affordable though, and realistic. Companies like Scott Dunn, for example, can tailor the luxury quotient to what you and your guests really need. They spend much of their time and money making sure that nothing is too much trouble and that no tiny detail is overlooked. And high levels of service and decorative flair can provide real luxury without breaking the bank. This kind of luxury is all about your individual requirements and dreams for the perfect winter break, and perhaps the little things you haven’t thought about too – in chalet ski and boot fitting, ski passes waiting for you on arrival, and then things like rainforest showers, or retro red velvet cinema chairs….
Design is a big deal in luxury chalets. Interior design is often inspired by the finest Italian furniture, or the most beautiful French art deco style – look out for expensive silk curtains and cushions, fine polished and buffed teak floors. But a good quality chalet design will never overlook the warmth of old and well-loved Swiss wooden beams either. All make for an atmosphere of complete beauty for family and friends – more luxury yacht than damp school trip of old!
Staff wise, the best chalets have the very best staff – butler, concierge, driver, housekeeper, chef, dedicated ski guides and instructors, sports therapists, nannies, nutritionists and physios. They are responsible for the luxury of detail – fresh flowers, towels and bedlinen, home baked cakes and pastries every morning, the finest coffee, the best meat and fish and local seasonal produce. Some companies have even offered the services of celebrity chef consultants such as Tom Aikens, endless vintage Krug, Norland nannies, and Jo Malone beauty products.
A concierge is almost par for the course now with luxury chalets – a good concierge has superb knowledge of the surrounding area and excellent contacts, so that you’ll always know what to do and where to go. They can guarantee you the very best tables in the very best restaurants and bars, and the best tickets for the most ‘must attend’ resort parties. In fact they can be your private event organiser too – planning heli skiing trips or building you a personal ice bar on the mountain for some night skiing!
Much of these luxury chalets’s success is in providing a traditional old-fashioned escape ambience – gluhwein and log fires, mountain air and snowcapped dawns. But the 21st Century demands a contemporary high tech ‘anything is possible’ edge too. If you don’t quite want to get away from it all, if you are looking for a full working office or business centre away from home for example, so that work never quite stops, then you can find the most superbly equipped offices imaginable in a good luxury chalet. But keeping in touch with the working world occasionally isn’t so bad when you can have a hot bath drawn for you and a glass of Laurent Perrier Rose poured for you at the end of a full days skiing.
The ‘anything is possible’ tag really can apply to luxury ski chalets, and in fact things you might think only existed in James Bond films really can happen on a mountain somewhere in the world!
Whether it’s a baronial mansion just outside St Moritz, with original frescoes, panelled walls and flagstone floors, or a modernist masterpiece in Zermatt accessed by an underground cable car and private tunnel, luxury chic can easily go a little bit over the top. Are you looking for a fully stocked wine cellar and walk in humidor carved in to the mountain? Or a private nightclub and sushi bar? How about an exotic wood panelled library filled with first edition classics, or a 15 metre indoor onyx lined pool and hammam? Believe it or not, you can rent a chalet that has all things.
Much of what makes luxury ‘real’ is about guests being able to make the rules. If you want a grand piano in your living room, it can be delivered to your exact specifications. If you want to sleep until noon, then breakfast should be ready for you when you wake up. If you want to carve the first tracks in virgin snow as the sun comes up, or take a sleigh ride at dusk, then your boots should always be ready, warmed and waiting. Whichever way you look at it, these kinds of ski holidays are ones you will cherish the memories of forever. The height of luxury on top of the world – it doesn’t get much better than that.