There are few better feelings than arriving bone-weary and bleary-eyed at your winter holiday destination, to find a roaring fire in the grate, lemon drizzle cake on the table, and a bottle of chilled wine in the fridge.
Welcome to the winter high life, chalet-style. Now, many seasoned skiers prefer to stay in hotels. They are anonymous and often anodyne – which for many is exactly the experience they’re seeking. The action, after all, is out there on the slopes: why pay more for domesticity, the thinking goes, when you’re going to be out at Casbah or Farm Club til the wee smalls. Plus, it’s cheaper, surely.
Yet that isn’t always the case. In fact, it rarely is. Case in point: my wife and I arrive in Verbier after a long and winding journey up the Swiss Alps. At the top, awaiting our arrival, a gleaming steed driven by John, a super-smiley Aussie working for Ski Verbier. We’re only 200 metres away from our destiny, Chalet Sophia, but John whisks us there: Ski Verbier provides a 24-hour driver, a godsend if you arrive weighed down with luggage or at an awkward time of day.
Inside, everything is instantly and wonderfully anti-hotel. It’s friendly and personal: there are no key fobs or door keys, just a code to enter the building. The walls don’t feel like borders, as they so often do in hotels. Here, there’s space to spread out: the fire crackles, the full kitchen and bar offers wine, beer and spirits. There’s no room service to dial. Everything is done here in-house: Izzy and Holly busy themselves quietly in the kitchen, brewing tea and slicing cake while preparing a splendid repaste to be served up later at dinner.
Nor is it really so pricey. To be sure, chalets, particularly at the higher end of the market, an area firmly occupied by Chalet Sophia and Ski Verbier’s other residences, aren’t cheap. But when food and drink are gratis, as they are in many chalets (like ours), you’d be amazed how much you save. Switzerland is expensive; Verbier doubly so. Think of all that money you save on breakfast, dinner, and drinks alone: more, surely, to spend in the bars, from après ski through to the early hours. Hotels, by contrast, are misleading places: glad to be finally on the slopes, holidaymakers rarely realise how much they are spending until presented with the final, alarming bill.
We luxuriate in our luck. The previous occupants of Chalet Sophia left a day early, so it’s just us. We wander and explore. The chalet’s like a Tardis: bigger on the inside than you expect. The bathrooms offer wonderfully long, deep baths – a luxury rarely found in Verbier hotels, unless you head into the higher and pricier echelons. The terrace offers views over to the French Alps; a newly-built cable car linking Verbier with Le Châble train station down in the valley whispers quietly overhead. It’s effortlessly comfortable and quiet – the sort of peaceable silence that descends when the soul is at rest.
Later, we head out to the slopes, after picking up ski passes and insurance (obligatory here, but essential). Switzerland’s kind and thoughtful burghers offers a discount on your ski pass as well as ski gear rented at Intersport in the centre of Verbier if you travel by rail rather than by car. (There’s little logical reason to hire a car in Switzerland, a country excellent at promoting its excellent public transport network).
Above us a blue, Lapis Lazuli sky framing slopes covered in deep, powdery snow. Skiing on such a day – warm in the sun, but cool enough to keep your après-beer cold – is just a blessing. High above Verbier, the sound and fury of the world recedes. It’s just you on a pair of skis, weaving your way down a mountain. Nothing more, nothing less. Your day stretches out untrammelled ahead of you: skiing, maybe some cheeky chips, more skiing, perhaps a cheeky beer or two.
And in the back of your mind, a wonderful feeling: at the end of the day, you’re heading back not to that anodyne hotel room but to your own, personal chalet. At around 6pm, long after the sun has dipped below the horizon (and long after the bars have opened), we collapse into Chalet Sophia, aching but smiling. A long, hot bath beckons, then an hour or so recuperating in front of the fire.
Later, Ski Verbier’s management team join us for dinner. Kate, Scottie, Sophie and Dave settle in to enjoy the fruits of Ashleigh’s culinary labours: mouth-watering smoked salmon tartare to start, with miniature carafes of pea and bacon soup. A salmon and sea bass ceviche to start, duck for main course and to finish chorros with toffee, creme anglais and chocolate dipping sauces. All washed down with wine and good conversation. The team pulls off the tricky feat of being both friendly and professional, and great company – there’s literally nothing they don’t collectively know about where to ski, drink, eat, relax, and live it up. We head off after dinner to Farinet for a few cheeky drinks before calling it a night.
The Ski Verbier team run everything as efficiently and professionally as a Swiss watch, while remaining effortlessly friendly and engaging. Everything slots neatly into place, and no request is too much or too late. I’d never been on a chalet holiday before; now, I can’t imagine staying anywhere else.
Chalet Sophia is a catered chalet, it sleeps up to 8 guests, prices in low season start at £7,000 per week and go up to £15,695 over the February half term. Prices are per week but Sophia is available for shorter stays.
Ski Verbier, From £7,000 contact Kate Ross on +44 (0) 20 7401 1101