Skiing is something that Nick and I only got round to relatively late in life. Unsurprising, really, considering that we grew up in a country where snow is unusual enough to make the evening news, and that had a sum total on one ski resort with one button lift! Nick took to it like a duck to water, skiing red runs quite competently at the end ouf our first week of ski lessons back in March 2007. I, on the other hand, took a little more convincing and a lot more lessons. I had never had any ambition to ski and because I am neither a fan of extreme cold, nor sports in general, I had already practically made up my mind not to like it. I spent my first day of ski school mostly in tears. First I cried out of sheer terror (OMG these skis are slippery! OMG what if I can’t stop? OMG I’m going to SKI OFF THE MOUNTAIN AND DIE!) and when my ski instructor asked why I was crying, I blurted through the tears: “I’m here under duress!”. And then I cried (and swore rather a lot) out of sheer frustration: I was seeing three year olds mastering their skis, so why couldn’t I with all my fancy schmancy university degrees? (It might have something to do with the fact that a three year old has no concept of how long a broken femur takes to heal… but I do!) It was like spending a week in a Humility 101 workshop. But by the end of it I could just about ski down to the village along a gentle blue run, and the sense of achievement was close to indescribable. Little did I know that this was to be the start of an obsession that continues unabated to this day. And after two trips to a hotel in Soldeu, Andorra we decided to try the Full Monty and book a catered chalet holiday in Morzine in 2009, which spoilt us for all future ski trips. From now on it was to be a catered chalet with a hot tub or bust.
Last month we returned for a second time to Chatel in the French Alps to stay in Chalet Cateriane, run by a wonderful English couple Al & Deb Flight who base their package on the kind of luxury ski holiday they always wanted as customers but struggled to find. We had previously been there in 2010 and had loved it so much that we chose to return this year. Your holiday literally does start as soon as you get off the plane and the chalet hosts meet you in their minivan to whisk you off to the slopes. Once in resort, you are taken to a local ski shop to sort out your rental equipment and the chalet will even organise lift passes to be ready for you on arrival, for that sneaky ski on your first afternoon. The chalet is not ski in, ski out but Al will drop you ate the slopes in the minivan in the morning and pick you up again in the afternoon – so no walking in ski boots, hurrah! Chalet Cateriane is a traditional wooden chalet located a little outside the centre of Chatel, near to the Linga telecabine, in a quiet area with a stream running through the bottom of the garden. Deb has decorated it beautifully in what she calls “Alpine chic” (a stylish mix of traditional charm and modern comforts) and the whole place is kitted out to a very high standard: WI-FI broadband, SkyTV, AppleTV, DVDs, i-Pod docks and table football,. Each of the five double bedrooms is individually decorated and each has its own bathroom (which comes with free toiletries and fluffy robes!). The spacious lounge/dining room on the ground floor is a great place to gather for champagne and canapés before dinner in front of a log fire, discussing the day’s skiing. There is also a mezzanine TV lounge under the eaves – the perfect place to snuggle up with a movie and a drink at the end of the day.
Apart from being such a lovely and comfortable chalet, we also love Chalet Cateriane for the food! During the winter months it is rented out on a fully catered basis, meaning that each day starts with breakfast consisting of fresh bread and croissants, fruit, yoghurt and a different hot dish each day (sausages, bacon, boiled eggs etc etc) plus coffee tea and juice. When you get home from skiing in the mid-afternoon, there is always fresh homemade cake and coffee (buttery flapjacks one day; unbelievable chocolate brownies on another; a spectacular Victoria sponge on a third). And in that awkward couple of hours between tea and pre-dinner drinks, my favourite way to pass my time is relaxing in the outdoor hot tub! The chalet has a fully stocked honesty bar, so you can grab a bottle of bubbly as you head outside and then enjoy it in the muscle-soothing comfort of the spacious hot tub, while the sun sets over the snowy peaks all around you. It’s my idea of heaven.
But back to the food. Both Al and Deb are foodies and enthusiastic cooks and it shows in the care they take with the cooking. Dinner consists of canapés and three courses every night (except on the hosts’ night off), and every dinner we had was fantastic. Here are our menus for the week:
- Coquilles St Jacques; chicken supreme filled with Boursin cheese and wrapped with bacon; vanilla creme brulée
- Viandes des Grisons (local air-dried beef) with ginger, chilli and radishes; slow-cooked pork belly on spinach and mashed potato; raspberry semi-freddo
- Pork terrine; homemade fishcakes with a fennnel, red onion and coriander slaw (and a dessert I forgot to photograph – sorry!)
- Pissaladiere; beef Bourguignon with polenta; citrus-spiced apple pavlova
- Prawns with a sweet chilli sauce and prawn crackers; local diot sausages with onion gravy and mashed potatoes; a cheese board of local cheeses with port
- Grilled goats cheese on toast with spiced apple and walnuts; confit duck leg with a berry coulis served with a creamy sweet potato bake; and sticky toffee pudding with ice cream and a shot of toffee vodka
Kids’ meals can me arranged on request, and Al and Deb can cater for special diets – one of our friends is vegetarian and some nights the she had to fight the carnivores off her plate because her vegetarian dishes looked so tempting! Red and white wines specially selected by our hosts are served throughout the meal, all of which were of a high standard.
And what of the skiing in Chatel, I hear you ask? Chatel firms part of the humungous Portes du Soleil ski area which links the major resorts of Chatel, Morzine, Avoriaz, Morgins, Les Crosets and Champery – so there is something for everbody. Beginners can attend ski school at any one of a number of the resorts; intermediates have hundreds of kilometres of blues and red runs to play on and crazy lunatics with suicidal tendencies advanced skiiers and snowboarders have black runs (including the classic Swiss Wall which can at times be described as “an ice sheet with moguls as big as cars” – nice), snow parks, and great off-piste opportunities. Lift passes are available for each resort individually or for the entire Portes du Soleil ski area. Both times we have been there, we have had great snow but of course this is not a given. The good news is that Avoriaz is high enough to be very snow-sure, so even if the snow is patchy in the lower resorts, you can make your way over there to ski, plus there are hundreds of snow cannons throughout the area and snow can be manufactured if necessary. An army of pisteurs with snowcats groom the slopes to within an inch of their lives each night, so it pays to get up early for the first ski of the day. The lift system is vast and well maintained, with mostly chairs and cable cars in the French resorts, although when you head into the Swiss resorts there are numerous button lifts and the odd T-bar. Dining on the slopes is generally of a high standard and much of the fare is traditional (think traditional dishes like raclette and tartiflette, as well as jaw-dropping salads) – but I will cover that in a separate post.
Apart from skiing with friends and exploring on my own, I also had a 2-hour private lesson with an instructor from the British Alpine Ski School in Chatel (BASS) and I cannot recommend them highly enough. Let me set the scene by telling you that I am a serial ski-schooler. I did 2 weeks of ski school in Andorra, a week in Avoriaz and a week in Chatel on our previous trip with ESF – so I know of what I speak. There are instructors who behave like they are drill sergeants in a Marine Corps training camp; and then there are instructors like Joe and Pieter who taught me in Andorra – and Helen from BASS Chatel. These instructors gently push you to extend your limits without your noticing it… until you suddenly find you are skiing down a precipitous red run or off-piste – and enjoying it! She taught me techniques without making it feel like actual teaching and quietly sneaked me onto slopes I would never have contemplated at the start of the lesson, which gave me a gigantic confidence boost. I can’t recommend BASS highly enough!
The hardest thing about spending a week in Chalet Cateriane is the pain of returning to harsh reality at the end of it. For the second time, we felt as if we had been guests in Al & Deb’s home rather than paying customers. If you are looking for a luxury and stylish catered chalet with great food and where you can focus 100% on skiing and socialising while your hosts take care of every last detail, look no further. Thanks again, Al & Deb – we’ll be back!
FACTS & FIGURES:
- Geneva is the closest airpost to Chatel and we flew Easyjet (starting from about £100, depending how early you book) but BA and Swiss also fly directly there from London (and Swiss allows you to take ski equipment at no extra charge).
- Chalet Cateriane on a fully catered basis with 8 people sharing double rooms cost about €4,000 – €5,000 per week for the 2011/12 season, depending on dates.
- Full Portes du Soleil lift passes for the 2011/12 season for 6 days cost €219 for adults and €164 for children under 15.
- BASS individual ski lessons cost £65 per hour or £159 for a course of 5 x 2 hour group sessions for beginners, as well as more advanced classes for perfecting and improving parallel turns
298 Route de la Dranse
Tel: 0033 4 50 73 95 56
Mobile: 0033 6 89 25 14 29
Tel: (UK) +44 (0)20 3286 3661
Tel: (France) +33 (0) 450739375