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A Change of Scenery — Skiing in Luxury: Europe

clock 7th October 2011 | comment0 Comments

Having taken a look at alternative resorts in the last couple of weeks, with Austria and Italy, I thought I'd take a look at where to enjoy a luxury ski holiday next.

Luxury ski holidays can mean something different to all of us, for some it's sitting in one of Chardon Mountain Lodges chalets in Val d'Isere, enjoying fabulous food and Perrier Jouët on tap, for others it's about staying in one of Courchevel 1850's exclusive hotels, or enjoying the champagne ice-bars that accompany the après ski scene in Lech.

Luxury skiing is also about the resort you stay in, the mountain you ski and, of course, where to eat, drink and shop. As mentioned everyone want's something different on their ski holiday, so here are a few of our favourite European destinations to burn a hole in your wallet with.

Courchevel 1850

Courchevel 1850 has been synonymous with luxury skiing holidays for longer than I've been alive and will no doubt out live me too. The resort offers the world's largest linked ski area in the Three Valleys, some fantastically flattering pistes around the resort itself and is stunning.

Courchevel is known for its superb hotels, designer shopping and, of course, the James Bond altiport — okay, so it's not actually called that, but you may recognise it from the opening sequence of Tomorrow Never Dies. Courchevel boasts lavish, exclusive hotels, for those who can afford them and also a handful of chalet hotels, for those who can't, but enjoy watching the Prada clad skiers/shoppers and the fantastic atmosphere.

As mentioned, Courchevel is renowned for great hotels, and though they currently seem to be filled with the Russian nouveau riche, there is still an elegantly Anglo-French atmosphere and plenty of wealthy Brits in town. The Hotel Annapurna has to be the reference point for Courchevel's hotels, it has been well established for 36 years and under the same management for the past 20 years — testament to it's reputation. The Annapurna is also closest to the altiport, important for those looking for helicopter transfers or mere James Bond fans.

The Hotel Les Airelles has been a celebrity favourite for years and it's regulars include Eddie Jordan, Mike Rutherford and Chris Rea, as opposed to reality TV stars. The relaxed atmosphere and lavished surroundings, as well as a great location, also add to it's popularity. Now, Le Chabichou, may only be a four star establishment, but boasts the world renowned, michelin starred, Michel Rochedy as it's restaurants head chef. The restaurant received its first Michelin star in 1979 and its second in 1984 and there aren't too many hotels in the Alps that can boast the same level of cuisine!

Lech

Lech has been referred to as the Courchevel of Austria, and though it's an exclusive resort, filled with luxurious hotels, offers world class skiing and is steeped in history, it is a very different resort to Courchevel. Courchevel is where the rich happily flaunt their money, Lech is the opposite of this.

Over the Christmas and New Year holidays you won't be able to find a room for love nor money, as many of Europe's elite have the hotels wrapped-up, and have done so for decades. You'll find the owners of Mercedes and BMW, along with their families taking over the resort during the festive season, and though there is always an air of wealth, there types of skiers in Lech never feel the need to show it.

With the big, open, motorway pistes of Lech and the more technical skiing of St. Anton to enjoy, along with this gorgeous, relaxed resort you can see why it is a former favourite of the late Princess Diana.

The Gasthof Post opened in 1937, and like the Annapurna in Courchevel, is the reference point for Lech, the family run hotel has stuck to the same recipe for years and remains a favourite of Lech's regular skiers. Other notable hotels in Lech include the Almhof Schneider, based a the foot of the Schlegelkopf mountain and the luxury chalet-styled, boutique hotel, Hotel Aurelio.

St. Moritz

Though Klosters can often take the limelight when it comes to luxury skiing in Switzerland — and when the Royal family are in town there's no surprise to why — St. Moritz is one of the world's most elegant resorts, boasting one of the most iconic hotels in the Alps, Badrutt's Palace.

St. Moritz is the original winter sports resort, if not the first true ski resort. It came to popularity with the Brits at the turn on the 20th century as skiing began to grow as a holiday activity for the wealthy, and has remained a favourite resort for generations since.

Though not as flashy as Courchevel with it's designer shopping, fur jackets & Range Rovers, it is not as understated as Lech. This is a resort that, again offers an air of wealth and chic surroundings. The shopping would be enough the break to average bank account and the skiing is comparable to Val d'Isere — in size at the very least. There are motorway pistes and flattering runs, for the more pedestrian skier and challenging off-piste for the adrenaline junkies out there.

The historic Palace Hotel in St. Moritz opened in 1896 as the successor to the first winter sports hotel, the Krup Hause. The hotel has recently changed it's name to the Badrutt's Palace, but remains one of the most recognisable hotels in skiing. The founder of hotel built the first bobsled run for his guests and the current owners have maintained the reputation of one of the leading hotels in the world.

There are so many great resorts for a luxury skiing holiday, with Val d'Isere, Davos, Klosters and Ischgl to name a few, but Courchevel, Lech and St. Moritz have long been at the top of most people's wish lists and will remain there for years to come. The question is which resort is the right one for you? Whether you are there for the skiing, the lavish hotels or the shopping.



A Change of Scenery — Italy

clock 30th September 2011 | comment0 Comments

Following on from last week's piece, A Change of Scenery — Austria, I've taken a look at the Italian resorts that offer something a little different to the usual top resorts us Brits tend to head to.

Italian skiing is renowned for its great value and relaxed pace, which almost feels ironic for an espresso-fuelled country, renowned for its sports cars and helmet-less, moped riding nutcases.

Selva

Selva is a truly beautiful resort that boasts amazing scenery — the Dolomites change colour throughout the day depending on the light. The ski area is ideal for beginners and intermediates, offering the perfect terrain to build confidence. Elisa Boccara, one of our longstanding sales consultants described the Selva as "the most beautiful ski resort I have ever been to."

For the more experienced skiers there is the whopping 1220 km of the Sella Ronda to explore and though the slopes are not the most challenging, the vast array of terrain and ability to ski in so many different resorts, including Arabba, Corvara and Canazei makes it worth the trip.

The resort itself offers a mix of Italian and Austrian food and culture, making for a quite an original experience and probably more akin to Switzerland, apart from the vast difference in prices! The après ski is more gentle than last week's Austrian resorts, but there is enough to have a good time. Whether on the mountain or in resort you'll find your euros going a lot further, as the typical prices of food and drink are much more reasonable than France or Austria.

Madonna di Campiglio

As one of the country's top resorts, Madonna di Campiglio's popularity with the local market and relatively small number of beds ensures its exclusive — to the British market at least — reputation.

Whereas Courchevel and Klosters are becoming synonymous with nouveau riche Russians, Madonna is better known for hosting Ferrari's pre-season party, thanks to the generous sponsors, which adds a little F1 style glamour. If you head into the resort in mid-January you can expect to see the likes of Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Stefano Domenicali, Giancarlo Fisichella, Jules Bianchi and even Michael Schumacher in town.

The resort is full of Milanese happy to parade the latest fashion every evening in the charming town square. Nearby boutiques, lively Italian bars and attractive cafes all add to the resort's character. Along with all of this there is also 150km of skiing in what is an intermediate skier's dream. It really is like a smaller Courchevel, minus the pretence.

Champoluc

One of Iglu's most renowned ski specialists highly recommends Champoluc, and Thomas Moulton doesn't hand out recommendations willy nilly, "A good skiing buddy of mine raves about the resort — vast empty pistes next to the Monte Rosa with flattering skiing, great Italian food and good accommodation. A West Country group of ours who book every year also expressed similar sentiments. It's well priced too."

Champoluc isn't as renowned as many of Europe's resorts, but for those tired of skiing in Val d'Isere, St. Anton and even Verbier, it offers superb touring skiing, whether hiking the Monta Rosa with a local guide or splashing out on some heliskiing in the nearby area. The resort itself offers great, confidence-building skiing, so for mixed ability groups looking for something a little different, with money to spend, and wanting to stay within a short flight from the UK, Champoluc is a great option.

As with many Italian resorts, Champoluc is quiet during the week, but picks up during the weekend when the Milanese and Turin crowds flock to the their weekend apartments and Italian run hotels. The Relais des Glaciers offer superb accommodation and remains family-run, adding to the charm.

Skiing and snowboarding shouldn't be about skiing the same runs and staying in the same hotels and chalets year-on-year, I am guilty of repeatedly visiting Meribel and Morzine, don't get me wrong, but we should all try and ski somewhere new once in a while. There are so many fantastic, though largely undiscovered resorts out there to experience, and on holiday it makes a nice change to be surrounded by locals, as opposed to bumping into your neighbours, someone off the PTA or the lads from the rugby club.



A Change of Scenery — Austria

clock 23rd September 2011 | comment0 Comments

As there are now only eight weeks until the first lifts open in Val Thorens, Europe's highest resort, I thought I'd take a look at which resorts we are getting excited about for 2012. Of course, virtually every member of our team will list trips to Val d'Isere, Meribel, Les Arcs, St. Anton or Whistler as their highlight of the winter, but where are people planning to go this year for something new?

Every year we are gaining access to new properties in resorts that have either been forgotten by the Brits or are lesser known, hidden gems. There is a huge amount of world class skiing, great après scenes, exclusive villages and friendly-family resorts that are out there to be enjoyed, that you may never have considered.

Yes the Tarantaise resorts in France are among the world's best and Britain's favourites but sometimes escaping the anglicised bars and busy slopes can make for as good a, if not better, ski holiday experience.

Austria is quickly cementing itself as Britain's second favourite ski destination, and with comparable, if not better value, in-resort costs to France and fantastic resorts on offer, you can see why. So, here are a few resorts we'll be heading to this winter, from hedonistic party towns to the quaint, traditional resorts.

Ischgl ski holidays

Ischgl is one of the biggest party towns in the Alps and the resort that the Austrians themselves rate as their best, yet for some reason it remains largely undiscovered by British skiers. Ischgl offers some superb skiing and loads or cruisy, well groomed pistes. There is the renowned 'Duty-Free Run', which winds its way back from Samnaun in Switzerland via a back-country unmarked route, so the locals can avoid Customs at the top of the pistes. If you're not a back-country standard skier yet, there is a double-decker cable car coming back up to Austria — just don't overfill your duty-free stash.

As well as great skiing, Ischgl is one of the après ski resorts to visit. Such is the nightlife's reputation, rumour has it the slopes never get busy before 11am. So, if you're an early starter you can enjoy a quiet mountain, if you a party goer, you won't be alone with your hangover at the lift station.

Ischgl also boasts a couple of renowned festivals, the imaginatively named opening party and closing party, which are, unsurprisingly, held on the opening and closing weekends in resort. Over the last couple of seasons Ischgl's festivals have boasted the likes of Katy Perry and The Killers.

Solden ski holidays

Solden in one of Austria's infamous, après ski resorts, where the party kicks off at 4pm and can go on until 8am the following morning! Again Solden has somehow been forgotten by mainstream Brits and has more of an Austrian, German and Scandinavian crowd in town — think trays of beer, Jägermeister and packed out bars, oh and don't forget the famous Austrian um-par-par music and barmaids in lederhosen. Marcos and the Schrim umbrella bar, at the Giggijochbahn end of tow, are where to be straight from the slopes.

The skiing is made up from "The Big 3" mountains, Gaislachkogl (3.058 m), Tiefenbach (3.250 m) and Schwarze Schneide (3.340 m). The area is serviced by high-speed lifts and includes two glaciers, in turn offering Austria's largest glacial ski area, with 147 km of piste. The slopes in the nearby resort of Obergurgl are an intermediate skiers dream, so if you fancy a day skiing in a different resort, it's well worth the 20 minute drive and lift pass extension and the perfect remedy following the night before's party.

St. Christoph ski holidays

St. Christoph, and our newly converted chalet hotel the Chalet Hotel St. Christoph, offers a very different Austrian ski holiday, a more relaxed, elegant, family-friendly experience. The resort offers a more quaint and exclusive feel and is home to the Austrian ski team's base camp. You are more likely to see people enjoying a vin chaud or glass of fizz then falling off tables while knocking back Stroh. That said, the hedonistic resort of St. Anton is a mere 15 minutes bus ride away, with the last bus running until 4am in peak season!

The resort's skiing is quite compact, but thanks to the Arlberg's micro-climate, it's pretty snow-sure, hence the Austrian ski teams presence. It only takes about 10 minutes to ski over to St. Anton where you can access world class skiing and the world renowned Valluga — where you are only allowed if you are with a ski guide. For more mellow skiing and champagne bars you can get the bus over the Lech from St. Anton, where a vast array cruisy blues are included on your lift pass.

Kuhtai

Kuhtai is another resort that was once popular with British skiers and thanks to another new chalet hotel, the Chalet Hotel Elisabeth, it could be once again. Though it is a smaller, more compact resort it is a fantastic place for intermediate skiing families. It lacks beginner runs, but once you are all ready to hit the blues and reds there is more than enough for a week's holiday, especially if you are the ones keeping up with your kids as opposed to the other way round. You can also jump on the bus to the nearby resort of Oetz, for something a little different on one of the days.

Kuhtai is more about stunning scenery, high altitude skiing and a family friendly atmosphere, than après ski parties and late nights out. This is a great resort to escape to for a week in the mountains and is ideal for families who will do more than once trip this winter.

Austrian skiing was once the mainstay of British ski holidays, both my own mum, my mother-in-law and my boss learnt to ski there. With the prices in France a little higher due to the current rate of the Euro, Austria is an attractive destination right now, though saying that the in resort prices in Ischgl, St. Anton and Lech won't be much different, due to their status as the country's top resorts.

Other resorts worth a look are Saalbach for Scandinavian-fuelled après ski, Zell am See for a stunning traditional ski town and Lech for exclusive hotels and outdoor champagne ice bars.



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