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Now us Brits love a good chalet holiday. Those of us who frequent the Alps have probably been to Europe's big super-resorts and huge ski areas such as Meribel, Val d'Isere, Les Arcs and St. Anton. There is also a rather large proportion of us who find ourselves going back to the same resort year on year. I'm as guilty as anyone with three trips to Morzine in the past two winters.
With this in mind I'd thought I'd take a look at the forgotten gems of chalet holidays. There are a mixture of world class resorts and hidden gems here, and though you may argue some of these resorts are not exactly forgotten, in terms of chalet holidays, not hotels, we all forget about them.
Zermatt, with the iconic Matterhorn, is among the most famous and revered resorts in the Alps, though it is not a typical chalet holiday resort. The resort may boast a great selection of chalets but it is better known for its 5* hotels and luxury accommodation. The Matterhorn and the Gournegrat offer some fantastic skiing, and with Cervinia the other side of the valley offers great motorway pistes and affordable Italian mountain restaurants. Zermatt chalet holidays are a great way of staying in this über luxury resort.
The chocolate box resort is again better know for its luxury hotels, ski in/out village and the glacier, but it also offers a couple of incredibly popular chalet hotels. With only a handful of chalet hotels to choose from this picturesque resort often falls under the radar from the masses, yet offers a world class snow record and beautiful Swiss village-style resort. Whether you are skiing with your partner or going away with your family, Saas Fee chalet holidays offer great value in one of Switzerland's finest, snowsure resorts.
Ischgl is one of Europe's finest resorts, yet remains largely undiscovered to Brit skiers. With two of the biggest parties in the Alps, the resorts opening and closing festivals, a great apres ski scene and superb skiing, this is a resort we have somehow forgotten about and really shouldn't have. Okay, so along with the likes of Zermatt, Lech and Courchevel it is one of the more exclusive resorts full of 4* and 5* hotels, but with the addition of the Chalet Hotel Abendrot you can enjoy a more affordable Ischgl chalet holiday and make the most of this fantastic resort.
Obergurgl is my token purpose-built resort, though some people are not fans of the high rise buildings and lack of trees, these resorts were built with one thing in mind - the skiing. Not as unattractive as Val Thorens or Tignes, and offering a slightly more chilled feeling compared to the usual Austrian apres madness, Obergurgl is great for families and intermediate skiers. With loads of glacier skiing, Hochgurgl only a cable car away and Solden a short bus journey, there is more than enough on offer here to fill your week. With Obergurgl chalet holidays making a come back, this is a resort for families to flock too.
Quaint, French and friendly are not three words that some skiers will use to describe the Tarantaise Valley. Though a fan myself, the Three Valleys' vast pistes and crowds are not to everyone's liking and La Rosiere is anything but busy. This great little resort is a family skiing haven, yet also offers un-tracked off-piste and the chance to ski over to Italy thanks to being linked with La Thuile. If a more French & relaxed feel, among one of the most famous skiing valleys in the world, is what you are looking for then La Ros is perfect. Most of the accommodation on offer is chalets therefore a La Rosiere chalet holiday is the way forward to enjoy this hugely under-rated resort.
We may be creatures of habit, but if you fancy a change of pace from the hectic skiing in the Three Valleys and Espace Killy or a resort with more of a village feeling to purpose built ski resort, these are all worth a look.
If you want to escape the Euro-zone then Zermatt's Matterhorn offers incredible views from the rotating restaurant in a star studded resort, or Saas Fee offers a romantic and picturesque feel. If Austria's love of sausages and um-pa-pa apres ski is more up your street then try out the world renowned Ischgl or more family-friendly, though purpose-built Obergurgl. And last, but by no means least, if you have a love affair with the French skiing scene head to La Rosiere for its quieter slopes, fantastic terrain and relaxed atmosphere.
As a Meribel and Morzine addict I am looking forward to trying somewhere new this year, with Ischgl at the top of my list!
The Three Valleys is the world's largest and arguably best-linked ski area, famed for playing host to everyone from Courchevel's Russian Oligarchs and Meribel's rockstars to Val Thorens' vibrant, orange-infused, Dutch week.
The Three Valleys offers a huge variety of terrain, resort atmosphere, accommodation, bars and restaurants. Some go for the celebrity spotting and boutique shopping, others for varied skiing and great off-piste, and not forgetting the famous and raucous après ski.
Now finding the right restaurant for a mountain lunch can be challenging across the Three Valleys. With Courchevel's bank busters to those run by friendly French patrons, who feel the need to finish off your slightly boozy lunch with their homemade genepy, to choose from. Whether you are a hardcore skier, a park rat or a fan of leisurely lunch, at some point you will be enjoying the array of cuisine and venues on offer.
I've had a few mixed experiences including drinking too much toffee vodka with the manager of the Skilodge in La Tania and realising I only had 90 minutes until the last lift into Val Thorens, where I was staying, to romantic lunches on Meribel Village's quaint terrace.
Of course I don't recommend drinking and skiing because that would be dangerous and irresponsible, but if you do enjoy a cheese-filled lunch with a glass of wine and sampling the local digestives, I do have a few favourites. Some I know by name, others by location (does anyone actually know the name of the restaurant with the big knife and folk sign in VT?).
If Savoie mountain food is your thing there are some great places to fill up on cheese and meat. Darbelo's hidden in the labyrinth streets on La Praz and offers perfectly cooked steaks and the infamous, and sometime dangerous, Mutzig beer on draft. At the top of the Menuires chair in Les Menuires there is a wonderful little family run restaurant, the name escapes me but the cheese based food, bright blue genepy and welcoming service make it worth a visit. The Adray Telebar in Meribel, set just below the Ronde Point de Pistes, offers a superb Savoyard specialties set in a traditional, rustic, mountain atmosphere, and it has a terrace with superb views, and it's an easy ski back into Meribel post-lunch.
If you are looking for a lively atmopshere, planning to write off your afternoon and you are staying nearby there are some great venues to spend white-out days or sunny afternoons. If you are in Courchevel the Skilodge is a great venue for both occasions. On sunny days the terrace has great views, and the bus runs to the other Courchevel resorts well into après ski o'clock, great for toffee vodka, big portions and live music. If Meribel is your venue then the Ronnie (Ronde Point) has to be top of the list, with a variety of food from relaxed table service to a hot dog and burger stand, again the Ronnie has great views, a truly huge terrace, and the cream of après ski live bands.
If someone else is paying then take a trip to the Chalet de Pierres, where Courchevel's skiing meets Parisienne gastronomy. This über luxury restaurant has a wine menu that requires a small mortgage, lavish decor and of course praise in the Michelin Guide for it's fine cuisine. If your credit cards can stretch to the bill you will find yourself rubbing shoulders with sports stars, entrepreneurs and their trophy wives. The wine won't give you a headache, but your bank manager might!
If a romantic lunch, drinking Rose and eating crostinis, great salads or stone-baked pizza sounds up your street head the Lodge du Village in Meribel Village. If stunning panoramic views are more to your partner's desire a glass of Apremont at the top the La Saulire always goes down a treat. The food is pretty good in either restaurant and if needed you can get the lift back down to either Meribel or Courchevel, if you over-indulge.
Not that I'm suggesting that skiers like a drink, but there is something about vin chaud and genepy on a cold Winters day or a post skiing glass of Rose in spring on the many sun terraces around that you just can't replicate at home.
Don't drink and ski, you could be a danger to yourself or others, and you may spill some.
The three most important seasons for most men are on the horizon. The football has started, with much excitement and anticipation after a summer of new players and managers arriving throughout the premiership. Rugby clubs are back in training, with Martin Johnson announcing that he now has the strongest selection of England players he's ever had to choose from. And last but by no means least the winter season is finally approaching, holidays are being booked and new kit is starting to hit the shops.
So with all this in mind I set to thinking about how I'm going to combine my favourite sports for my holiday to Meribel. I'll be arriving in resort a couple of hours before the England v France match, a game not to be missed. Also with Champions League games on mid week throughout the season, Monday night football back on Sky and those Premiership games on Sundays, I decided to compile a list of my top bars to watch the match on holiday.
Despite what people may think when it comes to watching football and rugby size doesn't necessarily matter. The important factors are: atmosphere, screens, beer, bar staff and the locals.
Atmosphere is always a biggie, whether the bar fits 50 or 500 people you want somewhere full of passionate fans, singing and of course the commentary. The only thing worse than listening to Brian Moore during the six nations, is well... not listening to him. I hate it when bars play music, we want to hear the commentary and the noise in the stadiums.
Screens are obviously paramount to watching the game. Now size here is important, but isn't the be all and end all. I would rather be in a pub with plenty of LCDs throughout the venue that you can see compared to one with an old projector or low quality screens. Obviously in the perfect world there would be an HD projector and a a handful for 32" HD TVs.
Beer, bar staff and locals are again essential. When in the Three Valleys or Val if you pop into the wrong bar you can find yourself paying €9 a pint. Also you are looking for a venue with friendly and welcoming staff and locals. There's nothing worse than being in a bar and feeling like you're not wanted.
Pub Le Skilodge, La Tania. Now the Skilodge may not be the largest pub in the Alps but it has to be my favourite place to watch the England v France Six Nations matches. Tim the owner is English and Tristan his right hand man is a Frenchie (well sort of). Cue lots of banter, drinking and an over exuberant set of celebrations when England win, and pretty much the same if they lose!
Pacific Bar, Val d'Isere. Again not one of the largest bars in the Alps but probably one of the most renowned for the footie. The mantra here is as many screens as possible. You'll find this place packed full of seasonaires and holiday makers alike cheering on their teams every week.
The Doron (The Pub), Meribel. As well as being a great venue for watching live music five nights a week the Doron is Meribel's best football bar. One of the largest in the list, the combination of the huge projector, countless screens and post-football bands makes for a great Champions League venue.
The Frog, Val Thorens. The Frog is a real local's pub. The owners are real characters, Duncan may not know a huge amount about either sport, but since they play rugby in Cornwall he's a big fan. The Six Nations are always a raucous affair, full of great banter and drinking, and the locals make the frog a great football pub. The highest pub in Europe definitely has one of the top atmospheres you'll find.
Scotty's, St. Anton. Located beneath the Chalet Hotel Rosanna is St. Anton's main British pub. The bar is an ex-pat haven, so expect big crowds for all the British football and rugby teams. Great atmosphere and cheap(ish) beer.
So there's my top five alpine bars to watch the match but wherever you're heading this winter there is bound to be a great bar showing your favourite team. Here are a few great venues that didn't quite make the list but are worth a mention.
If you have any other favourite venues or hidden gems drop me a message in the comments below, or post a comment on our Facebook or Twitter pages
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