Chez Bear lodge is a private chalet nestled above the ancient, walled city, of Briançon in the southern French Alps – just a stone’s throw from the main ski lift whisking guests directly into the main Serre Chevalier ski area, one the largest in the country.
Snow.Guide ski editor Rob Stewart, was lucky enough to visit Chez Bear in December 2018 and provides his view on this exclusive property that’s welcomed guests over the past decade since the original 17th century farmhouse was renovated. One of those guests was George Clooney no less – and it’s no surprise that he rather enjoyed himself, as did we.
First impressions are always important and arriving at Chez Bear after a smooth sub two hour journey from Turin Airport with the transfer company, Snowcab, it’s impossible not to feel that sense of excitement as you pull up to the door of this large chalet, located in a small, quiet hamlet above the city of Briançon, the views across the valley sweeping southwards below. From the outside, Chez Bear is perhaps slightly underwhelming – it looks like the 17th century farmhouse that it is, rustic and slightly scruffy around the edges. This of course adds to the charm, but as soon as you walk through the door you get an immediate sense of a unique property that has been lovingly restored without the usual formulaic pretence.
Hosts Josy and Joe are there with a warm welcome, and some cold sparkling wine, alongside their two other staff members, chef Isabelle and chalet host Joanna.
The wooden interior provides that alpine smell that ski chalets should all have – cosy, warm and comfortable, the main living area combines a wonderful sitting area with a dining room and bar/pizza over section that gives the whole set up a charismatic personality. If it was a real life bear, then think Yogi.
There’s four main bedrooms upstairs, 3 doubles and a twin, all with clever mezzanines that provide extra beds for kids. There’s also baths or walk in showers in each room, smartly built into the space that is maximised perfectly, avoiding any cramped feeling.
The chalet spreads over four floors, with a large kitchen area on one floor and below that, a huge open plan entertainment zone with a pool table, big screen TV and enough games to keep everyone entertained for hours.
The resident chef, Isabelle from Australia, gets everyone started in the morning with a different cooked breakfast option on different days – bacon and eggs, omelette, pancakes. It’s all really well done and certainly sets you up for the day.
Dinner is a five course affair, with delicious canapes served up in the living area. Starters and main courses are high-end dinner party style, with happy portions that don’t leave you feel wanting for more – although if there was space you wouldn’t say no. Desserts and a cheese course follow.
During one night of the week, there’s a dedicated pizza night. Now, pizza doesn’t always make it to the top of the culinary tree when it comes to accolades and stars, but when your chalet has its own food fired pizza oven and the perfect bar space to serve it on, they why not. “Everyone loves pizza night”, said Joe and you know I believe him. We are delivered all the ingredients needed to make pretty much any kind of pizza you’d like – we take turns and all share away. Great fun.
The Chez Bear staff are on hand to whisk their guests down to the Briançon cable car or if preferred, any of the starting points in the valley including Chantemerle, Villeneuve or Monêtier. They are there too in the afternoons to collect from wherever you might end up, although bear in mind that if you end up in Monêtier at the far end of the valley, it can be a 30 to 40 minute drive back to the chalet (and it takes the staff the same time to get to you too) so the closer you end up to Briançon, the better.
Whilst this isn’t a review of Serre Chevalier’s skiing area, it’s worth mentioning what a wonderful area it is. The ski area is on one side of the valley, with the mostly north and west facing slopes keeping the snow in good condition – there’s a very good snow record in the area. Serre Chevalier is one of those true ‘ hidden gems’ that deserves to be taken as seriously as some of France’s more famous resorts, but perhaps misses out because of its more southerly location. Of course there’s no downsides to that and I get the feeling that this area will start to become more popular as people appreciate the quality on and off-piste skiing, the villages with a rustic charm that makes them feel ‘real’ (which they are) and the decent value for money found both on and off the slopes. The lift system isn’t the most modern in France, but that’s already changing with some new high-speed chairs that have already gone in (with a big new one for this winter), and a schedule in place to implement further lifts during the next two to three years. There’s also a new Folie Douce (après ski bar chain that is well-known for its huge afternoon parties) opening next winter – this will up the après scene game in Serre Chevalier massively and whether that is a good thing or not, it will certainly help put the area more on the map in future.
Image: Snow.Guide Ski Editor Rob enjoying the slopes of Serre Chevalier
More Information About Holidays In Serre Chevalier
Ski Lessons – our British guide and instructor, Darren Turner, is a popular Serre Chevalier resident of over 20 years and is known as the internets most viewed ski instructor due to his online ski tips. His fun and relaxed teaching style is laced with highly technical and tactical tips delivered in easily digestible chunks. The former English ski champion has been a friend and ski colleague of ours for many years. insightski.com
Go Cryo – Cryotherapy centre in Briançon. Immerse yourself in a super-freezer with temperatures below minus 100 degrees to help and aid muscle recovery after a long day on the slopes. It doesn’t sound very appealing does it? Come off a snowy mountain and stand in a freezer – well, I can tell you that it works and not only that, you come out feeling warm and relaxed. I am not a massage fan at all, I’d much rather do this. go-cryo.fr
Image: Rob being Cryo frozen in a walk in freezer at minus 100 degrees
Le Grands Bains du Monêtier – a wonderful indoor and outdoor complex with naturally hot (they have to cool it) thermal waters with several pools including hot baths and ice cold plunge pools alongside a vast area of water to relax in at the end of the day. lesgrandsbainsdumonetier.fr
Picnic and BBQ areas on the slopes – a novel and innovative concept with two locations, one on the slopes above Briançon. They are free of charge for anyone to use and have large BBQ’s to cook food you either bring up yourself or get delivered. easyvallee.com/en/food-on-slopes
BA and EasyJet fly from several UK airports to Turin, Italy. Turin is the easiest and fastest entry point for Briançon and Serre Chevalier with transfer times around two hours. Other airports include Milan (2.40 hours), Grenoble (2.30 hours), Chambery (2 hours), Geneva (3 hours) and Lyon (2.45 hours).
Snow.cab operate transfers from all airport including Turin to Briançon and other resorts in the area. snow.cab