Normally by early December Snow.Guide Ski Editor Rob Stewart would have ticked off at least one ski trip to the Alps, usually covering the main opening weekend of the season in the French Alps, possibly in Tignes or maybe Val Thorens.
But 2020 is different.
So he has put together the ultimate luxury skiing adventure across the Alps – what he’d do next season (2021-22) if money and time was no object. This is a 20 week linked road trip around the Alps, starting on December 2 and finishing at the end of April.
The itinerary takes into considering a number of factors, including the route, events, significant calendar dates, snow conditions throughout the season, favourite spots Snow.Guide has been to and places we simply want to tick off the list. The criteria is to find the best hotels, 5* if possible, although we have chosen some 4* and 3* hotels and chalets too, plus one UCPA Centre.
Where there’s a 4* or 5* hotel listed we have provided a cheaper alternative, a 3* or 2* option, or somewhere special that doesn’t necessarily cost a fortune. Where possible, we have chosen places that we have stayed in before. Where there’s a * next to the destination name, it denotes that we have made a previous visit to this place, but not necessarily to the hotel or chalet accommodation featured.
Whilst we don’t often do ‘luxury’ focused content on Snow.Guide, this article is bucking the trend….we are really spoiling ourselves this time, and we don’t care.
Hope it inspires you to think of your own ideal ski road trip through the Alps.
20 Weeks Of Pure Alpine Ski Indulgence Starts Here
Vehicle used: Audi A6 allroad Quattro
Day 1 (Thursday December 2, 2021): Herefordshire to Troyes, central France, drive time: 9 hours. Overnight stay one night: Premier de La Poste & Spa, Troyes.
Week One – Tignes*, France
(Friday December 3 to Saturday December 11): Troyes to Tignes, drive time: 6 hours. Les Suites Hotel – Maison Bouvier 5* 8 nights.
Whilst Tignes isn’t really known as a high-end resort, the 5* Suites Hotel with its Michelin starred restaurant would certainly add a sparkle of luxury to any stay. This is the first weekend (snow conditions permitting) when the link between Tignes and Val d’Isère normally opens up. Typically it’s not too busy on the slopes, and getting those first tracks of the season in can feel sooo good. What are we going to do for 8 days here? Join Snoworks on one of its All-Terrain courses with Phil Smith and 4 x Winter Olympian, Emma Carrick Anderson.
Alternative Accommodation: Hotel La Vanoise 2*. Great ski in ski out location right in the centre of Val Claret. Basic but cosy.
Week Two – Zermatt*, Switzerland
(Saturday December 11): stop overnight in Chamonix with friends, drive time: 2 hours 45 minutes. A night in Chamonix is always a treat and no hotel is required. It’s a quick stop, but we’ll be back for longer soon.
(Sunday December 12 to Saturday December 18): Chamonix to Zermatt, drive time: 2.5 hours. Mont Cervin Palace 5* 6 nights.
It’s still early winter and not all resorts are fully open yet, but Zermatt is always a good bet. I consider myself very lucky to have visited this town many times over the years, but every time I walk past the Mont Cervin Palace Hotel, I think, ‘wow I’d really like to stay there’. This grand old building is one of the top 5* hotels in town, I’d take one of the chalet style rooms, although with a pad this nice it’s going to be hard to leave. But of course there’s a large ski area and the chance to pop over the Italian border and have lunch at the wonderful Chalet Etoile, one of my favourite mountain restaurants. Hopefully I’d get to ski with some of our friends at Matterhorn Diamonds.
Alternative Accommodation: Hotel Alphubel 2*. Pleasant 2* family run hotel located in the middle of town.
Week Three and Four – Verbier*, Switzerland
(Saturday December 18 to Saturday January 1, 2022): Zermatt to Verbier, drive time: 2 hours. Chalet Chouqui (sleeps 20) 14 nights.
Okay, I know, this is ridiculous, the estimated cost of this is around £250,000+ for two weeks in this chalet alone, but let’s just go with it. I spent a few winter seasons in Verbier and therefore it has to be a big feature of this trip. Two weeks over the Christmas period would give me the chance to ski all the classic off-piste routes in town, perhaps with friends including Warren Smith, who has run his academy here for over 20 years. I’d tick off the après ski too, bars such as The Pub Mt Fort, Farinet and The Loft and some favourite restaurants like the Fer a Cheval. With a chalet like this one spread over two weeks, friends and family could join in. The final night, New Year’s Eve, will be spent in the Place Central and perhaps the famous Farm Club.
(Saturday January 1 to Sunday January 2): Verbier. Hotel Cordee des Alpes 4* 1 night.
The slightly bad timing of New Year’s Day landing on a Saturday transfer day, means we need to check out of the chalet. Not wanting to go too far, we’d bunker down one night in this very comfortable hotel recovering from the night before.
Alternative Accommodation: Hotel Rotonde 3*. Good value, comfortable 3* option right in the centre of Verbier.
Week Five – Crans-Montana*, Switzerland
Crans-Montana must be the best place in the world to spend the first week of January. The south facing plateau with spectacular views across some of the most famous peaks of the Alps, gets the sun through the day, even at this mid-winter time. The piste skiing is fantastic, with treats such as the Kandahar run used for the Women’s World Cup Downhill competition in January providing an achievable challenge for most intermediate skiers and upwards. The restaurant at the 5* Pas de L’Ours is run by one of Switzerland’s top chefs, Franck Reynard, and holds a Michelin star. But a stay here must include a couple of nights at the Chetzeron too – a sort of James Bond like lair built into an old cable car station half way up the mountain. We’d shake off the New Year excesses with plenty of ski touring trips on the 15 marked trails available, but of course also enjoy some of the food on offer in the 90 or so restaurants that serve every kind of cuisine.
Alternative Accommodation: Hotel Elite 3*. Recently renovated hotel with spectacular views and a very comfortable feel.
Week Six – Gstaad* and Mürren*, Switzerland
(Saturday January 8 to Tuesday January 11): Crans-Montana to Gstaad, drive time: 2 hours. Le Grand Bellevue 5*, 3 nights.
Surely no luxury Alpine adventure would be possible without a stop in Gstaad and the Grand Bellevue, built in 1912 but fully renovated in 2014, provides a relaxed alternative to some of the other 5* hotels in town. The homely feel takes nothing away from the grand nature of this special building and Leonard’s restaurant (smart but informal) the sushi bar and the Petit Chalet (Swiss) means that for three nights, there’s no need to go out to eat. The skiing around Gstaad is pleasant, if not particularly inspiring but there’s plenty to explore across the different areas for a couple of days. The town does have a lovely atmosphere though, it’s cosy and smart and the opportunity to pop into the Palace Hotel for a hot chocolate shouldn’t be missed.
Alternative Accommodation: Hotel Spitzhorn 3* Superior. Very comfortable 3* option in nearby Saanen.
(Tuesday January 11 to Friday January 14): Gstaad to Mürren (Lauterbrunnen), drive time: 1.5 hours, including parking vehicle in Lauterbrunnen Station. Lauterbrunnen Station to Mürren, travel time via cable car and train: 23 minutes. Hotel Eiger, 3 nights.
Mürren is a car free village perched high above the Lauterbrunnen Valley and only accessible via two points – cable car and train from Lauterbrunnen itself or further up the valley at Stechelberg, where a new project will see the world’s steepest cable car installed at some point in the next few years. The pretty village has spectacular views across to the Eiger and Jungfrau and whilst the skiing itself isn’t extensive, there’s some pleasant runs on the lower part of the mountain, particularly off the Winteregg and Schiltgrat chairlifts, with some fun and relatively safe off-piste opportunities down to the Gimmelem T-bar following a fresh snowfall. But for any experienced skier, no visit to Mürren would be complete without a descent from the Schilthorn, where the legacy of James Bond lives on after the famous ski chase in the dark, filmed here for the movie ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’. A visit to ‘Bond World’ at the very top of this 3,000 metre peak – a must have coffee (at the very least) in the revolving restaurant, is then followed by one of the longest black runs in the Alps. The first section is very steep and feels exposed, in icy conditions it’s a scary beast to tackle and care is needed. Every year (2021 cancelled due to Covid) the famous Inferno ski race starts a little below the steepest section, and although we are here a little early for the race (normally scheduled the week after this in January), the chance to ski the entire vertical of over 2,000 down to Lauterbrunnen (perhaps taking the Maulerhubel Chairlift as an option) isn’t missed. Mürren has an air of old money about it, but it’s not really a luxury resort, the 4* Hotel Eiger is a very comfortable place to be for three nights.
Alternative Accommodation: Camping Jungfrau 5* campsite. Hostel style chalet and lodges down in the Lauterbrunnen Valley with its own shop and restaurant.
Week Seven, Part One – Interlaken* and Wengen*, Switzerland
(Friday January 14 to Monday January 17): Mürren to Interlaken, drive time 20 minutes (from Lauterbrunnen). Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel 5*, 3 nights.
It seems odd to head down to Interlaken when the plan is to turn back again the following day and head back towards Lauterbrunnen, but bear with me. The resort of Wengen, just opposite Mürren and a short train ride away from Interlaken, is hosting the famous Lauberhorn men’s downhill race (cancelled in 2021 due to Covid), the longest on the World Cup circuit and arguably the most spectacular to watch, with the mighty Eiger Mountain providing the ultimate backdrop. But Wengen over this weekend is full up, so the option to indulge at the Victoria-Jungfrau Hotel for a few days and travel up by train for the race on the Saturday is a better option. Wengen, another car free town, is accessed by train from Lauterbrunnen and the whole journey takes around 45 minutes from Interlaken. Following the race, we explore some of the best parts of the area, including some good off-piste from the Eigernordwand chairlift, and then head down the long runs to Grindelwald where over the past two seasons, two brand new cable cars have been installed, whisking skiers back up to either Männlichen or Kleine Scheidegg, finishing the day with a descent of the Lauberhorn downhill run itself, but diverting back into Wengen before the train journey home. Sunday is definitely a day off and a chance to take advantage of the 150 year old 5* Victoria-Jungfrau Hotel and Spa.
Alternative Accommodation: Hotel Blume 2*. Cute little hotel in the town centre with its own Mexican restaurant.
Week Seven, Part Two – Engelberg, Switzerland
(Monday January 17 to Saturday 22): Interlaken to Engelberg, drive time 1 hour 20 minutes. Kempinski Palace 5*, 5 nights
This will be my first time to the resort of Engelberg and it’s a place that has long been on my list of ‘must visits’. The brand new (opens spring 2021 in former historic Palace Hotel building) Kempinski Palace seems like a fitting place to spend the 5 nights and 4 days skiing time in a resort known for its exciting off-piste challenges. We hire a mountain guide for the first 3 days and as expected towards the latter part of January, there’s plenty of powder snow to be found. From the 3,238 metre peak of Titlis, the almost 2,000 metre vertical provides plenty of opportunities for lift-accessed off-piste skiing with our guide – exploring a new resort is always a lot of fun.
Alternative Accommodation: Pension St Jakob 2* (st-jakobpension.ch). Small and cosy pension with its own restaurant, located right on the little lake.
Week Eight, Andermatt*, Switzerland
(Saturday January 22 to Saturday January 29): Engelberg to Andermatt, drive time 1 hour. The Chedi Hotel 5*, 7 nights.
Whist I have never stayed at the Chedi Andermatt before, I have been lucky enough to dine there once, so this time we’ve gone the full hog and booked the Gemsstock suite for 7 nights. The room’s name is taken from the famous mountain that towers above the town of Andermatt, once known for its military base but has recently been developed into a luxury resort by Egyptian billionaire, Samih Sawiris. For advanced and expert skiers, the vast powder bowls off the Gemsstock Mountain provide great opportunities for off-piste skiing, a guide is definitely worth having here. On the opposite side of the valley, the area has seen a new upgrade of lifts, connecting across to the resort of Sedrun, with mostly blue and red runs. The combination of two ski areas with vastly different terrain and challenges, makes Andermatt a good destination for mixed ability groups, as long as they don’t mind not meeting up for lunch. During the week, I join a heliskiing day with the local Mountain Guide company, it’s one of a few places in Switzerland where heliskiing is available and the two drops at the summit of Sustenlimi (3200m) offers up seemingly endless fresh powder lines. Back at base, the Japanese Restaurant at the Chedi, with its Michelin Star, is one of the best Asian restaurants in Europe, let alone in the mountains.
Alternative Accommodation: Hotel Sonne 3*. Traditional hotel in the centre of town full of charm and character.
Week Nine, Lugano*, Madesimo and St Moritz*, Italy and Switzerland
(Saturday January 29 to Sunday January 30): Andermatt to Lugano, drive time 1.5 hours (via the Gotthard Tunnel). Hotel Villa Principe Leopoldo 5*, 1 night.
A one night stopover in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland and the lakeside city of Lugano with a stay in the Relais & Chateaux property, Villa Principe Leopoldo and a small excursion for lunch in the Italian enclave town of Campione, just across the lake, at the one star Michelin Galleria Arté al Lago.
Alternative Accommodation: Hotel Montarina 2*. Simple but pleasant hotel and hostel close to the town centre.
(Sunday January 30 to Wednesday February 2): Lugano to Madesimo (Italy), drive time, 2 hours. Sport Hotel Alpina 4* (sporthotelalpina.it), 3 nights.
The drive from Lugano to Madesimo takes us across the Italian border and past the northern part of Lake Como. It’s my first time in Madesimo, a small, cosy ski resort well-known for its friendly hospitality and good food – well we’re in Italy now! We opt for the 4* Sport Hotel Alpina, booked through our friends at Momentum Ski. It’s a small, boutique hotel with just eight rooms, but the one star Michelin restaurant downstairs, Il Cantinone, serves modern Italian food. Definitely time to enjoy the quiet, well-groomed pistes of Madesimo, well suited for intermediate and advanced skiers, but of course we would tackle the famous Canelone, an itinerary (marked, but not prepared) run with 1,000 metres of vertical. We’d definitely stop at La Sorgente for lunch too.
Alternative Accommodation: Albergo K2 2*. Simple and rustic family run hotel and restaurant right in the heart of Madesimo offering great value half-board room rates and ski passes.
(Wednesday February 2 to Sunday February 6): Madesimo to St Moritz (Switzerland), drive time, 1.5 hours. Suvretta House Hotel 5*, 4 nights.
Back into Switzerland and across to the town of St Moritz, high up in the Engadine Valley. It’s a sometimes misunderstood destination – yes it has all the luxury trappings you’d ever wish for, incredible hotels, upmarket boutiques and smart restaurants, but it’s also a genuinely sporty place, from the famous Cresta Run to the slopes of both its ski areas, Corviglia and Corvatsch. Both have a very different feel from the other, Corvatsch is mostly north facing and has some challenging slopes as well as good off-piste options, whilst Corviglia is sunnier, with some lovely wide open groomed runs suited to all levels. It’s worth remembering that Corviglia hosts World Cup and World Championship Alpine ski races including downhills on the famous Engiadina course. The castle like Suvretta House is our chosen option (although Badrutt’s Palace would also work), with its very own ski lift to access the Corviglia ski area. We’d definitely take a drive (about 15 minutes) out to the seafood restaurant Murtaröl for diner one evening, owned and run by Antonio Walther (it was founded by his Grandfather), who brings in fresh fish direct from Milan and stores it in vast tanks at the back of the restaurant. The food is incredible and Antonio is a great character. We’d also book some ski time with our friends at Ski Cool – owner Vittorio Caffi is President of the ISIA (International Ski Instructors Association) and knows the St Moritz area exceptionally well.
Alternative Accommodation: St Moritz Youth Hostel. St Moritz on a budget? No problem. This really smart, modern hostel has several different room options.
Week Ten – Klosters, Bad Ragaz (Switzerland) and Vaduz / Malbun (Liechtenstein)
(Sunday February 6 to Wednesday February 9): St Moritz to Klosters, drive time 1 hour 20 minutes. Hotel Piz Buin 4*, 3 nights.
There’s no 5* hotels in Klosters, which is a surprise considering the resorts royal connections, although of course there’s plenty down the road in Davos. Still we choose Klosters for our base in this area and opt for a hotel rather than one of the upmarket chalets that can be found, mainly because the 3 nights stay doesn’t allow us to book one. The Piz Buin is a very comfortable 4* hotel right in the middle of town. Not knowing the area at all, we’d hook up with our friends at PT Ski, owned and run by James Palmer-Tomkinson. He knows this area inside and out and I’m sure he’d show us some of the very best off-piste spots. The large ski area links with Davos and offers around 300 km of slope in total.
Alternative Accommodation: Jugendherberge Hostel. Another hostel option, this time it’s in a rustic chalet style building.
(Wednesday February 9 to Friday February 11): Klosters to Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, drive time 35 minutes. Hotel Grand Resort Bad Ragaz 5*, 2 nights.
Time to rest from the ski slopes for a couple of days in the grand 5* hotel with a total of 4 Michelin stars & 76 Gault Millau points in its restaurants, thermal baths and casino. Two nights isn’t really enough time here but this is a ski trip and whilst a little break is welcome, it’s time to get back on the slopes again…
(Friday February 11 Saturday February 12) Grand Resort Bad Ragaz to Malbun (Liechtenstein), drive time 30 minutes.
An early start and straight into the tiny principality of Liechtenstein and then directly up to the ski resort of Malbun. This pretty but small resort has been modernised over the past few years and it has certainly got plenty of scope for a full day’s exploration. We drive back down to the main town of Vaduz and stay one night in the 4* Superior Park Hotel Sonnenhof, its restaurant Marée is listed in the Michelin Guide.
Alternative accommodation: Falconry Galina 3*. Prefer to remain in Malbun for the night? Then this cosy hotel and restaurant will definitely do the job.
Week Eleven – Arlberg region*, Austria
Saturday February 12 to February 19): Vaduz to St Christoph in Arlberg, drive time 1 hour 10 minutes. Arlberg Hospiz Hotel 5*, 7 nights.
After exploring the town of Vaduz during the morning, we head across into Austria and to the famous Arlberg region, steeped in skiing history and culture. The resort of St Anton might have all the fame, not to mention the nightlife, but we opt for the small hamlet of St Christoph, tucked away higher up and offering excellent access to the ski area. The Arlberg Hospiz Hotel is arguably less well-known than its very own Hospiz Alm restaurant (separate from the hotel and perched at the bottom of the ski slope that comes into the village) with its crazy slide down to the cellar that has its own hugely sized wine bottles, but it oozes all the charm and comfort that you’d ever want from an Alpine luxury refuge. Following an extensive renovation during 2021, the doors have opened and after a couple of months in, we opt to stay for the full 7 nights here. The skiing area is well documented but let’s just say we’d tick off the classic off-piste routes and itineraries through the week including the infamous backside of Valluga (Mountain Guide is mandatory). There’s a few other places that could have easily made the cut in terms of accommodation, including the Hotel Zürserhof, with its indoor tennis hall. We’d definitely head across the entire linked lift network to Warth-Schröcken for lunch with our friend Martina Brenner who runs the lovely 4* Lechtaler Hof Hotel and restaurant. This really is a special area and the villages of Lech, Zürs and Stuben are worthy of their own stays, but we need to move on.
Alternative Accommodation: Hit The Sky 3*. Bizarre zebra themed hotel that was previously an Inghams Chalet Hotel. Looks like fun.
Week Twelve – Ischgl* and Innsbruck*, Austria
(Saturday February 19 to Tuesday February 22): St Christoph to Ischgl, drive time 45 minutes. 5* Superior Schlosshotel Ischgl, 3 nights.
The uber resort of Ischgl got some bad publicity in 2020 due to an outbreak of Covid-19 that was then apparently spread to a number of countries. Whilst this seems plausible (and there’s evidence backing it up), it’s definitely time to move on and support this resort that is planning to change its colours. Personally I found the whole après ski scene here too much – it’s flashy and over the top and it’s somehow all a bit pointless. What’s far better is the quality and size of the ski area and its modern lift infrastructure, Ischgl really is a fantastic ski resort with an incredibly high standard of accommodation options. The skiing is generally quite demanding (there’s plenty of easier alternatives too), with long runs and good off-piste options. It’s also possible to ski over into Switzerland to the duty free resort of Samnaun (excellent pizza at the Smuggler Alm). We also head up to the neighbouring resort of Galtür for a day too, on the same ski pass, it’s well worth an excursion. Almost to the day (Feb 23) in 1999, a huge avalanche destroyed part of the town and killed 31 people – but since then an investment program has taken place, making the mountain side safe and rebuilding the town. The ski area at Galtür is small but there’s some great terrain, both on and off piste.
Alternative Accommodation: Galtürerhof Hotel 3*. Stay up in quieter Galtür instead in this family run hotel. The landlord can be grumpy but warms up once he’s had a schnapps or two.
(Tuesday February 22 to Saturday February 26): Ischgl to Innsbruck, drive time 1 hour 15 minutes. Hotel Grauer Baer 4*, 4 nights.
Innsbruck is a true Alpine city and capital of Austria’s Tirol region, there’s a large student population and a commercial airport with regular direct flights from the UK, although occasionally landing here can be ‘interesting’…the words of one airline captain announcement on a particularly stormy descent. 4 nights will give us the chance to explore the city and enjoy some of the surrounding ski areas. First up, and within walking distance of the hotel, is Nordkette, Innsbruck’s very own ski area, which I am yet to experience – this needs to be changed. A funicular railway, the Hungerburgbahn, whisks us out of the city and up to 860 metres where a cable car accesses the small ski area. The scattering of pistes is complimented with some good freeride terrain that is also marked on the lift map. Kuhtai is another good option from Innsbruck and around a 40 minute drive from the city centre. It became well-known in the UK as the host resort of Channel 4’s The Jump and it has also been used by the SIGB (Snowsports Industries of Great Britain) as its ski test centre for many years. We know it well and there’s plenty of action to be found off the Hohemutbahn chair alone, with reds, a black and some fun freeride terrain, including a huge dam wall – serious caution is required here. It might even be worth spending the night here too, the recently renovated 4* Superior Mooshaus is particularly recommended. Back down in Innsbruck, we’d spend our last night in Ludwig, the city’s finest burger joint.
Week Thirteen – Kitzbuhel* and Altenmarkt*, Austria – Venice, Italy
(Saturday February 26 to Tuesday March 1): Innsbruck to Kitzbuhel, drive time 1 hour 15 minutes. Weisses Roessl 5*, 3 nights.
Any road trip across the Alps must surely include the ski resort of Kitzbuhel, famed for its men’s Alpine World Cup Downhill race simply known as the Hahnenkamm, the eponymous name of the mountain where the race takes place, although the track itself is called The Streif – a word that’s enough to conjure fear in even the world’s best ski racers. The charming old town forms the centre of a large ski area with a modern lift system, connecting with Kirchberg and Pass Thurn, offering over 100 runs and around 180 km of marked terrain, which despite the reputation of the Hahnenkamm, the vast majority is suited towards intermediates. The Roessl Hotel is one of the top properties in town and there’s a branch of Asian restaurant Zuma in-house too. We take a day to drive (20 mins) over to nearby Westendorf (part of the huge SkiWelt area), as it was the first place I skied (on snow), way before the modern lifts linked the area up with Soll and Ellmau. Of course, we manage to ski The Streif at least once, perhaps not quite at the speeds we see on Ski Sunday, and we’d also stop at the Berghaus for lunch, slowing things down considerably.
Alternative Accommodation: Pension Tannenhof 3*. Located in nearby Kirchberg, this comfy hotel is a good, cheaper alternative than the Roessl.
(Tuesday March 1 to Friday March 4): Kitzbuhel to Altenmarkt im Pongau, drive time 1 hour 45 minutes. Hotel Markterwirt 3*, 3 nights.
We pass by several major ski areas worth a mention on the drive between Kitzbuhel and the town of Altenmarkt, including Zell am See and Saalbach-Hinterglemm, but we can’t stop everywhere. This will be the furthest easterly point on our Alpine road trip and although Altenmarkt (Salzburg region) isn’t really a ski resort, it’s well placed to access the Ski Amadé region that includes Zauchensee and Flachau, with the resort of Schladming (Styria) also an easy 20 minute drive away. The history of Alpine ski racing oozes through the walls of every hotel and bar in this town and ski manufacturer Atomic, has its head office and factory here. For better access to the slopes in this area there’s better places to stay, but I like being in the centre of Altenmarkt and the 3* Markterwirt is a proper traditional Austrian Inn that first opened its doors back in 1752. It even has its own beer hall. Just across the road, the Gasthof Rosner has a similar pedigree, and if you prefer a more modern touch, then the 2017 renovation might appeal. Personally I quite liked the place before, but I’m yet to go back following the re-opening.
(Friday March 4 to Sunday March 6): Altenmarkt to Venice, drive time 4 hours. The Gritti Palace 5*, 2 nights.
Back into Italy. A long drive but out of the mountains for a couple of nights and the chance to visit one of Europe’s finest cities during a time of year when it’s not quite as busy as it can be. The Gritti Palace offers the perfect spot for a short stay – an exceptional building in an incredible location.
Week Fourteen – Cortina and Madonna di Campiglio, Italy
(Sunday March 6 to Thursday March 10): Venice to Cortina d’Ampezzo, drive time 2.5 hours. Grand Hotel Savoia 5*, 4 nights.
Somehow the world famous ski resort of Cortina has passed me by, how and why I have no idea. So it’s time to do it in style by staying in the newly renovated Grand Hotel Savoia. Cortina is part of the Dolomiti Superski domain, with 12 ski areas and a total of 1200 km of slopes with the Sella Ronda circuit tour being ‘doable’ in a day, although Cortina itself isn’t included. Still, the slopes around Cortina itself spread out on both sides of the valley, with Tofana being etched in the memory as the location of James Bond’s epic 1981 ski scene in ‘For Your Eyes Only’. We’d definitely make sure we tuck into some Italian lunches, including a slope-side stop at Rifugio Averau and perhaps an evening at Tivoli, just a short drive out of town.
Alternative Accommodation: Villa Nevada 3*. Cosy B&B option close to the centre of Cortina.
(Thursday March 10 to Saturday March 12): Cortina to Madonna di Campiglio, drive time 4 hours 15 minutes. Hermitage Biohotel 4*, 2 nights.
The long drive and short stay means we get just one days skiing in Madonna, recently famous for its World Cup night skiing slalom race. The mainly intermediate suited ski terrain is below the treeline and known for its well-groomed pistes and pretty Brenta Dolomite scenery. It’s a very fashionable resort, with a sophisticated charm. We’d stop here for a simple and tasty Italian lunch too.
Alternative Accommodation: Rifugio Nambino 2*. Cosy mountain refuge with its own restaurant, nestled away above the town – simple and rustic.
Week Fifteen – Verona and Aosta Valley*, Italy
(Saturday March 12 to Sunday March 13): Madonna di Campiglio to Verona, drive time 2.5 hours. Due Torri Hotel 5*, 1 night.
An early start from Madonna gives us the chance to explore the city of Verona, spending a night in one of the city’s finest hotels.
Alternative Accommodation: Hotel Mastino 3*. Decent 3* option in the centre of Verona.
(Sunday March 13 to Thursday March 17): Verona to Saint-Vincent (Aosta Valley), drive time 3 hours. Grand Hotel and resort Billia 5*, 4 nights.
There’s two hotel choices here – one 5* (Grand Hotel) and a 4* (Parc Hotel), at this incredible resort and casino tucked down in the Aosta Valley and either option provides the same access to the facilities. This is not a ski resort, but access to Cervinia (40 min drive) and Champoluc (45 min drive), means with a vehicle, some world class ski areas are just a short drive away. The spa facilities here are fantastic and there’s definitely no reason to head out of here for a couple of days and if casino’s are your thing then you’ll be in for a treat as this is one of only five casino’s in Italy (land based) – and Saint Vincent is the largest in the country. A huge renovation project took place over several years with a 2013 re-opening – the accommodation, restaurants and spa facilities are of an exceptionally high standard. We’d pick a sunny day to head to the long, south facing slopes of Cervinia, but otherwise a stay here offers a good chance for some rejuvenation.
Alternative accommodation: Hotel Hermitage 5*. Okay it’s not a budget option, but if you’re going to stay up in Cervinia then this place will help you do it in style.
(Thursday March 17 to Monday March 21): Saint-Vincent to Alagna, drive time 45 minutes (to Champoluc – park car and ski over). Hotel Cristallo 3*, 3 nights.
To save the long drive around, we leave the car in Champoluc on Thursday morning and then packed light, we ski over the Monterosa lift serviced ski area to Alagna (Piedmont Provence). We’re joining a group weekend trip with James Orr Heliski based out of Alagna that combines a long weekend of mountain guide led ski touring and heliskiing. We then need to make our way back to Champoluc again via the ski lift system on the Monday morning, after of course a few days of powder skiing in the vast Monterosa region.
Week Sixteen – Serre Chevalier* and La Grave*, France
(Monday March 21 to Saturday March 26): Champoluc to Serre Chevalier, drive time 3 hours. Chez Bear Chalet, 5 nights.
The resort of Serre Chevalier in the Southern French Alps is often overlooked as a serious destination for British skiers, but that is a serious mistake. The extensive ski area, both below and above the tree line, holds good snow conditions on its north facing slopes and by this time of the winter, there’s plenty of sunshine to enjoy too. We’ve opted for chalet accommodation this week, inviting friends to join us in Chez Bear, a restored 17th Century lodge just outside town, with its very own pizza oven. We’d hook up with our good mate Darren Turner (facebook.com/darrenturnerskicoach) who has run Insight Ski for the past 20 years. He knows the area as well as anyone, a former ski racer, he now spends a lot of time in front of the camera presenting his own ski shows. We’d head over to La Grave for a day too, just a 30 minute drive away and home to some of the most interesting and varied lift serviced off-piste skiing in Europe. It’s not for the fainthearted but for experienced off-piste skiers (with a guide) it’s really well worth the effort. The old city of Briançon is on the doorstep and it’s well worth a wonder around the old cobbled streets – we might even purchase a bottle of local Genepi or some local beer.
Alternative Accommodation: Auberge Impossible 2*. Small, simple but pleasant Auberge in the old city of Briançon.
Week Seventeen – Maurienne Valley, Les Sybelles – Le Corbier, France (and Courchevel*)
(Saturday March 26 to Saturday April 2): Serre Chevalier to Le Corbier (via Fréjus Tunnel), drive time 2 hours. Etoile des Sybelles 3* Superior self-catering, 7 nights (with one night in the middle here: Le Cheval Blanc 5*.
The Maurienne Valley is off the map for most British skiers and its location, tucked away between The Tarentaise and the southern part of the French Alps, just means it looks a little less accessible than other areas, although in reality it’s not really the case. We opt for Le Corbier, a purpose built resort set at 1550 metres with a pedestrianised town centre. It doesn’t really fit into the luxury bracket, but it’s a destination we want to explore and whilst the ski area is particularly suited for beginners and intermediates, there’s some good off-piste touring opportunities here too. The area links 6 resorts together, including Le Corbier and is known collectively as Sybelles. Self-catered accommodation is popular here and the newly opened Etoile residence is offered by British tour operator Peak Retreats. Down in the Maurienne Valley below, the village of Orelle (40 mins drive) has a direct link cable car accessing the world’s largest interconnected ski area, the 3 Valleys and during the middle of the week we opt for two days skiing and one night here. No epic luxury Alpine road trip would be without a stay in Courchevel 1850, and we choose the Le Cheval Blanc, with its 3* Michelin restaurant for an indulgent night, travelling light by skiing across the 3 Valley’s lift network from Orelle on the Wednesday morning, before returning on the Thursday afternoon. We’d hopefully hook up with our friend and former British team skier, Ashley Kay for a quick blast around the fantastic slopes of Courchevel, which in my opinion offer the best skiing in the 3 Valley’s area.
Week Eighteen – Chapelle d’Abondance* + Grimentz, France and Switzerland
(Saturday April 2 to Tuesday April 5): Le Corbier to Chapelle d’Abondance, drive time 3 hours. Les Cornettes Hotel 3* , 3 nights.
We’re now back in the far North Western part of the Alps in Chapelle d’Abondance, part of the huge Portes du Soleil ski area and just down the road from the resort of Chatel. I’ve been going to this hotel since the late 1990’s when friends (and former employers) Ian and Jane McGarry, who ran their own tour operation and ski school in the area, and also trained their two daughters who became Olympic ski racers, introduced me to the incredible French restaurant here, it’s a regional institution. The immediate skiing from Chapelle is based on both sides of the valley, but via the Telecabine La Panthiaz on the south facing side, you can link into Torgon (CH) with spectacular views over Lac Leman and then ski over to Super Chatel and of course the entire PdS network. For faster access to the hub of the PdS and the resort of Avoriaz (plus likely a more sensible one during early April), the short drive (15 mins) to the Pre la Joux car park makes more sense. It’s worth heading over to the Lindarets Valley and stopping for lunch at La Crémaillère, a delightful restaurant in the Village de Chèvres (goat village), just below the main ski lift hub. Back at Les Cornettes, there’s a chance to visit the very quirky museum full of artefacts and stuffed animals. The even quirkier, bordering on downright weird, is the wax museum, where 5 generations of the hotel’s family remain alive in a bizarre reconstruction of the hotel’s kitchen – it’s utterly brilliant. Whilst the accommodation is a little rustic, it’s cosy and comfortable and more than worthy of its 3* status, with a large indoor swimming pool topping the list of facilities off.
(Tuesday April 5 to Saturday April 9): Chapelle d’Abondance to Grimentz, drive time 1.5 hours. Les Vieux No 2, 4 nights.
The resort of Grimentz has so far managed to pass me by and although we have already visited this area (Verbier, Zermatt, Crans-Montana) early on in our journey, the chance to get a few days in this freeride famed Swiss bolthole is too good to miss. Fingers crossed we get some of the big spring snowfalls that often bless this part of the Alps during the early part of April. We’d definitely opt for a freeride guide here and SkiZenit have some of the most experienced in the region, including British Mountain Guide Nick Parks listed as one of its team. Accommodation is self-catered with British Tour Operator, Mountain Heaven, who also run a number of chalets across the French Alps as well as adventure ski holidays in destinations such as Iran and Georgia.
Week Nineteen – Les Gets*, France
(Saturday April 9 to Saturday April 16): Grimentz to Les Gets, drive time 2.5 hours. Hunter Chalets Grande Corniche, 7 nights.
We’ve come back on ourselves a bit here and ended up once again in the Portes du Soleil ski area, but right on the opposite side of the French sector in the resort of Les Gets. The Grande Corniche chalet is one of the most spectacular luxury ski properties in the Alps and can sleep 15 people (plus there’s a mini chalet next door that can sleep an extra 4). It’s the first week of Easter and time to invite some friends/family for an end of season week in one of our favourite resorts. Les Gets is a little higher and perhaps a little more sophisticated than its famous (and hugely likeable) neighbour, Morzine. It is late in the season and we can’t expect the snow conditions to be perfect, but we’d still expect to be able to ski down into the village, certainly on the Chavannes side. The skiing on Mont Chery is interesting and varied, with some good off-piste over the back, and British owned and run La Grande Ourse restaurant is really well worth a lunch stop. It’s one of the best restaurants in the area, and the chef is British. We would try to ski with our friend Tim Jackson, a Brit who runs Torico ski school here in winter and Torico bike shop (based in Morzine) during the summer.
Alternative Accommodation: Chalet Aventure. British family owned Rush Adventures offers classic catered chalet accommodation with self-catering options.
Week Twenty – Argentiere* and Chamonix*, France
(Saturday April 16 to Wednesday April 20): Les Gets to Argentiere, drive time 1 hour 10 minutes. UCPA Centre, 3* Hostel, Argentiere, 4 nights.
Okay so we’re breaking out of our luxury accommodation criteria here – the UCPA centre in Argentiere is not luxury accommodation, but it is a fantastic place to experience an all-inclusive trip that offers tons of ski courses for all levels, and I mean all levels. So we have broken our own rules and taken a 4 night stay to coincide with a short break course starting on the Sunday which is a guided ski tour in the Aiguilles Rouges. The UCPA use their own instructors and mountain guides and the package always includes 3 meals a day, ski passes and equipment hire if needed. The rooms usually sleep 4 people in bunks and most bathrooms are shared, but it’s well-maintained, clean and considering the centres generally attract a younger crowd, there’s rarely much noise or trouble in the evenings. People are here to ski or snowboard. The food is also excellent, buffet style and very French – after a season of mostly 5* luxury treatment, a few nights here will actually be rather fun…the atmosphere is always good.
(Wednesday April 20 to Sunday April 24): Argentiere to Chamonix, drive time 10 minutes. Hameau Albert 1er 5*, 4 nights.
The sprawling town of Chamonix at the foot of Mont Blanc is an icon of winter sports and mountaineering history and has been attracting tourists for over 100 years. Spring is a good time to visit, it’s quieter than in the summer but usually the weather is warming up nicely and at 1,000 metres above sea level, it’s very rare to see snow in the town at this time of the season. There’s a lot of good hotels and many chalets to choose from in Chamonix, but opting for the Hameau Albert 1er is perhaps a bit too obvious, as it’s probably the most well-known 5* hotel, but it does look rather nice and its Michelin starred restaurant is apparently pretty decent. We’d definitely head down to our friends at the newly renovated The Vert Hotel and restaurant for dinner too though, a bit more of a relaxed vibe. With some of the best ski touring in Europe to be found here, we’d certainly work off the meals during the day time, hopefully finding some good spring snow conditions on both sides of the valley. It would perhaps be fitting the spend the final day of the season skiing the world famous Vallee Blanche, from the top of the Aiguille du Midi cable car, before popping into the Chambre Neuf for a cold beer in the sun.
Alternative Accommodation: Vert Hotel 2*. British owned accommodation with various room options, a good atmosphere and very decent food.
(Sunday April 24 to Wednesday April 27): Chamonix to Paris, drive time 6 hours. Mandarin Oriental Hotel 5*, 3 nights.
Well, might as well finish off in style and the hassle of driving into Paris alone makes it worth a 3 night stay.
(Thursday April 28): Paris to Herefordshire, UK, drive time 7.5 hours.
Note: the journey presumes there are zero Covid-19 restrictions and measures in place. It also presumes that I’d take my wife (obviously), so all accommodation is based on at least two people sharing. I’m not sure how my 12 year old daughter will handle the time away from school, but with remote learning becoming such a feature of 2020-21, I think it’s more than justified to bring her along too.
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