Among winter sport enthusiasts the town Albertville will bring to mind one of the most impressive Olympic Games opening ceremonies in 1992. What it also brings to mind is the ski resort of Val d’Isère, where every year, the prestigious opening of the men’s World Cup giant slalom is being staged. Last weekend it was time again and people from all over the world flocked to the Alpine resort.
The best way to travel to Val d’Isère in style is with Scott Dunn, a luxury travel agency, that will organise everything from flights, transfer, accommodation, equipment and activities for you.
The transfer takes us from Geneva airport to what old hands call ‘Val’, and make our way up, up and up into the breathtakingly majestic mountains. After 2.5 hours of blissful scenery, champagne and a refreshing nap, we arrive at Chalet Eagle’s Nest which thrones atop the town and is in fact right next to the ski slopes.
The bitingly cold, characterful fresh air welcomes us, as does a group of charming hosts, offering afternoon tea. The chalet sleeps 12 people and pampers guests with indoor swimming pool, sauna and outside hot tub with views towards the imposing mountain range.
Before our arrival, we have already spoken with our own private chef who has gaged our likes and dislikes, intolerances and special requests; they will then organise daily menus.
It’s an absolute pleasure to discover everything this chalet has to offer, starting with the stunning view at the top towards La Face – the Olympic run – and across town and ending with the boot room at the bottom, containing a blissfully joyous ski boot heater. It is set within a private estate with the nearest piste just 300 metres away.
All rooms have different sizes and characters. Mine is a double, all clad in vintage wood and with a newly refurbished bathroom. The room feels cosy without losing any of its luxurious splendour and as I discover all the hidden high-tech behind the vintage wood surfaces, I marvel even more about the charming interior.
The sitting room is very homely with soft furnishings and enough space to seat all of us comfortably. This is the space where you will always find a friendly face offering you drinks and food, where you can catch up on the latest news of the area, or where you can just stare into the open fireplace crackling away and listen to some soft tunes from the speakers.
Before we turn in we get to try our ski boots and have a first look at our skis from the local ski school Oxygène. I’m given advice on how a boot has to fit so my legs don’t tire too much (apparently they have to be comfortable around the feet and tighter than tight on the calf) and then I’m shown the latest ski model of the season – a perfect fit, as I find out the next day.
Up bright and early, we’re amazed to find the breakfast table piled with fresh fruit, smoothies and pastries from the best bakery in town that the team have quietly, even whisperingly, prepared. It’s important to fuel up for the day ahead so I order French Toast from the breakfast menu – divine. But what we came here to do was not indulge – though I’m slowly realising that might just be what we do most of the time – but to ski. Even though it’s early in the season, the conditions on the slopes are superb. Val d’Isère is actually guaranteeing snow from late November until 1 May. A massive 300km of ski runs awaits. The snow is cold, meticulously prepared overnight and there’s no cloud in the sky. Val has a vast expanse of lifts, gondolas and funiculars – even at the height of the season there is no queuing at lifts. The funicular, for example, will take you to the glacier in only seven minutes. During the course of this summer, the old Solaise Express chair-lift and the even older Solaise cable-car – the original was built in 1938 – were dismantled. In their place comes a 10-person gondola with 91 cabins, complete with heated seats and WiFi. You can park your skis in exterior baskets, or bring them inside – the choice speeds up loading time. Today, there’s hardly anyone on the slopes and with the perfect snow and the perfect conditions, it turns out to be an absolute dream of a skiing day.
Some in our group choose to brush up on their skiing skills and have a private instructor waiting for them. There are indeed a variety of ski schools and courses to choose from all with multi-lingual highly professional instructors.
We make our way over to the glacier, take lifts over mountains and find pistes as broad as you could wish for, enabling us to go at whatever speed we’re comfortable with. I like the wind around my ears so I take the faster option whenever I can. The views are overwhelming, particularly towards Mont Blanc and the Italian Alps.
As it’s our first day, we are careful not to overdo it and exert ourselves, so we have regular coffee breaks at the welcoming and modern huts.
In the afternoon the snow gets warmer and heavier – time to call it a day. There are some excellent places for a good après ski treat, Cocorico’s for example, with live music and a fantastic atmosphere.
The next day the sun is out again and we continue to explore new lifts and slopes further afield. For lunch we find Le Yule, a brand new five-star hotel just a few metres next to the lifts. Keeping an eye on the World Cup piste, we enjoy French cooking at its finest. As we’re shown the spa area, we decide to book a massage for the afternoon and enjoy the beautifully tiled pool. But first, more skiing.
For our evening entertainment we visit La Folie Douce, where they really know how to fire up the dance floor.
As the days get colder and cloudier, the forecast is promising snow. But as the pistes still feel in great condition, we continue enjoying the slopes to the fullest.
We love the hearty and rich dishes we’ve had so far – rustic and traditional is what we always go for when in the Alps. But for tonight we really could do with something new and different, Asian spice and something a bit lighter. So our chalet chefs prepare a menu by UK TV’s MasterChef 2014 winner Ping Coombes, who is famous for bringing Malaysian flavours to her dishes without having to scour the globe for special ingredients. She has personally been training the chefs in the chalet to bring her philosophy onto our plates and tonight they have prepared her Mushroom Laksa with Glass Noodles, which is deliciously warming, Cheek of Beef which virtually melts on the tongue, and Chocolate Lava Cake with Black Sesame ice cream, all in the comfort of our own chalet with views over the twinkling lights from the town.
Ping also worked with Scott Dunn’s chefs and nannies to create a children’s menu to introduce kids to new tastes and to get children involved in the cooking themselves – an admirable idea. The whole concept of the Scott Dunn KidsClub is ideal for parents who want their small children to have as much fun in Val as they do.
After a week of skiing and indulging in the culinary delights of this beautiful part of France it’s time to say goodbye to our heated ski boots, our lovely hosts and the majestic snowy mountains. Val, you’ve been perfect.
Scott Dunn offers 7 nights at Chalet Eagle’s Nest from £1,575pp based on full chalet occupancy including return British Airways flights from the UK, private airport transfers, private Scott Dunn chef, host and in-resort driver service. www.scottdunn.com / +44 20 8682 5050