Visit Le Chardon Mountain Lodges in Val d'Isere for the ultimate ski experience delivered with a dollop of Scottish hospitality.
Am I too old to learn to ski? Taking up a new sport in adulthood is probably not recommended. In my mind, the factors that work against you are: a) you no longer bounce b) your centre of gravity is no longer a foot from the ground c) the humiliation suffered as your peers (who have practised said sport since childhood) run rings around you.
However, the dream of soaring down glistening slopes, before effortlessly gliding into après-ski continued to lure me, so when the opportunity came up to visit one of the world’s finest ski resorts, I couldn’t resist.
Val d’Isere sits at an altitude of 1850m and features one of the longest winter seasons in Europe, stretching from the end of November right through to the beginning of May. Hosting more top competitions than any other European venue, it boasts the infamous black run – La Face – and has produced four Olympic champions so far, including the great Henry Oreiller and Jean-Claude Killy.
We flew into Geneva, and wound our way by private transfer up into the mountains.
Chalet Le Chardon rests elegantly on the side of the Solaise mountain. It is one of five family-owned and run Le Chardon Mountain Lodges located in the charming and peaceful hamlet of La Legettaz. The beautiful lodges overlook the Manchet Valley and offer breathtaking views of the Vanoise National Park.
On arrival, the first thing I noticed was a glimmer of Scottish design. Although the chalets are built in the traditional alpine manner, they each exude the grandeur of the Scottish baronial style and the chalet I was fortunate enough to stay in – Le Chardon – is the flagship of the portfolio. Decorated in a palette of colours inspired by Scottish landscapes, the sumptuous textiles and tartans throughout offer the perfect place to cosy up out of the alpine cold. Even the toiletries were by Scottish Fine Soaps and the absolutely delicious gourmet meals and fine wines were served with a smile and a soft Scottish lilt.
For the experienced skier, Le Chardon Mountain Lodges now offers a VIP ski race package, which offer guests the chance to ‘learn to ski race’ with ex-Olympian, Alain Baxter.
“We work hard to find new and engaging ways of pushing our client service to new heights,” said Jamie Rennie, director at Le Chardon Mountain Lodges. “Our guests are keen skiers. What could be better than learning to race in the Olympic resort of Val d’Isere, where World Champions race every year, coached by an ex-Olympian too.”
While I will readily accept most crash test dummy assignments for Country Life, I decided that race skiing was perhaps a step to far, and happily accepted Le Chardon’s offer of beginner lessons. Nothing was too much trouble for the chalet staff, who organized my in-chalet ski and boot fitting, and a series of lessons with Oxygene Ski, the local ski school.
My fair-haired Ventian instructor, Andrea, was incredibly patient, and put up with a lot of hand holding, until I found my ski legs. As it turns out, skiing has a lot of similarities with riding – namely to succeed you need good balance, fearlessness and over-confidence – and after a couple of tumbles and ‘accidentally’ going far too fast, by day two I was beginning to master baby parallel turns, and was happily weaving down the gentle slopes on my own.
I could have happily skied all day, if it weren’t for the distraction of restaurants that lay temptingly nearby. Friday’s lunchtime stop was at Le Signal, which serves traditional French cuisine. Recently refurbished, it is situated at the top of Le Fornet cable car and has just won the Best Mountain Restaurant award at the World Ski Awards.
On Saturday, we glided into La Tête de Solaise, situated at the top of the Solaise lift. We were served an incredible selection of amuse bouche and petits fours which left me ready to roll back down the mountain, rather than ski, and when I finally made it back down the mountain, I plopped straight into Le Chardon’s hot tub, with a glass of Pol Roger in hand.
Sport and gluttony aside, the real treat of the stay was the beauty of the landscape, and the stillness of the mountains. As the cable car climbs up and up, the silence engulfs and suddenly, you become aware of your own fragile existence and the pounding of your heart.
I can’t wait to return.