If your late-season ski break in the Alps is as much about pampering as skiing, read on. These stylish, modern boutique hotels and chalets have spas, pools and restaurants to rival any in a city
We all know what to expect from hotels in Alpine villages. Cosiness, open fires, traditional decor and olde-worlde charm spring to mind – but all that is changing. If you crave a change, below is my selection of smart, modern boutique hotels and cutting-edge luxury properties in the Mr & Mrs Smith style.
If money is no object, Sir Richard Branson's Virgin group occupies pole position with The Lodge, an exclusive mountain chalet in Verbier, Switzerland – yours for just £36,250 per week, though it does accommodate 18 adults plus six children. If you don't have that many friends, or that much money, there is a slowly growing number of outstanding boutique establishments and hip hotels that combine the best ski locations with individual and attentive service.
All the hotels below have first-class restaurants with splendid food and wine, stylish and innovative interior design and deluxe accommodation. My choices are all set against the stunning mountain backdrop of some of the top ski resorts in Europe – all guaranteed to have great snow during the late season.
Prices are based on late season (March-April), staying in a double/twin room on a half-board basis.
Best for value and innovation
Lux Alpinae 4* St Anton
This unique hotel is run by the Kertess family, who also own the large, traditional Kertess Hotel at the top of the small cliff face immediately behind tthis striking, angular, modern glass-and-steel building. Located five minutes from the Rendl lifts and a 10-minute walk from the village centre, the hotel operates a complimentary full-day shuttle bus service between the two.
All the rooms are sunny and south-facing with views of the Rendl mountains. The rear of the hotel has no windows at all, but the innovative design makes the most of its proximity to the mountain face with an indoor climbing wall spanning the entire back of the hotel. All the corridor levels are suspended away from the wall, so intrepid guest climbers might ascend up or abseil down past you as you make your way to your room (see picture slide show, top right).
The novel design continues with huge industrial bare steel doors, metal gangways, unplastered concrete walls and a stylish glass lift. Persian and cow-hide rugs and contemporary furniture soften the hard edges. The rooms are minimalist chic, with not even a telephone to clutter the space. Instead, you are provided with a mobile phone for room-to-room calls and even guest-to-guest calls on the slopes.
The bathrooms are bright and modern, with a metal blind covering the glass wall at the side of the bath – all that is separating you, as you lie soaking and relaxing, from the stunning mountain view (see main picture, above). The contemporary theme continues in the restaurant, where the superb cooking is as inventive as it is befitting of such a stand-out hotel. Since it opened in 2003, guests have returned year after year for the excellent value and tremendous hospitality afforded by Alexander and Sabine Kertess and family.
Though St Anton is relatively low-altitude at 1,300m, its slopes stretch to the top of the mighty Valluga, at a healthy 2,800m. Historically, the Austrian Tirol enjoys excellent snow depth throughout March and April. Neighbouring Lech-Zürs enjoys half as much snow again and shares the same lift pass. The closest mountain, Rendl – right opposite the Lux Alpinae – has the most snow-sure (north-facing) slopes in the resort.
A week from 20 March, 2010, costs £1,059 per person, including flights.
My comprehensive Simonseeks guide to St Anton:
Best for private chalet feel with five-star hotel comforts
Kilimandjaro 5* Courchevel 1850
The Kilimandjaro stands out even in a resort awash with quality hotels. This ski-to-door hotel, located next to the gentle and sunny Pralong piste, close to the altiport and above the Courchevel centre, operates a very efficient chauffeur service to the village.
Part of the Leading Hotels of the World group, the Kilimandjaro is an extraordinary collection of seven interlinked individual chalets clustered around a stylish main chalet area. This comprises a fitness emporium with a central pool, spa and gymnasium, and a beautiful Michelin-starred restaurant, La Table du Kilimandjaro, with a wonderful slope-side terrace.
Each chalet has its own ski and boot room and the number of bedrooms or suites varies (from three to six), depending on your requirements. All rooms are beautifully appointed, with large flatscreen TVs and Sony PS3 Playstations. You can book a room or suite individually, or block-book several in the same chalet for groups of eight to 10 people. If you wish, you can order food to be eaten in the private dining room in each chalet.
The Kilimandjaro offers the wonderful, discreet ambience of a private chalet but with all the creature comforts and amenities of a five-star hotel. Factor in a Michelin-starred restaurant, and it's a truly unforgettable place to stay.
Courchevel 1850 village is at a good altitude (1,850m) and the Kilimandjaro lies higher up the slopes than even the Jardin Alpin area, with its piste-side hotels just above the village centre – making it a great ski-to-door hotel even this late in the season.
Four nights cost £2,455 per person, including flights.
My comprehensive Simonseeks guide to Courchevel 1850:
Best for recreation and relaxation
Hotel Madlein 5* Ischgl
The pioneer of ski boutique hotels in the modern Alpine style, the Madlein is inspired by the Orient and its interior design creates an oasis of calm and tranquility. The hotel occupies a sunny position and offers a welcome respite from the jollies going on in the rest of this buzzing Austrian party town. It even has its own Zen garden, waterfalls, raked pebbles and bonsai trees, plus a wonderful torch-lit outdoor heated pool (see picture slideshow). The rooms are stylish, spacious and minimalist, making your private space a restful place to be.
Continuing the Eastern theme, the Madlein has a yin and yang duality to its nature. In contrast with the fabulous spa and Zen-inspired relaxation areas, it offers a vibrant and hedonistic nightlife at Pacha, the Alpine cousin of the world-renowned Ibizan nightclub brand. Few hotels can provide such a feast for the senses. The Asian influences extend to the outstanding contemporary restaurant, which excels with its beautifully presented Oriental-inspired dishes.
Located only 100m from the gondolas, the Madlein has direct lift access to the village tunnel complete with travelators (airport-style walkways), making it convenient for the village centre and all mountain access points. Should you wish to make a grand entrance on a night out, the hotel has an enormous stretch Hummer limousine for that extra "bling" factor.
The season continues here until May, ending with a free Alicia Keys mountain concert – so you will be assured great snow conditions even in late March and April.
Seven nights, from 20 March, cost £1,440 per person.
My comprehensive Simonseeks guide to Ischgl:
Best for sophisticated and informal fun
Hotel Post 4* Zermatt
The Hotel Post is a Zermatt institution, housing four restaurants and five bars and clubs under one roof. It occupies a prime central location on the main street, Bahnhofstrasse, in the picture-box Swiss village.
The hotel was formerly a traditional four-star, but it was completely refurbished by new owners in 2007 to create a voguish mountain lodge style. The comfortable and elegant rooms feature natural stone walls and modern light-wood panelling; some superior rooms have their own open fireplace and all the bathrooms are classy, with a cutting-edge design.
The Post is elegant and clearly the place to be seen in, yet the atmosphere is refreshingly informal – and perfectly in-keeping with its compendium of funky bars and clubs. You are spoilt for dining choices, including the relaxed Italian Spaghetti & Pizza Factory and the Broken Tex Mex Grill. For pub grub, there is the lively Brown Cow Snack Bar while, for top-notch cuisine, try the stylish Portofino restaurant with its newly awarded 14 Gault Millau points.
Entertainment is provided in-house, too, at not just the Brown Cow Pub but the Broken Disco Bar, the Pink Live Music Bar, the Loft Club Lounge and the Papa Caesar Cocktail Bar.
March to April is a brilliant time of year to sample Zermatt's mostly north-facing, snow-sure slopes as they get the benefit of the late-season sunshine.
Seven nights, from 20 March, cost £1,100 per person.
My comprehensive Simonseeks guide to Zermatt:
Best new exclusive luxury boutique design
Aurelio 5* Lech-Zürs
The Aurelio is a super new, swish mountain lodge situated in the exclusive and beautiful Austrian village of Lech. With its terrific piste-side location and stunning views, it opened in December 2008 and has 19 luxury rooms and suites. Its design means groups can book a whole chalet section comprising nine rooms, including a private pool and a chimney lounge.
Where the Aurelio simply excels is personal and attentive service. Facilities include a fabulous spa with several pools – including the largest indoor pool in Lech, at 23m in length. Top-class treatments are available and the Ski Spa has an aroma vapor pool, blossom pool, cool pool, sauna and Jacuzzi plus a state-of-the-art gym. All the high-tech bedrooms have superb home entertainment systems and iPod connections – and even the keys to the rooms are ingenious and double as your lift pass!
In the stylish contemporary restaurant, the food is outstanding. The chef is clearly on a mission to earn a Michelin star and several Gault Millau points, and the wine list is impressive – even if it is as expensive as it is expansive. There is also an excellent choice of vintage (ie, over 100 years old) brandies with which to relax after a meal in one of the elegant lounge areas.
Lech is always assured a hefty amount of snow from very early season, making it a great Christmas choice. Even by late March, the snowfall record here is way above average – with the early spring sunshine a bonus.
From 20 March, expect to pay about £500 per person, per night. To enquire about booking a chalet section as a group, click the following link:
My comprehensive Simonseeks guide to Lech-Zürs:
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