3 little gems in the Alps

March 24, 2016 0 comment

There’s still time to squeeze in some family ski if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere! Easter break falls really early this year in Europe, which means that the snow is still good in the Alps and the sun is already shining. Enjoying a ski vacation with young children can be a challenge though (read: a pain!!) because of all the logistics involved. So it’s wise to choose well the format of your holidays.  We tend to like them best when we stay in family-owned hotels where the children can run around in their slippers while we benefit from a bit of service.

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We don’t have a particular favorite as we like to try out new places. Typical me, Ceki will say. In his heart, I know he wishes we’d stick to the same mountains every year, returning to the same slopes, but I usually win on that front….which allows me to share 3 very different places with you today. We’ve tried and enjoyed all of them.

They all have in common to be owned by families with young children. Therefore, the owners know a thing or two about making you feel at home. They also have in common to lovingly care for every little details and this is key in hospitality. And they are all beautifully decorated, with their own distinctive style.

1. MAISON DE FAMILLE LES CINQ FRERES IN VAL D’ISERE, FRENCH ALPS

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Literally meaning “Family Home of the Five Brothers”, this hotel has been in the Mattis family for over 50 years. The Mattis are some of the very first who settled in the valley of Val d’Isere, helping build its reputation as a world-class ski resort. Some in the family own ski shops, others own restaurants. Two of the cousins recently joined forces to give a new life to a very old house that belonged to their grand-parents. The story says that the five brothers were even born in that house.

Cousins Valérie and Audrey have young children of their own and know well what it takes to make a family happy during a ski holiday. The children can have early dinner in the restaurant in a lively atmosphere – read: noone will give you the look. You can rent a whole floor, usually there are 2 to 3 rooms per floor, to make it feel private, which is especially convenient if going away with a set of friends or extended family. It feels a bit like renting a chalet, with all the services of a hotel. They are located right in the heart of the village, near the Old Church and walking distance from the ski school ESF (the main one). However, the bonus is that the Mattis family has its own little ski school Stages Mattis and if you wish, you can enroll your children with them in which case they’ll pick them up in the morning, bring them home for lunch all taken care of before continuingg to ski for the rest of the day. The hotel was renovated head to toe and it’s very comfortable. The style is mountain / contemporary without trying too hard.

Some perks of staying at Les Cinq Freres:

You get a 25% discount at the ski shop Mattis Sport (it’s all in the family!). And you’ll get quite a welcoming smile every where you go when mentioning that you are staying there, because everyone knows them. They’ll help you rent any baby material such as stroller for the snow, baby bottle warmer etc.. They’ll also help you find (English-speaking) babysitters or you can us this agency that I came across. it seemed very professional.

Their fancy sister (“brother”!!) property the Tsanteleina is next door and has a michelin-starred restaurant and a beautiful gym and pool that can be used discreetly for the Cinq Freres guests. And here are a few spots that we enjoyed for a meal outside the hotel:

For dinner:

Take the children to a real farm for dinner! La Ferme de l’Adroit is a short drive away (frequent shuttles) in Le Fornet. You’ll have a fondue (or any other savoyard dishes) tete a tete with the cows – literally. It’s quite fun and delicious. And guess what is the name of the owner…Helene Mattis!! It’s also great to have a dinner at l’Arolay in a small hamlet called le Fornet. You feel deep deep in the Alps there. Typical, casual and deliciously friendly. La Taverne d’Alsace is an institution in the village, with lots of black and white photos on the wall, again better to reserve.

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At lunch time during the ski day:

In the village of Val d’Isere, French people flock to La Grande Ours. Again, it’s deliciously casual but best to reserve during the busy time of school holidays. There’s the fancy Brussels hotel and its (very expensive) restaurant with a big sunny terrace where English-speakers prefer to hang around.

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On the slopes, make sure to stop for a late and long lunch at L’edelweiss. It’s our favorite place after a long day of skiing. It’s a bit hidden in the mountain and you will likely miss it the first time you go, but it’s worth it! Especially if you can secure a table by the fireplace (reserve!). Othrerwise, everyone knows and goes to La Folie Douce (but not sure with young children as its a party spot on the slopes!) and its next door upscale restaurant LA Fruitiere. It’s delicious and very pretty but quite pricey (like many places in Val d’isere if you dont pay attention). And more casual, La Tete de Solaise and Les Clochetons. I believe in the utmost importance of eating good food in the mountain. First because the produce is very good, although it’s a lof of dairy and meat (cows sheeps cows!) but also because you spend a lot of calories with the cold and the sport so you might as well indulge with yummy dishes and stinky cheese.

2. CHALET-HOTEL LA CROIX FRY IN MANIGOD, NEAR LA CLUSAZ, FRENCH ALPS

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This is where we went this year and we never left the hotel apart for skiing during the day! Manigod is a very charming Haute-Savoie little hamlet where traditions are very important and life does not revolve around ski resorts. It’s all about cheese-making (it’s reblochon land! Marcelo was in heaven!) and wooden furniture making in particular.

A major advantage is that the hotel is a very easy reach from Geneva Airport (1h15 drive, you won’t need a car – book the airport ride with Skiiddygonzalez). It’s like a big chalet where children go about in their slippers, but it has a world-class restaurant at the same time, making the parents very (very!) happy. The downside is that you come home with toned muscles (maybe) very much hidden under a little (or big!) belly if you have not been able to say No to the chef (but how could you..). Within a few days, you call everyone by their first name. There is Mireille in the reception, Francois who drives the shuttle, Pierre in the restaurant, Sylvie who gives the massages, Isabel who runs the hotel and her brother Eric who has the gold fingers in the kitchen. Oh, and you hear a lot about Marie-Ange, their mother, who is known all over the valley but sadly passed away a few years ago, The hotel has been in the family since 1939, and is decorated with authentic mountain charm straight out of a postcard. The ski resort feels very quaint with lots of forests around and children and slopes that are relatively easy. Hoewver, the minute you step out into La Clusaz (the two resorts are connected), you have access to world-class slopes and lots of km of great ski. See this article for more on the slopes.

What made our trip was also the wonderful ski instructor from ski school ESF, his name is Clement Ripoli and he was incredibly patient and kind. He was also a great inspiration as he is an enthusiast sportsman with quite a few exploits under his belt, such as climbing 5 times to the top of Mont Blanc, or arriving number 7 in the extreme Ultra-Trail run: 140km in a go. I didn’t even know that human kind was able to do things like this!!!!  ([email protected])

Oh, and the children had a great afternoon imagining they were living in the wild of the mountains, building an igloo and watching bird life with Cathy ([email protected]) who takes groups around every Wednesday afternoon. They came back exhausted and with lots of stories to tell.

You can also rent one of their chalet nearby and they will deliver breakfast and dinner if you wish so. A great alternative.

3. HAUS HIRT NEAR SALZBURG, AUSTRIA

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I have already mentioned this very special place here, but as we went again last year I thought I’d mention it today. Haus Hirt is such a special place. Evelyn and her architect husband have turned their property into a hotspot for art and design in the mountains, with a wonderful family feel. They have a young son themselves and it’s quite rare to find a place that can blend in all those qualities at once i.e. family, art + design, ski. Since I wrote about it the first time, they have added a few modern chalets directly opposite the hotel. That’s a good option if you prefer to have your own privacy, although you’d miss on the easy ‘keep your slippers on for dinner’ feel if you decide to eat in the hotel.

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Haus Hirt organised a memorable afternoon in the wild, and we got to get close to wild deers. It was so so special and made a huge imprint on all of us. Hundreds of bambi and their grown ups came close to us to feed, before they returned to the forest. We learnt a lot about their way of leaving, it was magic. We also had such a fun evening at the old Bellevue Alm restaurant up in the mountain. You need to take a single ski lift from the 1970’s, in the dark and you can come back sledding if you wish. It’s hilarious, the atmosphere is very casual, the waiters are dressed in traditional outfit, they sing the traditional Austrian songs, and it’s great fun.

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All of this reminds me another post that I wrote a couple years back about Avoriaz, another under-the-radar French ski resort whose star is rising. Read here for more.

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