No shilly chaleting

A new breed of ski accommodation combines opulent service with the warm glow of home, writes WILLIAM HAM BEVAN

The more expensive the present you buy for a child, the more likely they are to play with the wrapping paper. Staying at Chalet Louise - one of the best in the Swiss resort of Zermatt - I regressed to this stage of infancy.

For despite the top-notch food, vintage wine and massages, what really made me feel a million francs was having a cup of tea served in bed each morning.

It’s these touches that characterise a new breed of superchalets, pioneered for the UK market by operators such as Scott Dunn and Descent International.

The latter’s Chalet Zen, which opened in Zermatt this season, is mesmerising.

Their attitude signals an end to the one-size-fits-all chalet approach: the notion that guests suspend the service they expect at a hotel and gamely accept what they’re given.

Chalet Louise occupies half of the top four floors of a new building. The other half is Chalet Zaphir. It is elegant and unfussy, with all chocolatebox chintz banished. The view to the Matterhorn is breathtaking.

Every evening is a gastronomic theatre, with champagne and canapes as the warm-up act. Looking after frontof-house - it seems churlish to call her a chalet girl - was Eilidh, a fresh-faced Scot.

Her skill at filling glasses undetected led to her being christened “the smiling assassin”, which she took in good heart. In the kitchen - emerging to announce each course - was 21-year-old chef Alan, who trained under Anton Edelmann at the Savoy before putting in a stint at Brasserie St Quentin in Knightsbridge. The food was exceptional.

Most chalet operators work out a limited-menu at the start of the season, with robotic staff trained to reproduce it and never veer.

However, Alan took his pick from the best produce that was available locally. And this showed in each evening’s five courses. Standouts included a deliciously rich and moist glazed duck breast, and one of the best sticky toffee puddings I’ve tasted. The service and presentation were faultless, mostly because Alan and Eilidh are professionals rather than pongy youths “doing a season”.

What’s more, the tea in bed, I suspect, was Eilidh’s idea, rather than a three-line whip from Central Office.

That’s my idea of luxury: who says you can’t get the staff these days?


Evening Standard


February 2005