The exhilaration you desire from a quick European skiing break will be met in Chamonix.
Surrounded by the highest mountains in the Alps, vast dazzling landscapes of whiteness, and a very healthy après-ski scene and off-piste activities for the non-skiiers, a group getaway should take you here.
Where to stay
With the beautiful Mont Blanc mountains, and the ski slopes of Les Grands Montets, Argentière Glacier, Aiguille Verte as your backdrop, the seriously luxurious chalets at Les Rives d’Argentière are Citizen Femme approved.
This hamlet of 5* stunning ski chalets raises the bar for luxury Alpine holidays. Four side-by-side chalets – Granit, Cristal, Terre or Ardoise – can accommodate up to 50 guests, and can be hired all together. Alternatively, opt for a single chalet, accommodating up to 10 people, for smaller parties. All chalets are connected underground so if staying in a big group, there is no need to get on your snow boots and winter wear when popping across to another chalet for dinner.
The facilities are really endless, with a swimming pool, a fitness suite with sauna and hammam, hot tubs, massage rooms, sun loungers, terraces and balconies all around (perfect for summer), a cinema room with billiards table, wine cellar and its own pub. A dedicated ski room with heated boot warmers (very welcome), and my favourite feature? Real log fires for a lux rustic feel providing the genuine beauty you would want from a winter chalet destination. Combined with iPod docking stations and a kitchen of abundant supplies of drinks and nibbles, you might find that 48 hours is just not enough.
The chalets are equipped with large secure underground parking so you can arrive and depart, safe and dry, no matter what the weather. They have a full time concierge team, which includes private chef, professional host and daily cleaning. Your own chauffeur and VW Caravelles who can drive you anywhere in the valley are included, from nearby Courmayeur in Italy to Verbier in Switzerland for extra ski options.
If you decide on the luxury catered package, you will wake up to daily cooked and continental breakfasts. Come back home to afternoon tea and fine dining 3 and 4 course dinners, accompanied with excellent local wine selections, selected by Le Verre Gourmand, including unlimited drinks, even when you take your après-ski to the outdoor hot tubs.
For the skiiers
Ski enthusiasts will be itching to hit the slopes. With Chamonix Mont Blanc being one of the most renowned and offering some of the most challenging ski routes in the world, they have a wide variety of runs to choose from. Home to Europe’s highest mountain at 4810m, it was the site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924. Today, it’s where the most dedicated skiers, snowboarders and even instructors visit to take on the challenge of the varying pistes. The largest amount of vertical is offered from the Aiguille du Midi at 3,840-metres, with a 17-km run, but you’ll need a professional mountain guide to tackle it.
With over 157km of on-piste and virtually unlimited off-piste, it truly caters for everyone from the beginner to the pro. Less experienced skiers and beginners are also catered for with gentle slopes along the bottom of the valley that have easy access.
For the non-skiers
While the Aiguille du Midi is a great starting point for avid skiiers, it is the closest most non-climbers can get to Mont Blanc and offers unrivalled views over the massif, the glaciers and Chamonix valley, not to mention a large chunk of the Alps and surrounding countries. As you stand looking over ice flows which have cracked to form huge crevasses, it almost feels as though you’re at the epicentre of the Alps, with enormous peaks going in all directions into the horizon as far as the eye can see. It really is quite spectacular.
Le Pas dans le Vide (Step into the void) can be accessed from the summit lift and Terrasse 3842. This is a 2.5m glass box suspended from the side of the Aiguille, 1000m above the glaciers below. While access is complimentary, you may have 15 minute queues. Vertigo sufferers should probably avoid this one.
Take the glossy red retro engine of the Montenvers railway up the mountainside to reach a point high above the Mer de Glace glacier, with a stunning view of the Dru and the Grandes Jorasses. There’s a lovely old atmospheric restaurant and a newer terrace restaurant over the glacier, for a hot chocolate and a fantastic view, soaking in the natural drama of the setting.
Last and certainly not least, look over the skiiers as you take 10-30 minute helicopter tours over Chamonix, where you can discover, in total safety, the intense majesty of the Mont Blanc Massif. It’s an experience of a lifetime.
Regular massages is a great way to allow your whole body to benefit from the getaway (beyond the immediate relaxing effects of a treatment). Equilibrium offers “Skiing and Wellbeing”, “Zen Hen and Wellbeing” and other weekend and weeklong tailored packages to really rejuvenate you in body, mind and soul. Founded by Ruth Martin, she is a well versed Massage Therapist, with hands of magic, for skiiers and non-skiiers. For a well-rounded Chamonix getaway, this is one part you cannot miss.
To augment the therapeutic nature of massage, call in a daily yoga practice by one of Equilibrium’s highly trained yoga instructors. Whether you are planning on taking on the big mountains or the big world, find yourself in the driving seat for your return back to work. That’s what we all want right?
Eating & Drinking
The apres-ski scene is well catered for.
La Cabane des Praz is a stylish wooden lodge serving stylish French mountain cuisine, great for dinner. Fondues and Raclettes feature heavily on the menu, and the outdoor terrace has great views of the mountains.
For cheese lovers, local favourite Le Monchu serves up regional specialties like cheese fondue with a large basket of fresh bread and raclette, capturing the local flavor perfectly.
After dinner, 218 Maison des Artistes is ideal for a glass (or two) of wine and live jazz. Originally home to former mayor of Chamonix Maurice Herzog, it now houses a jazz club and hosts nightly DJ sets and concerts by rising local talents. Check the website for up-to-date schedules.
Rue des Moulins, is a small but bustling pedestrian street packed with bars and restaurants in the centre of Chamonix. In the middle you’ll find The Social Club, a fabulous, edging on colonial style, cocktail bar, run by a dynamic entrepreneur Leila. A mix of resident and guest DJs keep the music fresh and so loud the only thing you can do is dance while the barstaff mix killer cocktails. It’s one of the few bars in Chamonix where you’ll want to dress up.
Don’t forget, you can contact your chauffers from Les Rives D’Argentiere to find your way home.
Chamonix resort itself is a busy town of 9,000 permanent residents at the foot of Mont Blanc, just below the French entrance to the Mont Blanc road tunnel. The town’s old buildings maintain history in their architecture with a traffic-free town centre, great for walking tours as well as a wander around their shops, galleries, bookshops and speciality food.
Remember, Chamonix does summer as well as it does winter. Originally it was only ever popular in the summer. It wasn’t really until after 1924 that the ‘ski season’, as we know it today, really took hold following the first Winter Olympics. Upcoming Pop-Rock festival, Musical, brings in around 15,000 spectators between 19th and 21st April with a host of global artists with up and coming talents. Or enjoy the outdoors with paragliding, day trips to Milan and Geneva, and so much more.