THE ADVANTAGES OF BOOKING FOR WINTER 2016/17 NOW!

Here we are at the beginning of 2016 and I find myself writing this blog encouraging you to consider booking your ski holiday for next season already – are we a little too keen? Well not really, we have been selling ski holidays for over 24 years now and there are too many compelling reasons why you should be considering booking for next season now!

Family ski holidays in the Alps

Having quality family time on the slopes.

WHY BOOK YOUR SKI HOLIDAY NOW?

CHOICEno need to compromise, as we will be able to book something to fit your exact requirements. So whether you are after luxury with a ski-in ski-out location, an indoor pool, hot tub and gourmet food, or a large chalet for 2 to 50 people to celebrate the New Year, now is the time to start looking. Our tailor-made approach means no stone is left un-turned and we can accommodate pretty much any request whether it’s a standard 7 day itinerary, a short break, a European or North American ski holiday ,we have the answers.

PEAK DATES – every winter is the same; Christmas, New Year, February half term and the Easter weeks sell out faster than you think. By getting in early you will guarantee the best choice of accommodation to suit your budget and requirements. Let’s be honest there are few things in life that beat the excitement, exhilaration, and sheer joy of spending time in the Alps. We say don’t delay! Round up your friends and book a chalet for New Year and you could be sitting in a hot tub on the deck, with a glass of champagne while watching a spectacular fireworks display while the snow comes down, it does not get better than that.

DEALS, DEALS, DEALS…..yes its true there are some great deals to be had by booking early, so as my title suggests early birds do catch the worm. Groups can get as much as one in five people go free; couples can save £120 for a week in the Alps; there are plenty of “buy one get one free” on lift passes as well as up to 50% off ski hire. These types of early booking incentives don’t last forever so hurry and get you next ski holiday booked up and have something special to look forward to.

L a Cluzaz ski resort

The beautiful ski resort of La Cluzaz

As the UK’s foremost ski holiday broker we deal with 100’s of operators who all offer incentives, the only problem is they don’t offer the same incentives, so to help you decipher who offers what, please feel free to call us and one of dedicated members of staff will be able to find you the best deals the market has to offer or alternatively have a look at our Alpine Answers website.

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Synopsis of ski holiday booking patterns

As a specialist ski travel agency and tour operator we have come to the end of a very busy three months booking period for clients both old and new for winter 2015/16. The market has been a tough one, as booking patterns have fluctuated from one week to the next, not dissimilar to the fluctuations in the Euro and the FTSE 100 which somehow seem to be intrinsically related. Now that we are in early December we are keeping tabs on the weather reports, web cams and which way the cows are sleeping, as these factors are most definitely related to booking enquiries. So far so good, the snow fell in late November in large amounts transforming green fields into white gold. As I write this blog we could do with colder temperatures and of course we can always do with more snow. We are hopeful that we will see some fresh snow in the next 10 days.

Fresh snow in December

Fresh snow in December

DECEMBER –  If you are keen to go in the next few weeks, aim high and you will not be disappointed. This does limit your choice but at least you will get the best of the snow conditions; Tignes, Val d’Isere, Val Thorens, Zermatt, La Plagne, Les Arcs, Engelberg, Grimentz, Lech are some of the resorts which should have plenty of good snow conditions.

Typical ski conditions in January

Typical ski conditions in January

JANUARY –  Just like Harrods you can always pick up a late deal in January. Catered chalets from £349 including flights and transfers, this is the month to go if you want a real bargain. The later you leave things the cheaper the holiday should be. We would recommend calling one of our friendly and knowledgeable sales team, as they know where the best snow is and who has the best deals in that particular resort.

FEBRUARY – Always a great month to go as generally the snow is at its best, the temperatures are ideal and as long as you avoid half term the slopes are generally not too busy. For adult groups the week before half term would be a good week to pick up a great chalet at a very reasonable price. The half term week is now very busy so don’t expect any deals this week. The week after half term is again a good week although the slopes are busier as half of Europe seems to be skiing!

Sun and skiing, the perfect combination.

Sun and skiing, the perfect combination.

MARCH – Spring is in the air, the days get longer but the skiing just gets better. First week of March is always busy with lots of European schools on holiday, however the middle of March tends to be less busy and again there are usually some bargains to be had staying in catered chalets. Easter is early in 2016, so the last week of March is super busy. If you can go the first week in April you will save a packet.

APRIL – Aim high and again you will be rewarded handsomely, with longer days the snow will get slushy in the afternoon but have a long lunch and just enjoy the amazing scenery with a glass or two, oh remember don’t overdo it as you will still have the bumpy slush run back to the resort to negotiate! Plenty of great deals in April, just call and we can advise.

Spring skiing can get a little hot!

Spring skiing can get a little hot!

FANCY A SKI WEEKEND? – If you have not as yet booked your ski weekend we would strongly recommend doing a reverse weekend as flights coming back from many airports on a Sunday afternoon/evening are now very expensive. Think about going on a Saturday or Sunday and returning on a Tuesday or Wednesday. You will be amazed at how much you can save by doing so. Again, just call us and we can let you know your best options.

 

It’s amazing how time flies when you are having fun. We love helping clients find their perfect ski holiday and would love to hear from you!

We now look forward to going on our educational ski trips to look at new resorts, chalets and hotels so you get the insider knowledge. We will send you our findings shortly.

Happy skiing Earl Knudsen

 

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The best restaurants in the Alps

Much has been written on the best restaurants in the Alps – after all there is nothing more deserving than a full on gastro blow out after taking the mountain airs. A six or seven course extravaganza comes (almost) guilt free after a hard day’s skiing or hiking so why not indulge yourself the next time you go on a ski holiday. The list below of the best mountain restaurants in the Alps has been part put together from firsthand experience (lucky duck that I am) and part through our 20+ years of experience as a leading specialist ski holiday agency and tailor-made tour operator.

We have been booking luxury ski holidays for discerning clients since the early 1990’s and have come to appreciate that a superb mountain dinner or lunch is every bit a part of a fantastic ski holiday as the hotel or chalet in which our guests stay or the resort in which they ski. In fact we might go as far as saying that an entire ski holiday can (and perhaps should) be planned purely around our clients’ gastronomic needs and desires. If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach then he will love, love, love to eat in these great restaurants.

The best restaurants in the Alps – Zermatt

Zermatt is a majestic Swiss ski resort with great skiing, a wonderful resort atmosphere, superb restaurants both on and off the mountain and all of this topped off by the ever present iconic peak of the Matterhorn. What a ski resort! There are over 100 restaurants in Zermatt and no less than 17 of these have been awarded GaultMillau points making it the most enriched ski resort in the Alps when it comes to fine dining. The restaurant at the Hotel Omnia has one Michelin star as does the Capri (at the Mont Cervin Palace Hotel), the After Seven (at the Backstage Hotel) and the Corbeau d’Or (at the Mirabeau Alpine Residence). In 2015 the Prato Borni at the 5 star Zermatterhof Hotel was awarded 14 GaultMillau points, firmly adding it to the list of the culinary highlights in Zermatt.

There are of course some amazing mountain restaurants in Zermatt with Chez Vrony and Franz & Heidi’s Findlerhof restaurant being the most revered and talked about mountain restaurants in the world, let alone the Alps.

Best restaurants in the Alps - Franz and Heidi Schwery's Findlerhof

Best restaurants in the Alps – Franz and Heidi Schwery’s Findlerhof

The best retaurants in the Alps – The Hotel Rosengarten, Kirchberg, Tirol

Simon Taxacher is the proprietor and head chef of the exceptional Relais & Chateaux Hotel Restaurant Spa Rosengarten. The hotel’s restaurant has no less than 19 GaultMillau points and 4 toques putting it amongst the very highest echelons of global culinary excellence. The hotel, which has 26 rooms, restaurant and its spa are all unashamedly modern in decor and style with an extremely fine quality of finish in all departments – as you might expect from an exacting man like Taxacher. This is not your traditional Tirol experience and the modernity of the decor might seem a little out of place when you consider that ancient and traditional Kitzbuhel is just over the hill. However, the uncluttered muted decor of the Rosengarten I suspect has been designed so that the quality of the food coming from Taxacher’s kitchen does all the talking.

The best restaurant in the Alps - Simon Taxacher's Hotel Restaurant Spa Rosengarten

The best restaurant in the Alps – Simon Taxacher’s Hotel Restaurant Spa Rosengarten

The best restaurants in the Alps – La Bouitte, Three Valleys

Just up the road from St Martin de Belleville you will find the converted old Savoyarde farm building that is now the extraordinary restaurant, La Bouitte. Recently awarded its third Michelin star this father and son double act surely has secured its place as one of the finest restaurants in the Alps. Rene and Maxime Meilleur have over the years built their reputation for creating wonderful cuisine, often using local ingredients of their local mountains in the Three Valleys, France. In stark contrast to the Rosengarten the style of La Bouitte is homely, traditional and cosseting. The atmosphere is relaxed (dining in ski boots is perfectly acceptable) and the essence of the old chalet building with its large open fireplace and stone walls create a welcoming mountain atmosphere. We recommend a stay in nearby St Martin de Belleville in the Chalet Abode which carries on the theme of fine dining and a professional yet relaxed atmosphere.

Best restaurants in the Alps - 3 Michelin stars at La Bouitte

The best restaurants in the Alps – 3 Michelin stars at La Bouitte (Rene and Maxime Meilleur)

Best restaurants in the Alps - La Bouitte

The best restaurants in the Alps – the dining room at La Bouitte

The best restaurants in the Alps – Alta Badia and San Cassiano, Italy

The third generation of the Pizzinini family has done much to develop this corner of the Italian Dolomites into a culinary hot spot. As owners and managers of the excellent Hotel Rosa Alpina they had a vision to put their little ski resort of San Cassiano on the gastro map. In 1996 they were joined by Norbert Niederkofler, now their head chef, who shared their vision and together they created not only the St Hubertus restaurant (with 2 Michelin stars and 19 GaultMillau points) but also the whole on-mountain dine around experience. Guests staying at the hotel can now explore the Alta Badia and Sella Ronda ski domains and also eat at any number of mountain restaurants that serve Michelin chef inspired signature dishes.

Best restaurants in the Alps - Rosa Alpina Pizzinini family and Niederkofler

The best restaurants in the Alps – Norbert Niederkofler and Mr & Mrs Pizzinini of the Hotel Rosa Alpina

Best restaurants in the Alps - the Hotel Rosa Alpina in San Cassiano

The best restaurants in the Alps. The lounge at the Hotel Rosa Alpina, San Cassiano, in the Alta Badia region of the Italian Dolomites

Best restaurants in the Alps - one of the bedrooms at the Hotel Rosa Alpina

The best restaurants in the Alps – one of the bedrooms at the Hotel Rosa Alpina

St Hubertus, San Cassiano, one of the best restaurants in the Alps

St Hubertus, San Cassiano, one of the best restaurants in the Alps

Apart from the fine mountain restaurants in the Alta Badia ski region and the wonderful St Hubertus at the Hotel Alpina there is also La Stua de Michel (in nearby Corvara) and La Siriola (also in San Cassiano) which both have 1 Michelin star. The romantic and traditional Hotel La Perla, Corvara, also has a fine dining restaurant that until recently had a Michelin star. Arguably the Alta Badia ski area with its resorts of Corvara and San Cassiano is the premier fine dining destination in the Alps (sorry Zermatt – for me the Dolomites just edge it).

The best restaurants in the Alps – Courchevel 1850, Three Valleys

Love it or loathe it we cannot omit Courchevel 1850 – no blog post on fine dining the Alps would be complete without a mention of this chic Three Valleys resort. Although originally conceived soon after WWII as a ‘ski resort for the people’ by the mid 1980’s Courchevel 1850 (the uppermost of the 5 Courchevel villages) had secured its place as a ski resort for the rich and famous. The Hotel Les Airelles, with its connections to St Tropez, and the Melezin were two famous luxury hotels that put 1850 as the destination of choice for those that had serious spending power. The influx of the Russian market some 20 years later spawned the development of much of the luxury hotel market so that now there are 20 – 30 truly luxurious hotel properties, and of course any number of luxury chalets in Courchevel 1850.

Best restaurants in the Alps - Hotel Chabichou

Best restaurants in the Alps – Hotel Chabichou, Courchevel 1850

The restaurant at the Hotel Kilimandjaro has two Michelin stars as does the fine dining restaurant at the Hotel Chabichou (see photo above). Also with 2 Michelin stars in Courchevel 1850 are the Pierre Gagnaire (at the Hotel Les Airelles), restaurant Le 1947  and also Le Kintessence. There are a further two restaurants with 1 Michelin star including the very good Azimut down in pretty Courchevel Le Praz. If it’s fine dining in the Alps that you are after then you could eat at no fewer than 7 different Michelin starred restaurants in Courchevel – enough to keep any gourmand happy.

The best restaurants in the Alps – Megeve and Verbier

The other key resorts for a top quality mountain meal are Megeve in France and Verbier in Switzerland. Megeve is a charming ‘old school’ style resort with cobbled streets, horse drawn sleighs, top brand shopping and oozes style and glamour. Verbier has in recent years been slightly mobbed by hedge funders and high earning other banking professionals so has taken on a more fast paced and lively apres ski scene in recent years. The new kid on the block regards accommodation is the W Hotel which gives you some idea of the clientele now heading to this famous Swiss resort. There are three restaurants in Verbier with one Michelin star including the renowned Chalet d’Adrien and there are two restaurants in Megeve, each with one star (the Alpaga Hotel and the restaurant 1920).

Although we are not saying that this is the definitive list of the best restaurants in the Alps I think it’s fair to say that we have covered the most important culinary orientated ski resorts in Europe plus also introduced some of the very interesting individual restaurants such as the Rosengarten and La Bouitte.

We would be delighted to advise you further on any restaurants listed and would equally be delighted to hear about any of your own favourites – if you are happy to share them.

 

 

 

 

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New ski lift in Zermatt

New ski lift in Zermatt replaces Hornli T-bar

After 50 years of service the old Hornli T-bar lift has been replaced by a new high speed six man chairlift. This new ski lift in Zermatt is the latest development in the recent multi million pound modernisation of one of the oldest lift served ski areas of the Alps. The new lift, called Hirli (go figure?), has a start point 255 vertical metres below the old start point of the T-bar lift it replaces and now crucially extends below the Stafelap restaurant. This new lift in Zermatt ends at the same location of the old T-bar giving a total ascent of 700 vertical metres further opening up the ski area of Schwarzee.

New ski lift in Zermatt - the Hirli chairlift

New ski lift in Zermatt – the Hirli chairlift

New ski lift in Zermatt – good news for the Stafelalp restaurant

The secret powder stashes that formerly could only be reached by a hike are now much more easily accessed which is both a positive and negative thing, depending on which way you look at it. However, the Stafelalp restaurant is now also more accessible which for the lunch mob is a fantastic thing. Before the new chairlift the bonne viveurs who had just enjoyed a long lunch on the restaurant’s terrace had to boot pack back up a short but steep climb to the bottom of the T-bar to make the return journey to Zermatt. Now the same long lunch can be appreciated and simply followed by an easy ski further down the piste to the bottom of the new six man chairlift to make the return journey.

New ski lift in Zermatt - good news for the Stafelalp restaurant

New ski lift in Zermatt – good news for the Stafelalp restaurant

Super snow-sure ski terrain, the best mountain restaurants in the world, an ultra modern and efficient lift system, and one of the most atmospheric resort towns in the Alps all adds up to making Zermatt a truly hot ticket among the World’s best ski destinations. We have a wide range of chalets in Zermatt and also hotels in Zermatt to choose from and would be delighted to arrange your next ski holiday to this iconic Swiss resort.

T: +44 20 7801 1080

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Best toboggan runs in the Alps

So which are the best toboggan runs in the Alps? There are literally hundreds of fantastic toboggan runs in the Alps ranging in length from a couple of kilometres to well over 10 kilometres and ranging in steepness from gentle, family friendly tracks to the quite plainly suicidal. We list the best toboggan runs in the Alps that we could find, so if you plan to visit one of the resorts below make sure you get sliding!

Whether it is on a French style plastic sit-in sled or on an old fashioned wooden Swiss toboggan, with steel clad runners, tobogganning is a hoot (especially at night with the heigtened sensation of speed) and within reason it’s suitable for all ages.

How to steer a toboggan

Most people think that you cannot steer a toboggan and are merely at the mercy of the path of least resistance which the toboggan will naturally take. However, if you control your speed and remain sensible, steering a toboggan is not actually that difficult.

If you are in one of those plastic ‘sit in’ sleds you may as well forget the stupid little steering handles as these don’t do much. The best option is to either brake by pressing a foot into the snow or drag a hand behind you. If you stick one of your right hand limbs into the snow (either foot or hand) the created ‘drag’ will turn the toboggan to the right. To go left either use your left foot or drag your left hand. For obvious reasons good strong shoes and gloves are recommded for this dragging/braking technique.

If you are sitting on an old fashioned Swiss style wooden toboggan with steel clad runners then you are into a whole different league of skills required to steer your craft. Firstly you will pick up a lot more speed on the older style toboggan so be prepared for that. However, once you have learned to steer one of these speed machines you can then really start to enjoy the ride. The best technique is to lean right back gripping the cord in both hands for support whilst hooking your left and right foot around the outside of the runner ends. By squeezing in against the runners with your calf muscles and pulling with your hand you can bend the runner out of shape allowing it to carve on an arc. Much like carving your skis on their edges, bending the runner allows the toboggan to change direction without losing any of its energy (or speed). And herein lies the main difference between the platic sled and the wooden toboggan – the former sliding its turns without much control and losing a lot of energy in the process, and the latter carving its turns with maximum efficiency and speed. However, it is our advice that which ever type of toboggan you are riding that you stay controlled at all times. If your speed increases too much no amount of steering technique will get you around a danergous corner. If you find yourself in the situation where you are going too fast our advice is to bail out before anyone gets hurt.

So, in the words of the Jamaican bobsled team, “Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up, it’s bobsled time!” Here are our top 5 best toboggan rides in the Alps:

Val Thorens, France – the most snow-sure of toboggan runs in the Alps

Best toboggan runs in the Alps - Val Thorens

Best toboggan runs in the Alps – Val Thorens

Val Thorens is the highest resort in Europe and now has one of the longest (6km) and certainly the most snow sure toboggan run in the Alps. Once you’re all set with your plastic tray and helmet, take the Gondola up to 3,000 metres to the start of the toboggan run. This 6km run drops 700 vertical metres during the course, so if you’ve got the confidence to take your foot off the breaks, you can gain some serious speed. The duration of the run will probably take amateurs 45 minutes to complete where as the dare devils amongst you will probably only take 10 minutes. If you’re up for giving tobogganing a go, regardless of your level, this is one you can’t beat. For an extra thrill try it in the dark during the evening sledding sessions.

Price: €18.00 or €12.00 with a lift pass!

St Moritz, Switzerland – one of the longest toboggan runs in the Alps

Best toboggan runs in the Alps - Preda to Bergun

Best toboggan runs in the Alps – Preda to Bergun

This is Switzerland’s first floodlit toboggan run extending from the village of Preda down to the village of Bergün, some 6 kilometres away. The start of the track is accessed by scenic mountain train from St. Moritz which leaves every half an hour and takes 20 minutes to reach Preda. The train journey is an adventure in itself, riding up the mountain side and crossing the 90 metre high Solis viaduct and passing through the helical tunnel of the Albula valley. Pick up your wooden toboggan at the Preda train station (altitude 1,789m) and ride the 400 vertical metres down to Bergün (alt. 1,386m). The floodlighting allows for the thrill seekers to enjoy this amazing toboggan run at night with the track staying open until 9.30pm. If you complete the run in daylight the Preda – Bergün toboggan ride is an incredible and fun way to experience the breathtaking views of the Swiss mountains. If you want to know more about this run please ask to speak to Simon (T: 020 7801 1080).

Price: Adult CHF 14.00. Child CHF 7.00

Ellmau (Skiwelt area), Austria – for tree-lined toboggan runs in the Alps

Best toboggan runs in the Alps - Ellmau-Going

Best toboggan runs in the Alps – Ellmau-Going

The Wilder Kaiser region is well known for its tobogganing with a total of 16 kilometres of runs. The Ellmau to Going toboggan run is one of these with a 4.5 km length and just over 550 metres of vertical drop along the way. The toboggan run can be accessed by the Astbergbahn Going which takes you to 1,258 metres altitude where the toboggan run starts. All the toboggan runs in the Wilder Kaiser region are floodlit so can be enjoyed as a fun evening activity.

Price: Adult Day single trip €11.50. Child €6.00

St Anton (Arlberg region), Austria – one the best apres ski toboggan runs in the Alps

Best toboggan runs in the Alps - St Anton

Best toboggan runs in the Alps – St Anton

St Anton is the capital of apres ski fun in the Alps. We don’t advise drinking and tobogganning but ‘when in Rome’ and all that. The St Anton toboggan run starts on the Gampen Mountain and is a 4 kilometre night-time illuminated course. This scenic run leads partly through the woods and takes on numerous tricky turns as it winds down the valley to reach the Rodelstall in Nasserein. The course has a vertical drop of 500 metres and has an estimated running time of 15 minutes depending on how many times you crash. This run also has the option of evening tobogganing – open on Tuesdays and Thursdays till 9.30 pm. Toboggan rental is available at most of the equipment rental shops in town.

Price: €9.00 (plus a €20.00 refundable deposit)

Morzine (Portes du Soleil region), France – one of the best family toboggan runs in the Alps

Best toboggan runs in the Alps - Morzine

Best toboggan runs in the Alps – Morzine

This is a unique way to experience the ski slopes at night. As night falls and skiers have left the slopes a team of professionals will guide you down the pistes towards the twinkling lights of Morzine village far below. The sessions are run with a minimum of 10 people in a group and so long as you have a valid lift pass you are provided with all the necessary equipment including a head torch free of charge! The duration of the sledging session is one hour.

Price: Adult €24.00. Child (8 years old +) €13.00

If you fancy giving one of these great toboggan runs a go visit the Alpine Answers website to find a great chalet or hotel in your chosen resort. If you do take on one of the best toboggan runs in the Alps then we would be delighted to hear about your experience.

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