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Weekend Away: The French Alps

- By Jessica Colley

A serenity that can't be found in the city was revealed as the French Alps came into view on a crisp December day. The boughs of evergreen trees were heavy with snow and began to form a canopy over the road. I was approaching one of the world's most prestigious ski resorts, Megève, for a winter getaway with a twist. Not only has the quality of the landscape earned the destination such a reputation, but this winter resort has mastered the French art of living.

Chalet du Mont d'Arbois was glowing warmly amidst the frozen landscape as we approached. A passion for hospitality was on display from the moment the door was held open and the courteous and good-humored staff whisked me inside. The winter season was just beginning, and there was an excitement in the air of welcoming the first guests to the 5-star Chalet. Owned by the Rothschild family, this 19-room Relais & Chateaux property has a cozy lodge atmosphere, but infuses refinement at every opportunity.

The story of Megève as a luxury destination began with the Rothschild family in the 1920's. Seeking an alternative to the popular ski resorts of Switzerland, Megève became the preferred winter getaway of Baroness Noémie de Rothschild. An introductory tour revealed the family's taste for comfort and effortless elegance. The lounge with its crackling fireplace was just the beginning, and with our bags waiting in the room, we immediately settled into our mountain retreat.

The room was just as peaceful as the landscape; infusing pale wood, intimate lighting and soft fabrics throughout. With a few hours before dinner, we decided to unwind in the spa. Discovering my partner had forgotten his swim trunks, one phone call and 5 minutes later there was a helpful staff member at the door with a spare pair. This type of anticipation to a guest's needs shows an experienced passion for hospitality. We threw on our fluffy robes and 'his and hers' slippers for the best part of a winter getaway: warming up.



The design of the Chalet is focused on the mountains – and from my seat in the Jacuzzi, the pine trees, ski runs and jagged peaks were on display. Fellow guests enjoyed hot tea and sweet treats as they lounged after a dip. The steam room had the most pleasant eucalyptus and lemongrass scent, easing me into a steam induced meditation. Despite the snow, the adventurous traveler might proceed from the indoor heated pool through a door and into the night air. With steam rising off the heated water, the scene took on an almost enchanted quality.

It would have been easy to remain in the spa and forget all about dinner, but I was looking forward to the gourmet offerings of Le 1920, the restaurant of Chalet du Mont d'Arbois. Figs and dried apricots in my room only whet my appetite for the evening meal. One of the pleasures of an adventurous day on the mountain is returning in the evening, to a lodge stocked with the amenities of home. Taking a seat at a cozy corner booth, I wondered what executive chef Olivier Bardoux had up his sleeve.



As the maître d' translated the menu, each dish sounded more appetizing than the last. From the focused menu we choose a mixture of French classics and daring combinations. A refreshing amuse-bouche of turbot tartare was followed by seared sea scallops and sea urchin. An expertly cooked filet mignon was complete with peppercorn sauce and a melt-in-your-mouth potato gratin. With one final voilà as Sole Meuniére was de-boned at the table, our dinner was served.

The cheese plate is an essential part of any meal in France. The server explained our options with excitement, describing the qualities of each cheese. We choose a small variety to finish our meal, and as the server suggested, our favorite was a local cheese, Bleu de Termignon. One woman in the French Alps with just nine cows makes this crumbly cheese. After learning about the local products, our traditional Rothschild soufflé was served, and finished off by lighting a touch of Grand Marnier with a match.



The following morning, the lighting transformed Le 1920 into a bright, spacious area for breakfast. Vanilla-poached pears and a variety of breads and cheeses looked almost too pretty to disturb. Individual pots of coffee, fresh-made croissants and a variety of preserves were brought to the table. I could have stayed all morning, if not for my desire to explore the town of Megève. A chauffeur was arranged to drive us, and although atmospheric flakes were softly falling, this didn't stop us from exploring the village.

If you forgot any ski gear, you'll find exactly what you need in Megève. Other stores offer luxury items such as cashmere sweaters and designer boots. Foodies will be challenged by the sheer choice of treats to bring home; chocolate shops, patisseries, and cheese stores all lured me inside their warm doors. A few jars of preserves later, I was sipping a glass of vin chaud (hot wine) while gazing at the 30-foot Swarovski crystal Christmas tree in the main square. Upon closer inspection, no two of the snowflake shaped crystals were the same.



Late in the afternoon, snow stopped falling and patches of blue began to appear in the sky. This was the perfect opportunity to hop a ride in the gondola to the top of Mont d'Arbois. In a private car, we soared up above the evergreen trees, and climbed even higher revealing Mont Blanc, the twinkling town of Megève, and tiny skiers below. My winter getaway gave me a new appreciation for the pleasures of the season, and next time I'm in the Alps, I might just schedule a ski lesson or two.


When to Go:

• The ski season begins at the end of December, and lasts through March.
• If you prefer outdoor activities in the summer, plan a hiking or golf getaway in June, July, or August.

How to Get There:

• Fly to Geneva, Switzerland where a chauffeur will be waiting to transfer you to Megève, 50 minutes by car.

Where to Eat: (All Restaurants part of the Domaine du Mont d'Arbois)

• Le 1920: The elegant restaurant of Chalet du Mont d'Arbois
• La Taverne: A traditional mountain atmosphere specializing in regional dishes.
• L'Atelier: The single theme of this classic restaurant is a French specialty: cheese.
• L'Ideal 1850: At the summit of Mont d'Arbois, great views over Mont-Blanc are paired with fresh cuisine.

What to Do:

• Indulge in the spa: book a massage, facial, or hot pebble rub.
• Take a helicopter ride over Mont Blanc.
• Get adventurous with a sled dog tour.
• Make reservations for a hot-air balloon ride.
• Ski or snowboard in winter, hike in the summer.
• Share the golf enthusiasm of Baron Edmond de Rothschild and play a round at the 18-hole mountainside golf course.

Jessica Colley is a published poet, freelance travel writer, and the European Correspondent for Luxury Travel Magazine. She currently spends 10 months a year exploring the culture, cuisine, and history of Europe. Read more about her travels at www.thegreatamericantraveldream.com


 

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