Tuesday 17 April 2012

Esprit at Chalet Verwall, Obergurgl, Austria

Able to squeeze about 30 people into its eight or so apartments, Chalet Verwall is taken over by British tour operator Esprit for the ski season. The basement hosts the boot room and sauna, together with a well-equipped nursery. On the ground floor is a cramped hallway, kitchen and dining room, as well as one large apartment. Opposite the kitchen, you'll find a kettle, cafetiere, coffee, tea and a small fridge containing milk and beer, to which you can help yourself and pay what you think is appropriate at the end of the week. When you enter the building, you have to take off your shoes and leave them next to the main door. As you climb the stairs to your room, you'll find the lights come on illuminating spooky dolls sitting on chairs on the landings. At the top, on the third-floor, tucked into the eves, is a cosy lounge, a bathroom (with a bath) and a play room.

Uncomfortably stuffy
The apartments have a double bedroom, a tiny bathroom (with a shower, toilet and basin), a lounge (with sofa-beds), a kitchenette and an elongated balcony with a view of the mountains and the blue run back into Obergurgl. The predominantly-wooden decor and furnishings are basic, but sturdy enough. The old-fashioned radiators pump out heat and, even if you open the window and let in the sub-zero temperatures outside, the apartment can often feel uncomfortably stuffy and warm. The TV can be small and old. There is no safe, no ironing board and, crucially, no WiFi - the owner doesn't seem to want to share his private bandwidth.

Light, fluffy cakes
With a choice of yogurts, hard-boiled eggs, cold meats, cheese, cereals, including some dodgy chocolate varieties, orange juice and apple juice, breakfast is simple, but satisfying. The soft bread is particularly good, while the filter coffee is particularly bad. Children doing skiing lessons are given a reasonable lunch and tea, while the whole family can have a slice of a light, fluffy and expertly-baked cake for afternoon tea around 5pm.

Passable, budget wines
Six nights a week (the staff have one day off), you sit down for dinner at a single long table with other parents between 7.30 and 8.00. Cooked by the young Esprit staff, the food can be surprisingly good and sometimes delicious. While the portions are fairly modest, after four courses you will be full. The starter might be a light, fluffy tartlet or a stodgy soup. One of the better main courses, which are also very varied, is pellets of roast lamb, accompanied by fondant potatoes and green beans. The young chefs can also produce an excellent chocolate brownie, served with fresh fruit. As well as table water, you get to choose from several passable, budget wines, such as a merlot or a grenanche. They are free and get the conversation flowing. You can take half-full bottles upstairs to drink with the cheese board, which will be waiting for you in the top-floor lounge. Served with the moreish bread, there is usually a creamy cheese, a blue cheese and maybe one tasting of honey.

Late night banter
Most of the Esprit staff, in their bright blue t-shirts, are warm, helpful and good with kids - they are armed with an array of games and songs to entertain children waiting for their ski lessons. But when they have a day off, they really have a day off and they know how to party - you might hear a bit of late night banter outside your window. Chalet Verwall is far from perfect, but it is right next to the slopes and the Esprit formula is a winner for families.  7/10