Sunday 13 April 2014

Chalet Hameau, Verbier, Switzerland

The view from Chalet Hameau's terrace to the Mont Blanc Massif 
Sitting high above the centre of Verbier, Chalet Hameau is somewhat cut off from the resort's nightlife and the ski lifts. But what you lose in convenience, you gain in comfort. Part of a plush new development, this spacious and luxurious chalet has been finished to a high spec. The pale pine furniture is solid, the floor-to-ceiling windows are big, the lighting is high-tech and the bedding is luxurious. The decor is cool, calm and light. The building's external fixtures are finished in a quality copper trim.

Some technical glitches
In the main apartment, there are three double en-suite bedrooms, plus a steam room and a large open plan kitchen-diner and lounge. One of the bedrooms has a substantial corner bath with plenty of space for two. A massive slanting window opens up on to a slate terrace where you can sit and catch the afternoon sun and admire the view of the Mont Blanc Massif (although deck chairs are strangely lacking). Across the entrance hall is another smaller apartment with a double en-suite bedroom, a lounge (with sofa beds) and a kitchenette. Downstairs is an adequate boot room. Although the WiFi is fast and free and the TV is pretty decent, there can be technical glitches - some of the windows may not open properly and the safes may not work. Moreover, the dish washer can be temperamental and there isn't air-con in all the bedrooms.

Near the Rouge run
If you book the chalet through Ski Total, a minibus will arrive to transport you and your kit down to the main Medran lift each morning. But you'll need to find your own way back. You can catch the free number two public bus, which runs every 10 or 15 minutes and stops within a hundred yards of the chalet. Or you can leave the Rouge piste about half way down and walk a few minutes back to the chalet along the run (note this piste might be closed in April).

European classics
Total provides half board catering for six out of the seven days of your stay. A young chalet-host cooks, serves and washes up. The food can be excellent if you get a culinary aficionado, such as Alice from Sevenoaks. Before dinner, you are  served a sickly sweet aperitif and some homemade appetisers, which could be cheese straws, samosas, sausage rolls or another warm, fresh canapé. The actual dishes tend to be European classics, but there is plenty of variety. The starter might be a decent soup, mozzarella and red pepper on bread or a stack of beetroot, aubergine and goats cheese. The main course could be lemon chicken with small potatoes, herbs and veg or lamb steak, with red cabbage and a very smooth mash potato. Another night you might be served duck or fish.  Deserts could be poached pears in wine (poached pears in chocolate for the kids), a rich satisfying cheesecake or a hearty sticky toffee pudding.

Less impressive wines
However, the wines accompanying the meal are typically less impressive. Total provides the fairly refreshing Chardonnay-Sauvignon - Vin de Pays des Cevennes, plus another reasonable white, the Costières de Nimes – AOC. The reds - the Grenache-Cabernet – Vin de Pays des Cevennes and the Merlot - Vins de Pays d'Oc - are fairly bland and mundane.

Decent porridge
Total's breakfasts are less exciting than the dinners. But you can get plenty of fuel inside you before you hit the slopes. Your chalet host will offer you cereals, basic yoghurts, passable fruit juices, cheese, ham, slices of baguette (not enough), plus some better hot options, including decent porridge, bacon, eggy bread and even pancakes. The filter coffee isn't great, but it does the job. When you get back in the afternoon, there will be a home-made cake waiting for you. These can be soft, light and delicious - the white chocolate and raspberry cake may be exceptional.

As the public bus to Hameau stops at eight in the evening, a night out in Verbier's centre can be logistically tricky. Once you find the steep path through the chalets, the walk down into town is easy enough, but the hike back up is very hard work.