Saturday 4 April 2015

Breithorn Chalet Hotel, Route Ramey, Champoluc, Valle d'Aosta, Italy

More than 100 years old, the Breithorn Chalet Hotel exudes traditional Alpine solidity and period charm. Built from sturdy timbers and dry stone walls, this handsome hotel retains many original features, including paned windows, rustic old floors, wooden vaulted ceilings and even a massive vintage bellows in the comfortable lounge. Next door is a small library, lined with old books. These communal areas sit on top of the very spacious dining room, plus a sauna and steam room, in the basement. Upstairs are 31 en-suite bedrooms of varying shapes and sizes spread over four floors. Although the hotel WiFi only works downstairs and the bedrooms can be a little compact, they have plenty of charm, are well equipped and are comfortable. Some rooms also have small wooden balconies and fine views of the mountains. And larger families might be able to secure two adjoining rooms, if you book early enough. The staircases are decorated with crude, but charming, sketches of the local wildlife and the hotel in the early twentieth century.

Now run by Ski Total, the Breithorn typically hosts middle class English families with teenage children with floppy hair. If you book half board, you'll get a reasonable buffet breakfast, supplemented by some hot options, including an acceptable full English, porridge and pancakes. Although the bread and croissants are a bit flimsy, the granola pots, fruit, yoghurts and filter coffee are all quite appealing. At breakfast, one of the young, but friendly, waiters will ask you to choose your dinner courses (there are usually two or three options per course).

When you get back from the slopes, an afternoon tea buffet will be waiting on the bar. This can be a highlight of the day - the homemade cakes can be sumptuous (the vanilla cake is particularly good) and they might be accompanied by moist shortbread biscuits, indulgent chocolate crispies, parmesan biscuits, quiche and even a warming broth. You can help yourself to tea, coffee or hot chocolate or purchase a beer or Prosecco from the bar. The lounge has plenty of comfy armchairs, but, at Easter, you might want to soak up the sun on the outside terrace. But there aren't many outside tables, so be quick.

Before dinner, the bar staff bring out aperitifs, which tend to be low on alcohol and high on sugar, plus appetisers, such as excellent Scotch eggs, onion bhajis and salmon with tartar sauce on mini pancakes. Soon afterwards, you will be invited to sit down for your four course dinner, probably with another family or two, and you'll be offered the free house wines. If sufficiently chilled, the Italian chardonnay is pretty drinkable, but the reds are a little rough.

The meal itself tends to begin with a substantial starter, such as soup or risotto, followed by a fairly modest main course. The beef wellington can be very good, but the chicken wrapped in bacon may be a bit dry. On other occasions, the options might include a venison stew, sea bream with lentils or butternut squash stuffed with feta cheese and risotto. Rocket makes a frequent appearance, while the main courses are generally joined by generous side dishes of steamed vegetables. The classic deserts, such as tiramsu, chocolate profiteroles and meringue with fruit, are also pretty competent.  The kids' food tends to be more mundane (cottage pie, fish and chips, ice cream etc.), but does the job.  If you have room, you can also ask for a cheese board, which tends to feature several creamy and white options, served with pickle, celery, apple and rather bland biscuits. You can wrap up with coffee and chocolates.

To burn off all that food, you need to do plenty if skiing. Although the Breithorn is at least five minutes walk to the main ski gondola in Champoluc, Ski Total provides use of lockers, near the lift station, where you can store skis and boots. Although you are a little removed from the buzz of the bars near the gondola, this is a charming and well run chalet hotel, serving decent food. 8/10