Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 17, 2017

The sleepy village of Valmorel in France's Savoie region is now home to an all-inclusive Club Med resort.

Bookmark and Share

Mountain high

A new Club Med resort in the French Alps dishes out great skiing and superb food

If you ask me, the only reason winter was invented was to allow people to skate and ski — meaning that if you’re inside during the snow season, it’s because you’re making hot chocolate, recovering, or planning a ski vacation. And planning a ski vacation is never easy, as anyone who’s tried knows. Even romantic couples have different aptitudes and interests, while the trials of pleasing a family steer many a parent straight off-piste.

The ski business has responded with many strategies to make snow-friendly vacation planning easier, offering a wide assortment of package deals running right up to resort-wide, all-inclusive bonanzas. In this new golden age, the premium end of the ski market has expanded, perfecting an opulent paradigm of comfort, service and style.

To experience a four or five-star skiing package at its finest, you pretty much have to venture to Europe and the Alps, the region that invented the ski resort in the first place. While North America excels at adventurous, rugged skiing, we lag behind in creating luxury inclusive resorts like the brand-new Club Med Valmorel, which opened in December in the domaine of the same name in the heart of ski country in the French Alps. An hour from Albertville, site of the 1992 Winter Olympics, this lavish new mountaintop sits near the Savoie region’s long-established Val d’Isère ski area — a two-hour drive from either Geneva, Switzerland to the east, or the French city of Lyon due west (50 minutes by air from Paris).

Club Med with snow

And you heard right when you heard the name Club Med: the well-known international French resort operator, originally established in 1950, has long since departed the beachfront huts that made its name in the ’80s and moved globally into upscale family-friendly portfolios.

Apart from warm-weather resorts, Club Méditerranée is the world’s leading ski resort destination with 20 international mountain resorts representing 25 percent of the world ski market. None, so far, are in North America. Despite premium prices for the four- and five-“Trident” suites on offer (think in terms of stars), occupancy rates at Club Med resorts typically run at over 90 percent with 70 percent of guests bringing families — a testament to the company’s commitment to the highest standards of service, and some of the finest facilities available anywhere.

If you’re wondering what exactly that means, think of arriving aboard one of the sleekest, most elegant cruise ships you’ve ever imagined, with amenities that range from baby gyms and teen discos to private adult lounges and inexhaustible champagne and caviar. There are swimming pools, turkish baths, and a Carita grotto spa.

Although you’ve requested the best quarters available (the chalet), you’re a little surprised to find that your exclusive accommodation comes with 24-hour personal butler service and a flat-screen TV that, turned off, transforms into a mirror over the fireplace. Still, you recover quickly to admire the canopied beds and expensive vintage you’re drinking, as family members try to vainly count the number of ensuite bathrooms.

It’s at this point, of course, that you look up, presumably from the chef-prepared foie gras and gambas (a very large Mediterranean prawn), to realize your erstwhile cruise ship is actually a vast resort complex locked into the deep snows of an Alpine ski mountain — one whose lifts literally allow you to race from its 2300 metre-high summit right to your own suite’s door.

Nouveau resort

Built in handsome wood and stone that suits its locale, Club Med Valmorel was erected over the last 18 months at a cost of €86.5 million ($113 million). Situated at the top of a winding mountain road flanked by high banks of snow, the new flagship luxury mountain resort lies at the base of the Valmorel Grand Domaine-Aigueblanche Valley ski area, which offers 45 ski lifts for 85 mountain slopes including 17 easy-peasy "red" slopes and eight hardcore "black" slopes, all between 1200 to 1500 metres in elevation.

The resort is a sprawling complex with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a fitness centre, day spa, free in-house movies and Internet access, two large restaurants that defy the word buffet, a specialty restaurant for five-Trident guests, a children’s restaurant, a large theatre for nightly stage performances or music (often aimed at kids), as well as two bars, a designer shop, a karaoke club, three private lounges including a business centre, and a TV studio. And that’s all before you venture outside.

The resort’s equipment outfitter is as large as many Canadian ski lodges, and boasts any number of cutting-edge brands: you can even reserve gear online before leaving home. Shredders, of course, are welcome. You should be aware, though, that this is the one area (apart from certain beverage choices) not included in packages that usually incorporate airfare, provide drivers for pick-ups and departures, and always benefit from the many personally attentive staff on hand (140 out of 450 staff at Club Med Valmorel are frontline, dedicated to guests).

Along with downhill skis and boards, the equipment rental has Nordic skis on offer, as well as snowshoes. Though, as you might expect at a brand-new resort, the freshly-blazed forest trail system is in its infancy. More original is an outdoor all-year skating rink with a surface made entirely of futuristic plastic! After using it, you may decide it’s mainly meant for kids and other tourists, instead of Canadians.

And make no mistake, Valmorel is already as popular and global as it gets: the resort is already booked to capacity through the post-Christmas low season (January 2012) by snow buffs from across Europe, as well as places as varied as New Zealand, Brazil, South Africa, and Japan. The hotel’s staff is equally international.

Beginner friendly

While challenging enough for daredevils on its peaks (these are the Alps, after all), Valmorel’s gentle pistes and many intermediate slopes fit in with Club Med’s long-standing emphasis on ski education and a family atmosphere. One-on-one instruction is available at all levels for all ages; the ski school for absolute beginners is right outside the resort’s picture windows, making it easy to keep track of progress.

Along with outdoor activities for children, Club Med was an early pioneer at accommodating parents on holiday. Not only does the Valmorel resort have a special children’s restaurant, it also offers flexible supervision and programs for offspring from four months old all the way up to age 18.

Kids are split up into four cohorts: Baby Club Med (babysitting for infants four to 23 months old with certified staff); Petit Club (a large daycare with a romper room and gym for little ones aged two to four); Mini Club (age four to 11 with a focus on arts, crafts and nature; facilities also include movie theatres and games rooms).

And last but not least, Passworld, a complex where teenagers can lounge stylishly in a supervised environment filled to the brim with current teen preoccupations (just name one), when not using the mixing board on the disco sound system or operating the dance-floor laser displays. There are even books.

Bon appétit

Certainly one of the things that most distinguishes Club Med Valmorel from North American equivalents is the quality of the food. One restaurant, La Laiterie, is exclusively for five-Trident customers; the other two, Les Cerfs and La Céleste, serve up buffet-style cuisine cooked and customized at multiple stations in front of you by a regiment of French chefs.

Once your plate is heaped with an array of delicacies (oysters, truffles, premium steak, the best cheeses and charcuterie), you find a seat in one of four impressively decorated dining rooms until you feel a need to return to the chefs’ stations to eye the table-long displays of pastries and desserts. The resort ships in fresh seafood and produce every day, sources local products and cuisine whenever possible, and has a large collection of France’s finest wines, champagnes, aperitifs and digestifs.

Like any brand-new mountain resort, Club Med Valmorel is just clambering onto its skis, even if it already does show many of the attributes and snow-sense of a champion. The quaint pedestrian-access village below the resort has a relatively small après-ski scene, as might be expected in a domaine that was out of the way and pastoral before the world’s top luxury ski operator arrived.

Club Med’s commitment to young children, who tend to have difficulties with altitude, also means that Valmorel is at a lower elevation than some Alpine resorts. Check for seasonal snow coverage (a bad winter can make a difference), but don’t worry over much: the resort opened to a six-centimetre snowfall, and the undisturbed powder up top was reported to be as superlative as the accommodations and conveniences below. In other words, there's nothing left to say but Bon ski!

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

Comments

Showing 1 comments

  1. On February 5, 2012, Nadine said:
    We stayed in Valmorel the second week of january, and had a great time. Reading this article made me want to pack my bags and go back again... . The hotel has room for 1200 people, when we were there, they hosted 800 guests. We never experienced a ‘crowd’ feeling, there was enough place. Nice lounge with lots of seats and sofa’s. Hotel was clean, nice decorations, also suitable for wheelchair. The food was great, just as you described in your article, nice choice also for special wishes (vegetarian, no lactose...), 4 different dining-rooms, decorated acc. the 4 seasons, my personal favorite was 'winter', and 1 specialty-restaurant. Everything was fresh, if you wanted something special, you just had to ask. Superb cocktails in the bar, i loved this all-in! Room was okay, not very large but comfortable, cleaned every day. Mini-bar (never needed it) and flat screen TV, small stereo. Our bed was large (2x2m), and lovely pillows, room was calm and no noise! Nice view, but no balcony. Facilities for kids were also available, ski lessons included for kids and adults. Nice ski domain, not the biggest but enough slopes for everyone’s capability. Small pool, great hammam. Small ice-skating ring. Every evening show for kids, later for adults. Always nice to see, but not forced to attend. Skiing was also nice, not the biggest ski-resort but a nice variety of slopes, for both beginner and expert. Skilessons given by ESF were fun and we learned a lot! The advantage of a smaller skiresort: at no time you are far away from the Club, so you can go back and have lunch or a snack or … without much difficulty.

Post a comment