Five European winter boltholes
The peaks of Sas Ciampac and Sassongher catch the sunset above Chalet Gerard in Italy. (Chalet Gerard)
Settle in front of the fire, pull the blanket right up to your chin and sit back with a hot toddy – these five spots are some of the continent’s cosiest places to enjoy the cold.
The modern one: Chalet Gerard, Italy
Few regions wear their winter guise as well as the Dolomites. Mountains tower over valleys lying deep in snow, their cathedral-spire peaks turning red in the rays of the setting sun. As the day fades and skies blanketed in stars lend an extra magic to crisp nights, light blazes from the windows of village houses and isolated chalets, in scenes that couldn’t look more typically Alpine.
Chalet Gerard, however, takes traditional architectural forms and gives them new energy, from the undulating roof that recalls a ski slope waiting for fresh tracks, to the curvaceous fireplace that recalls a hovering spaceship in the lounge. The Mussner family rebuilt the mountain lodge in 2010, using local Dolomite stone and larch wood and the affect is one of calm modernity, all clean lines and soft colours.
It stands in splendid isolation on a hillside in the upper reaches of the Val Gardena, in the northern Italian region of South Tyrol, between two vast mountain outcrops – the Sella and Sassolungo groups. The Val Gardena is an oddity – one of two valleys within an otherwise largely German-speaking part of Italy where most inhabitants speak a Romance language called Ladin. The cooking offered at Chalet Gerard – cream of pumpkin soup with mild gorgonzola, tagliatelle with venison and mushroom sauce – is a satisfying tribute to the mix of cultures in this particular area of the Alps. If guests are able to tear themselves away from the lodge, they head to one of the many ski slopes in the region. The nearest resort, at Selva di Val Gardena, is three miles away, although its ‘suburb’ of Plan de Gralba is an easy ski down from the hotel – with a shuttle service back up when ski legs tire and a place by the fire calls.
Chalet Gerard is 10 minutes’ drive south of Selva di Val Gardena/Wolkenstein in Gröden. Innsbruck in Austria is the closest airport to the Val Gardena (two hours by car). Verona (2¼ hours) and Venice (three hours) are alternative airports. Buses run to Val Gardena from Innsbruck and Verona airports.
The traditional one: Les Fermes de Marie, France
When night falls and snow lies heavy on the boughs of the fir trees, the instinct to scurry indoors, find a heat source and wrap yourself up in something furry takes over. Les Fermes de Marie more than fulfils this desire.
In the French Alpine ski resort of Megève, nine old chalets have been relocated from mountain pastures to form this hamlet-hotel. Wood was traditionally a humble building material in the Alps, but old timbers today are not at all out of place in luxurious surroundings such as these.
If it’s blowing a blizzard outside, guests gravitate to the sofas arranged around the bar, or by the open fire in the library. If it still hasn’t let up by dinnertime, the hotel’s three restaurants beckon, with fortifying staples such as fondue and spit-roasted chicken, as well as dishes which Savoyard farmers of a century ago might be less familiar with, such as scallops with parsnip and salsify purée.
Megève is one of France’s higher-end resorts – it was developed by the Rothschild family, after all. The skiing here is at a lower altitude than Val d’Isère and Les Trois Vallées, but between the forest runs and Megève’s cobbled streets, it’s undeniably pretty.
Les Fermes de Marie is in the centre of Megève, a 1¼-hour trip by car from Geneva airport. Buses take around 1½ hours – several bus and shared taxi companies are listed on the Megève tourism website but Borini is one of the cheapest.