In Travel

Six Of Europe’s Most Charming Alpine Towns To Visit At Christmas

Dreaming of a white Christmas?

When it comes to searching for that winter wonderland in which to soak up the festive season, it doesn’t get more magical than the Alps, a region traversing eight European countries and dotted with luxe chalets, Michelin-starred dining and, of course, pistes with postcard-perfect views for days.

From Chamonix to Zermatt, here are the Alpine towns ideal for experiencing the best of the season.

Gstaad, Switzerland

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Image: Gstaad Palace / Leading Hotels of the World

International visitors and local bon vivants alike descend on Gstaad throughout the year for its luxury shopping and cuisine scene; in winter, celebrity-spotting and skiing are added to the itinerary. Take to the 200 km of pistes – including the unique Glacier 3000 ski area – or see all the action from above in one of the 10-person luxury gondolas (from Porsche Design Studio, no less), whisking passengers up the local mountain, Eggli.

Back on solid ground (and 1,050 metres above sea level), you’re spoilt for choice of five-star pursuits in the main village. Spend a day browsing the ‘shopping mile’, hope to the likes of Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. From there it’s a short stroll to hearty European fare at the Michelin-starred Chesery (tip: save room for the desserts). In the mood for flavours of Asia?

You’re also not far from Megu, where head chef Takumi Murase earnt his star with dishes such as soy-marinated yellow-fin tuna with avocado-wasabi mousse and juicy panko-encrusted pork cutlet with coleslaw.

Stay: It’s hard to go past the iconic Gstaad Palace, which exudes 1960s glamour without scrimping on modern luxuries. The Luxury Suites feature warm palettes and such sumptuous furnishings you may never want to leave – but you should, because elsewhere on the property, you can swap traditional apres-ski with a muscle-relaxing treatment at the palatial spa, which also boasts a sumptuous lounge and breathtaking views of the surrounding mountainscape.

Zermatt, Switzerland

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Image: Pascal Gertschen

Surely one of the most iconic destinations of the Alps, courtesy of the breathtaking slopes of the Matterhorn that provides a truly dramatic backdrop. With ski trails that sit almost 4,000 metres above sea level, the steepest vertical drop in the country, and the world’s highest cableway, an Alpine holiday in Zermatt is a must for adrenalin-junkies.

Here, cross-country skiing takes on a different meaning; in Zermatt it’s possible to ski in two countries in one day, starting on the Swiss side of the Matterhorn before winding down into Italy’s Cervino.

Of course, there’s still plenty to do if you don’t consider yourself a powder hound. Kick-off apres-ski proceedings early at Mont Cervin Palace, with Capri Bar and Ristorante offering a cosy place for aperitifs by the fire and a Michelin-starred European menu to boot – best go with the degustation so you don’t have to make any tough decisions. From there it’s a short lift ride to the hotel’s Alpine Matterhorn Suite, with spacious living room, bedroom, dining room and stellar views of its namesake.

Courchevel, France

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Image: Baumanière 1850 / Virginie Ovessian Photographe

Some four hours south-east of Zermatt is Courchevel, also known as Courchevel 1850, part of the world’s most expansive ski area known as ‘Les 3 Vallées’. Sure, you may have come here for the skiing, but an equally big drawcard is fine-dining. The general rule in these parts is the higher the altitude, the higher the dining bill. As the highest village in this ski region, you can bet that Courchevel is the place for true gourmands.

Seven Michelin stars give this town its sparkle, from the single starred regional flavours at Baumanière 1850 to the three-star René et Maxime Meilleur, where the ‘Discovery of 8 Surprises’ degustation complete with cheese pairings is definitely worth the visit.

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Image: Cheval Blanc / Facebook

From a day hitting the slopes and feasting on the finest cuisine of the region, what more appropriate place to rest your head than at aher shining example of elegant French design? Cheval Blanc is close to the excitement of the village but still offers welcome respite from the outside world. The suites here are all clean lines and muted tones peppered with playful regal colours for an optimum relaxed ambience, and feature a chromotherapy hammam in the bathroom, should the walk to the on-site Guerlain Spa prove a little too taxing.

Val d’Isere, France

The French really know how to do Alpine holidays, don’t they? While Courcheval is considered the glitzier of the French ski resorts, Val d’Isère surely takes out the title for most festive. You’ll find snow and ice sculptures dotted throughout the village, which take on a special magic when the sun sets and they reflect the fairy lights seemingly hanging off every building.

Of course, ski trails abound with the diverse terrain of the Espace Killy offering runs for beginners to pros. After a day on the slopes, eschew the bars of Avenue Olympique for a bag of freshly roasted chestnuts and mug of steaming mulled wine from the Christmas Markets.

Traditional chalet stays are the way to go around here, and Chalet Papillon is surely among the most exclusive. A short walk from the centre of town, Chalet Papillon is also close to the slopes, meaning you can literally ski in and out each day. It also features its own indoor pool and hammam to help you recharge your muscles for another day on-piste.

Chamonix, France

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Image: Office De Tourisme Chamonix

This commune may be small, but it packs a punch as far as skiing holidays are concerned. Tucked in at the foot of Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc, Chamonix offers a few thrills in between its glacial descents and slopes that are considered a mecca for snowboarders.

The Luge-Alpine coaster gives you the option of swapping skis for a sled as you descend through the wintry landscape. Alternatively, test your tolerance of heights at the top of Aiguille du Midi, where you can stand in an entirely glass room perched a leisurely 3,842 metres above sea level.

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Image: Hameau Albert 1er / supplied

Really want to take your holiday in Chamonix up a notch? Check-in to the private Chalet Grapon at Hameau Albert 1er, where you’ll stay in timber-clad luxury, with fireplace and terrace that faces out to Mont Blanc. That said, for unforgettable Alpine views, make sure you spare an hour or two for the heated outdoor pool.

St Moritz, Switzerland

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Image: Gian Andri Giovanoli

They say St. Moritz is the birthplace of Alpine tourism, so it would be remiss of us not to include it in this list. Tucked away in the picturesque Engadine Valley, St Moritz is a place that does winter sports well – it’s hosted two Winter Olympics, after all. With more than 155 kilometres of ski trails, an Olympic ice rink and the oldest bobsled route in the world, there’s plenty of Alpine action to work up an appetite.

Lucky you’re in the right place to satiate it. Do as the one percent do and take a cable car ride up to the top of Piz Nair, where you’ll find gourmet emporium Mathis Food Affairs (MFA). The brainchild of chef extraordinaire Reto Mathis, MFA is actually six dining venues in one, with La Marmite being one of the most popular for its regional specialties.

Back on solid ground – well, still 1,850 metres above sea level – The Carlton Hotel is something of a legend around these parts, having been the winter playground of the jet set for more than a century. Each of the suites boasts stunning valley views, while the hotel’s spa, restaurants and bar make it hard to leave. If you need the extra motivation to go exploring, the resident Outdoor Butler (yep) will be more than happy to oblige.

(Lead image: Gstaad Palace / Leading Hotels of the World)

Published 31 October, 2019