Travel to SwitzerlandNendaz - Off-Piste in Switzerland
Nendaz is what separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls, and those who think they’re hardcore skiers, from those who actually are. Famed to have some of the most difficult runs in Europe – think beginner slopes equivalent to US blue runs – Nendaz is off-piste on a whole different level. With exhilarating slopes and scenery, it’s not just the altitude that will take your breath away.
Nendaz is one of four towns that are part of the 4 Vallées, the largest ski area in Switzerland. The resorts are connected by chairlift; Verbier, Nendaz, Veysonnaz, and Thyon have 92 lifts and 412 km of ski runs among them. It’s actually much easier to ski between resorts, especially Verbier and Nendaz, than it is to drive the treacherous, winding Alpine roads that connect them. Where you decide to stay in the 4 Valléeswill depend on what you’re looking for: Hit up Nendaz for a low-key scene and elegant restaurants. A wild night out here is games of Rock Band at your chalet. To party with the British elite, make your base in Verbier. After all this is where the royals – Wills, Kate, and little Harry – spend their winter holidays.
Where to Stay? A Swiss Chalet
Hardcore skiing doesn’t mean you’re pitching a tent. This is Switzerland, where home is a Swiss chalet, with a private chef and staff, no less. In Nendaz, Chalet Enchanteur is perfectly situated, just a ten-minute descent, or a two-minute chauffeured ride, to the lifts. The modern Chalet Enchanteur is one of the nicest – if not the nicest – chalet in Nendaz. It’s perfect for you and up to 12 of your friends, with six bedrooms, a hot tub overlooking town, a sauna, and a full-time staff. When we visited, talented staff members Hugo and Dawn rocked our world with five-star gourmet meals. Nendaz is gentler on the pocket, but in Switzerland it’s all relative. A week at Enchanteur runs around £5,000–6,000 in season.
If Verbier is more your speed, opt for Chalet d'Adrien, the best hotel in town. The rooms are cozy alpine, but what sets it apart are the amenities. The spa and pool are worthy of taking a day off from skiing, and the fine-dining restaurant, Table d’Adrien, serves up gorgeous meals, including taglioni with truffles and stuffed pigeon. The crowd is chic, from the hedge fund manager and his mistress to upper-crust Brits. In short, there’s never a dull moment in Verbier.
Speaking of hitters, you can rent Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic The Lodge. With nine bedrooms, gorgeous living areas, wine cellar, pool, steam room, and 24-hour driver and staff, this is the place to stay in Verbier. For the most part, The Lodge is rented in its entirety, though you can snag a bedroom six weeks in advance if it hasn’t been let for the £64,000–99,000/week. Yes, you read that correctly, and yes, if you have the means, it’s worth every penny. All your food and beverage are included, so drink up.
The Top of the World
One of the most beautiful vistas is from Mont-Fort. You reach the top by gondola, which precariously pitches back and forth as you ascend the Alps. It’s pure dramatics, though; this is Swiss engineering, so you have nothing to worry about. Every level of skier can reach these heights, where you’ll feel as if you’ve touched heaven. The ski down, though, is not for the faint of heart – the drops are dramatic, giving expert skiers a serious rush. For those who may not be as skilled (or brave), the gondola will take you down to more manageable slopes.
The runs in the 4 Vallées are unrivaled. This is not Colorado where it’s no big deal to go off-piste. Here, even the experts bring their avalanche equipment – but they still go way out of bounds. This is extreme skiing territory, perfect for thrill seekers. If you’re not familiar with the mountain, hire a ski guide to push you past your comfort zone.
A must for lunch is the famed Cabane du Mont-Fort, which is reachable only via skiing. We don’t know what’s more spectacular: catching a glimpse of the little hut in the distance from the ski run or enjoying a goulash on the outside deck, taking in the views. For those with connections, head to Chalet Blanc, a private members-only club at the top of the Savolyere ski run. If you’re staying at The Lodge, they can hook you up at the club (at a £64,000 price tag, we’d hope so.)
Some say that the best part of skiing is après-ski, and this is where 4 Vallées delivers. If you’re staying in sleepy Nendaz, Cactus will wake you up. Yes, that’s a dancer’s pole you see, which gets a workout from revelers well into the night. Cactus also heats up with themed nights, including a “baby party,” where, yes, the locals dress up like a bébé. It can be a tad disturbing to see a grown man in a onesie, but it just goes to show that no one takes themselves too seriously.
For dinner, if your private chef isn’t cooking up a gourmet storm, throw on your finest alpine sweater and head to Mont-Rouge, where you can dine on haute cuisine, from foie gras and turbot to carpaccio of the day in hazelnut oil and balsamic. Their take-out shop sells local preserves, cheese and oils. For low-key Italian, fill up on crisp pizzas and homemade pastas at Trattoria dei Savi – this is no Olive Garden.
The Hotel Mon-Fort Alpine Resort restaurant gets no props from the mainstream guidebooks (which is partly why we love it so much). It’s one of the chicest spots in the 4 Vallées, with a sleek décor of velvet chairs and muted lighting that makes everyone look good. They also serve a gorgeous raclette. The waiter (who’s rather yummy himself) brings an entire wheel of raclette to your table, blow-torches it, and then scrapes the melted bits onto your plate, along with sausage, potatoes, and bread.
Verbier is for Debauchery
Verbier is renowned for its après-ski debauchery. Rouge not only has a great lunch and dinner, but a vin chaud and fresh crepes to heat you up after a day on the slopes. Later, join the raucous crowd at Fer a Cheval’s outdoor bar. The traditional Le Vieux Verbier doles out two fried eggs over a large potato rosti, while La Channe, just off Place Centrale, features high-brow French-Swiss cuisine.
Make your own après-ski by picking up the best cheese in town at La Chaumiere. And if you want to upgrade your ski wardrobe, stop by Peak Performance for oh-so-fashionable Swedish threads.
While Kate and Wills may have skipped their ski trip this year, here everyone parties like royalty. Standouts are the chill-out Farinet lounge and, of course, the famous (and occasionally infamous) Euro disco The Farm Club, an epic scene of over-served Brits and a bevy of beauties from all over the world. After a night out here, you’ll agree: In Verbier, skiing is not the only sport.