A chill is in the air, and as the holiday season approaches, many travellers are starting to dream of their ideal winter ski holiday. Europe is a great choice, where you can get both stunning slopes and great culture all in one. Why not splash out this season with the best on offer at some of these ultra-deluxe ski resorts across Europe? As they say, champagne goes with everything – even snow!
Saint Moritz, Switzerland
When people think of luxury ski, they think of St. Moritz. It is the gold standard as far as high end resorts go, and for good reason: Moritz is so good it is one of only three cities to host the Winter Olympics more than once. It was featured in two James Bond films and in several books and television shows.
St. Mortiz is also the place to go if you want the ski resort atmosphere without even having to ski; you can visit the amazing Segantini Museum or go and explore the Morteratsch Glacier. Otherwise, strap on your gear and head down the incredible 8km (5mi) slope running down from Piz Corvatsch.
Arriving by car in winter is not ideal, as only the Julierpass is open and parking is at a premium. The best bet is to arrive by train; connections are frequent and easy from all parts of Switzerland and neighboring countries.
Verbier is one of the largest resorts in the Swiss Alps but it is also one of the most exclusive. It is the celebrity hangout, playing host to everyone from Richard Branson to Diana Ross.
Verbier’s claim to fame is the unreal opportunities for off-piste and semi off-piste skiing; Stairway to Heaven is a good choice if you want to try this out but worried about making a Bridget Jones-like scene as the slope has several gradients depending on where you start; ask around and do your research before heading up. If you want the maximum experience, head for Mont Gele, one of only a few mountains without any pistes at all.
Verbier is difficult to reach by intention. The gateway city is Geneva, 160km (100mi) away. From there you can take a train to Martigny and then switch to the St. Bernard Express which will bring you to Le Châble, where you can take a cable car or bus to Verbier. Access by car is possible, though in snowy conditions this is not for the weak of heart. But if you’re splashing out on luxury trip, why not just hire a driver to take you?
If the pampered treatment is what you need, the Courchevel 1850 is where you should be headed. Courchevel is the largest linked ski area in the world, and the various parts of the resort are named after their altitude, with 1850 being the highest and most decadent.
The folk here have not overlooked a single detail – the heated pavements to avoid ice being one of the ultra deluxe features on offer. You’ll find some of the world’s most difficult black runs here, but don’t worry as there are slopes for all skill levels. Save some energy through for the blazing nightlife that one can find all around La Croisette, the central point of the resort. Les Caves is always a good start, and it’s open until 5AM, making it a good finishing point too if you can make it that far.
Courchevel has its own airport, although takeoff and landing there is somewhat of a death-defying experience in itself due to the teeny-tiny runway. Otherwise, direct bus service to the resort is available from Geneva airport; most train passengers will find themselves making the bus connection via Moutiers-Salins-Brides-les-Bains station.
Val d’Isère, France
By many accounts, Val d’Isère in the French Alps is the most expensive ski resort in Europe. It is part of the “Espace Killy,” named after skier Jean-Claude Killy, self-titled as the “Most Beautiful Ski Area in the World.” It’s so high that you used to be able to ski here year-round, but unfortunately due to glacier shrinkage this isn’t as good as it used to be.
Val d’Isère has had skiing here since 1930, and today ultramodern chalets are the perfect home base for exploring the 300km (186mi) of ski slopes, not to mending endless off-piste options as well. Don’t miss the Firemoon festival, where ski mountaineering in the moonlight is followed by a night-time DJ party.
The nearest train station is Bourg St. Maurice, about 30-45 minutes away via car or bus. Air options include Geneva, Chambery, or Lyon – all have bus or train options to connect you to Val d’Isère. Private transfers are available for those not ready to take on the snowy roads via car.
If you want unspoilt mountain territory with a splash of good nightlife and cosmopolitan atmosphere, look no further than Grimentz. Part of the Val d’Anniviers area, the skiing options are plentiful, from hardcore off-piste trails to endless snow-parks with easy blues and reasonable blacks. Don’t miss a trip up to the highest piste in Grimentz, where you’ll get 360-degree views of the “Imperial Crown:” Weisshorn, Zinalrothorn, the Matterhorn, Dent-Blanche, and Obergabelhorn – incredible if you get a clear day.
After a day of skiing, snow shoe walking, or tobogganing, get on your dancing shoes for a taste of real Alpine nightlife. Start with a filling fondue at any of the great après-ski bars found around the bottom of the slopes before heading to the local disco.
The drive to Grimentz on the A9 motorway is simply stunning. However, you can also take the train service to nearby Sierre and connect via bus. The nearest airports are Bern (which has more flight schedules during ski season), Geneva, and Basel. Zurich and Milan are also connecting options.
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
Called the Queen of the Dolomites, Cortina d’Ampezzo is one of the most luxurious and expensive ski areas in Italy. It is simply gorgeous terrain year-round, but in winter it is a snowy paradise where you’ll find the Staunies, a legendary black mogul for only the experts. But it is more of the alpine charm that draws the luxury crowds to Cortina; the architecture, the cosy feeling of the resorts and village are arguably the main attraction.
You don’t have to ski either, snowboarding is hugely popular here, as well as dining out on Italian fare. And if you haven’t been, you can even arrange day trips to nearby Venice to really round out your Cortina experience.
You have quite a few options for getting to Cortina besides driving, but all in the end are bus connections. Start your journey in one of these nearby airports: Treviso, Venice, Verona, or Innsbruck (Austria). You can also get direct bus service from Milan and Bologna.
For wallet-emptying fun, the mountainous medieval village of Kitzbuhel should be your final destination. Narrow streets lined with painted houses make way for world-class restaurants, cosmopolitan clubs famous for their cocktails, and fantastic crash pads. Tucked away in Austria’s Tyrolean Alps, the skiing is fantastic of course, but don’t overlook other popular activities such as balloon trips, ice skating, sleigh rides, and even squash.
Top up your getaway with a trip around the boutique shops where jewelery and designer goods are the souvenirs of choice. And if you’re still short on things to do, go relax and soak up the warm goodness of the public baths – taking you right back to Roman times.
The nearest airports to Kitzbuhel are Munich, Salzburg, and Innsbruck. From there, you can drive but a another enjoyable option is the train. Services run direct from Kitzbuhel to Innsbruck and Munich, while other cities provide connecting trains via Worgl or Bischofshofen.
St. Moritz by ianlord on Flickr, Verbier by Olivier Bruchez on Flickr, Courchevel by Msquirrell on Flickr, Val d’Isere by wichtelfraeulein on Flickr, Grimentz by madcowk on Flickr, Cortina by Leo-setä on Flickr, Kitzbuhel by Leslie-V on Flickr