Written by Julie Gauthier, Founder & Director, Art de Vivre
Wind back the clock to the 1960s. Skiing in locations such as Klosters and St. Moritz was the winter sport of the aristocracy. Many of the resorts of today were small, rural communities belonging to local farmers. In the 1980s the skiing business went through a massive growth phase with hotels developing, unskiied villages and valleys becoming resorts in France, Austria, Italy and Switzerland. Of the many ski operators, only a quarter still exist today. What had been the sport of the few became the sport of the many with cheap deals and overnight buses heading to the snow.
Capitalising on this sudden popularity, Bladon Lines became the first chalet operator of this new age. The chalets were large, fairly basic and a chalet team of two would provide cooked breakfast, packed lunch, afternoon tea with fresh cake and 3 course dinner. The same staff also shopped, cleaned and made the beds. Bladon Lines was bought by Inghams in 1995 and was sadly neglected and phased out. Fellow chalet pioneers Super Travel were on the scene in the same period. Unlike Bladon Lines they still operate today in Zermatt, Courchevel 1850 and St Anton.
The true luxury chalet business started in 1997 with the launch of Descent, whose owner Kit Harrison offered a new unparalleled level of uncompromising service in the finest of ski chalets. Unheard of before this point, Descent marketed the chalets fully catered for £40,000 a week. The concept was a real game changer - extreme luxury in 5-6 bedroom stunning alpine chalets with pools and spas, 5 staff and chauffeur service. Key to its appeal was the high level properties and the employment of hotel standard staff. The collection grew year on year and in its final brochure had properties in Courchevel, Val d’Isère, Meribel, Les Gets, Verbier, Zermatt, Klosters and St. Moritz. The impact in the press was huge which also created a new corporate chalet ski market for incentives and team building. The concept was very expensive to run and very difficult to do and sadly the financial crisis of 2008 saw the closing of Descent along with several other ski companies.
In 2003, Channel Four ran a Grand Designs Abroad episode that followed Nicky Dobree’s passionate project of restoring a 17th century farm into a ski chalet named Ferme de Moudon in Les Gets, France. Alpine interior design had arrived with a chocolate box exterior and an interior where ancient beams blended with Christian Liaigre, Kohler and Andrew Martin. Saunas, massage rooms, outdoor hot tubs, heated boot racks and wine cellars were now chalet essentials. Not only did Ferme de Moudon win Design and Decoration Awards 2005, it joined the Descent portfolio.
Nicky Dobree’s interior design business sky rocketed from the media attention and she was able to bring a fresh alpine aesthetic to many of her projects. Gone were the dull chalets of the 80s and 90s with their cute, cookie-cutter, rural-cosy style. Nicky’s take was fresh with her signature logs stacked by the fire, use of white and cream, wood and stone, velvets, African feel and cow hides. Today Nicky Dobree is the go to luxury chalet designer with between 15-20 projects on the go at any one time and setting the tone around the world for private clients in Whistler, Verbier, Crans Montana and Meribel.
It’s not just the design that has changed. In the early years, food was cooked by chalet girls practising their dinner party skills. Nowadays chalet hosts and professional chefs serve the best cuisine for miles around. Meticulously judged and chosen at the beginning of each season, the talented chefs create their own menus using local ingredients to express their expertise and personality.
Today the alpine chalet is deemed the norm along with the private yacht and private jet. Owning a chalet is the luxury accessory of the wealthy.
The luxury chalet business has changed so rapidly with designer chalets becoming one of the most desired assets of their affluent owners. It is an emotional investment but none the less it is one that many owners wish to be appreciated by others. Art de Vivre is proud to offer these designer chalet rentals to their international clients. The architectural and design experience of each property creates a memorable ambiance, with the guests bringing the house to life, sharing together the owner’s passion for the Alps.
From my early ski rep days in Austria with avid skiers from the US and the UK, I have seen and appreciated the evolution of the alpine chalet industry with my own eyes, and I am proud to represent these designer chalets, some of the world’s most valuable real estate and the height of alpine design. They offer our clients who come from around the world - Canada, South America, China, Australia and Middle East - a home from home and a genuine, memorable alpine experience.
If you are searching for the perfect designer alpine chalet for this season, we suggest you take a look at our luxury chalet collection and send us an email with details for your stay so we may tailor some chalet options for you and your guests.