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The History of Luxury Alpine Ski Chalet Rentals

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.

 

James Bond's Top International Villas

James Bond knows a thing or two about the high life. With box office smash Spectre seeing Bond travelling the globe once again, we take a look at the villas that would most please the silver screen’s most stylish secret agent.

 

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SPECTRE
CASA TRES SOLES, MEXICO

One of the most talked about scenes in Spectre is the action-packed opening sequence set at the Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico City. Bond has a hard time in the film, barely getting a chance to soak up the scenery. But if he did, we are sure he’d feel right at home at Casa Tres Soles. Situated just an hour and a half’s flight from the capital by private jet, Casa Tres Soles is the kind of beautiful, secluded villa that meets all the needs of the original international man of mystery. There are endless coves nearby to explore by boat, and a wraparound pool for soaking up the sun with martini in hand. When Dia de los Muertos comes around, make sure you have a mask ready.

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DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER
LEOBO OBSERVATORY VILLA, SOUTH AFRICA

Sean Connery’s final official appearance as 007 saw him jetting off to South Africa to stop Ernst Stavro Blofeld building a giant laser out of diamonds. If you want to follow in Connery’s footsteps, Leobo Observatory Villa might be the place for you. Built into the bush, Leobo Observatory is full of genius design that would make even Q proud. On top of the research-quality observatory for midnight stargazing, Leobo Reserve offers countless Bond-style activities to engage in. Sky diving, helicopter flying, rock climbing and quad bike safari are all readily available for those who want to live fast and die another day.

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GOLDENEYE
VILLA C-VIEW, COTE D’AZUR

In GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan can be seen spending time in the luxury casinos of Monte-Carlo, and surveying the port of Monaco after dark. If you would like to pull up in this port and try your hand at baccarat, Villa C-View is the perfect place for you to retreat to. With minimalist modern decor and unrivalled views of the Riviera, this villa is a contemporary spin on the traditional James Bond glamour.

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THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN
INIALA BEACH HOUSE RESIDENCE, THAILAND

The Man with the Golden Gun saw Roger Moore facing off with Christopher Lee in several Asian locations. The film takes place primarily in Thailand, which is also the location of the wonderful Iniala Beach House Residence. This complex is a collection of three villas and one utterly unique penthouse. Designed by people almost as well-travelled as Bond himself, the complex features a gourmet restaurant, a fantastic bar/games room and, of course, brilliant views of the Thai coast. It is right on the beach, after all.

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ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE
CHALET ZERMATT PEAK, SWITZERLAND

George Lazenby only played James Bond once, but he still managed to appear in one of the most iconic scenes in the entire franchise: the Alpine ski chase in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The ski chase has since become a staple of the Bond film, with several subsequent entries in the series (including this year’s Spectre) seeing 007 get into various ski-related scrapes. For those who want to create their own ski chase, Chalet Zermatt Peak in Switzerland is the perfect place to stay. Built into the side of a mountain with private tunnel access, walk-in wine cellar and luxurious wellness spa, Chalet Zermatt Peak has everything you need after an edge-of-your-seat ski scenario.

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THUNDERBALL
VILLA TAGOMAGO, PRIVATE ISLAND, THE BALEARICS

A lot of the action in Thunderball takes place on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. This island has its own appeal, but for a real island paradise of your own, Villa Tagomago is the place to go. Perhaps the most Bond-like villa in our collection, Tagomago is close to the glamour of Ibiza’s exclusive private bars, but entirely secluded at the same time. Reachable by its own private mooring, the island comes with access to two boats and two jetskis. Several more ‘toys’ are available, including the Mangusta 108 yacht that can reach 40 knots; and a Boston Whaler 320 with an electric grill.

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THE NEXT BOND FILM
VILLA AQUA, AUSTRALIA

Whether or not Daniel Craig reprises his role, we are promised in the end credits of Spectre that JAMES BOND WILL RETURN. But where will he go this time? Our suggestion is a country that, surprisingly, 007 has never visited: Australia. Specifically, he should go to the Great Barrier Reef, where no doubt he can find some nefarious underwater activity on a scuba diving expedition. If you want to beat Bond to it, you should consider staying in Villa Aqua. With its own helipad, library, cinema and private marina, this villa is truly fit for a globe-trotting super-spy.

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If much like James Bond, you are all about the details, you can read further information on our Worldwide Villas, European Villas and Alpine Chalets. When it comes to experiencing James Bond-level glamour for your stay, nobody does it better than Art de Vivre.