I can tell you the very second “it” happened. At 7pm on the dot the day we arrived in the French Alps. But where it happened is really what matters. The al fresco Jacuzzi on the private terrace of Chalet Lafitenia in Val d’Isere, a 5-star bolt hole with stunning vistas up the glorious Manchet Valley.
The first time since our daughters were born that my wife and I had managed to escape for more than a couple of nights respite. And for the first time in six exhausting years of fatherhood, in that pristine moment with delicious bubbles tickling my feet and my throat – I forgot who I was.
I forgot that at 7pm on any normal night I was an excited correspondent about to go on air – or having done my stint at Channel 4 back home being a tired and harassed dad.
Our chalet manager Jane padded to our steaming hot tub bearing refills of perfectly chilled Pol Roger, and a charming smile.
“You wanted me to come and remind you when it was 7 o’clock”, she said.
“Canapes will be served in half an hour, dinner at 8. But take your time. We’re ready when you are”.
Jane disappeared silently back through Lafitenia’s floor to ceiling glass doors, leaving us the bottle chilling in the snow.
Champagne had never tasted this good. And as the sun set vermillion behind Val d’Isere’s famous Bellevarde peak we contemplated nothing but the view, and how on earth it might be possible to be more relaxed. More pampered. More indulged. Thank goodness we had heard of Le Chardons famous retreat from the Good ski Guide.
We’d been met at Geneva airport that morning by our chauffeur Tom, and the first bottle of an unlimited supply of cold champagne. En route to the chalet, we were taken to get kit and arrange tuition and guiding at Oxygene, Chardon’s favoured shop and ski school, while Tom saved us valuable ski time by driving ahead to drop our luggage. Real bespoke care this as ski passes were arranged and delivered in advance. Lucie the chalet host was on hand to knock up a tasty snack while we geared up.
We paused only to gawp at Lafitenia’s soul-stirring views across national parkland, through bedroom windows that span an entire wall before being chauffeured to the slopes.
Lafitenia is one of five luxurious chalets sitting at the very top of Val D’isere, run by Edinburgh based Le Chardon Mountain Lodges. Some 25 years ago Chardon’s property developing owner Les Rennie had the foresight to purchase not just the land on which to build this visionary complex, but the next few hundred yards that separate it from adjacent national parkland. This parkland is also avalanche prone. Which adds up to one invaluable asset- no building is allowed here that could sully Chardons sublime views. The priceless view is protected in perpetuity.
The Chardon experience though is about more than just what you see. The service is finessed every second of every day. The chalet staff are attentive and generous; the resort management interested and available. The chefs are sublime. Five course evening dinner one night featured a rich pan fried chicken breast with red wine jus; another night starred a creamy light sea bass with asparagus – all with matched wine. One a particularly resplendent organic rose.
Breakfasts are cooked to order but with daily specials including French toast with bacon and fresh maple syrup, or eggs Benedict with tangy wisps of hollandaise. Freshly prepared fruit boasted mango and pomegrantes.
An on site health spa offers a range of treatments from Chardon’s in house masseuses
Chauffeurs are a phone call away to ferry you not just around Val D’Isere’s world class mountains, but also to and from town for whatever reason takes your fancy. Apres ski? Shopping? Dinner on the chef’s night off? Within five minutes your car arrives. And drops you back again even if it’s 2am.
Late one evening the snow began to fall. Silently the weather closed in down the Manchet Valley towards Chardons. Propped up on large plumped pillows we watched mesmerised through Lafetenia’s vast windows, as the Jacuzzi we’d lose ourselves in every afternoon after a day on the hill was daubed in a soft layer of white. How we slept that night. Until a soft knock at the door the next morning.
“You asked for tea in bed at 8” Jane whispered.
“I’ll leave it on the side for you. Breakfast will be served whenever you are ready”.
Oh happy days… And the skiing, for once that paled into insignificance, though it was still fabulous.