Like a London neighbourhood that suddenly becomes hip, Morzine is on the up. Restaurants and bars that have been popular with the families who have been coming here for years – like buzzy L’Etale and wine-bar style La Chaudanne – are now joined by trendy new venues such as microbrewery Bec Jaune. Here, shiny vats line the bar, and there are homemade craft beers alongside pulled pork buns
and nachos thick with melted local cheese. Fine diners, meanwhile, can try the tasting menu and wine flight at L’Atelier, in chalet-style hotel Le Samoyède.
At the top of the valley, the old cable car has been replaced by a state-of-the-art téléphérique that whisks skiers to the resort of Avoriaz, where a string of tall, rounded apartment blocks clad in Canadian red cedar march up the mountainside in almost surreal fashion. Cars are banned from the centre of the resort, and on the Boulevard des Skieurs and surrounding snowy roads, horse-drawn-sleigh taxis ply their trade.
Both Avoriaz and Morzine lie within the Portes du Soleil ski area, which crosses the French-Swiss border and has 196 ski lifts and 285 green, blue, red and black runs – many with views of the Dents du Midi and distant Mont Blanc.
Back down in Morzine, Chalet M, which sleeps up to 16 people over three floors, has a glassed-in log fire, a cinema room with 3D screen and surround sound, and a sauna, hydrotherapy shower and treatment room; out on the deck, there’s a bubbling hot tub. Attentive staffs make sure that every moment off the pistes is quietly luxurious.
It is a striking juxtaposition – vast wilderness meets purpose-built ski resort with everything from entertainment arcades to a water park. But then, until 2011 – when South Korea won the bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games – it was unknown to most people that this was a country where you could ski. In fact, there are 17 resorts. Most cater for the domestic market, with just a handful of ski lifts and few accommodation options.
ski lifts and few accommodation options. But for international visitors, there is YongPyong, the country’s largest resort, with 15 lifts and 31 slopes.The on-piste action doesn’t, however, finish when the sun dips behind the peaks of the Taeback Mountains. In South Korea, skiing is enjoyed as much under moonlight (well, powerful floodlights) as in bright sunlight.
Then there is the après-ski – for novelty value it cannot be beaten. Underground at the resort’s maze or bars and arcades, the bowling, billiards and karaoke carry on until the small hours.
Providing an escape from the crowd is the Dragon Valley Hotel, the resort’s best accommodation option. It offers both ondol rooms (a traditional style with underfloor heating) and spacious Western ones. There is also a sauna, a pool with views of the mountains, and fine dining at two restaurants.
A 10-minute drive away is South Korea’s Olympic venue, Alpensia. Despite the small number of ski lifts, there are new hotels and restaurants springing up every year. The 238-room InterContinental Alpensia Pyeongchang Resort has all the hallmarks of its siblings, with expansive lounges and two restaurants, as well as a cocktail bar where the mixologist will guide you through your drink’s ingredients as he prepares it at your table.
While South Korea does not match Japan for fresh powder, it more than makes up for it with its wonderful quirkiness. You will combine a ski trip with a novel cultural experience.
To step off the train in Andermatt in Switzerland’s Urseren Valley is to leap back in time. Traditional houses with tiny wooden shingles crowd the narrow streets. Farmers head for the Sternum for beer and cards. The petrol station where, in 1964, Sean Connery’s James Bond made a pit-stop in Goldfinger hints at contemporary values that never arrived. But that’s all changed in 2014 when The Chedi Andermatt opened its giant doors.
The first high-altitude venture by the Singapore based GMH Group (most of whose hotels are on palm-fringed lagoons). The Chedi Andermatt occupies a former Swiss Army barracks. When the conscripts moved out, the bulldozers moved in: now the village has a wood and glass palace as its centrepiece.
Architect Jean-Michel Gathy underpinned a vision of Alpine zen with innovative comfort. Which other hotel includes a pool with a viewing bar, so swimmers can tackle the invigorating water while their friends look on, sipping a cocktail. Where else can you stroll into a dedicated cellar and plunder great wheels of cheese? And in each of the hotel’s 101 rooms and suites (in four interconnecting buildings), a pre-programmed iPad gives you instant control of your environment; one tap and blinds unroll, phones charge and the fireplace sparks into life.
On the Chedi’s extensive menu, Swiss and European dishes meet Far Eastern cuisine. The hotel offers 7,000 wines: The Cigar Lounge seats 12 around a roaring fire and incorporates a walk-in humidor; and the spa includes a Tibetan relaxation room with virtual Himalayan views that change every 20 seconds lest Alpine reality should disappoint.
Outside the hotel is some of the Alps’ most under used, high-quality ski terrain. The venerable cable car up the Gemsstock accesses two superb black runs and one red, with adrenaline adventure to be found at the back of the mountain. Nearby Nätschen has nursery slopes and a network of blues, while the ski pass also covers user-friendly Realp and Hospental.
Snorkelling may be a typical holiday activity – but not at the South Pole. Now, however, an Antarctic cruise in encouraging its passengers to come on in, because the water’s lovely. Swimming with penguins, giant sea stars and colourful fish is a highlight of a journey on the Spirit of Antarctica.
The cold water is kept at bay thanks to state-of-the-art dry suits, thick gloves and hoods, and even tiny fans that keep the body warm. Camping of the ice, climbing and kayaking are included for polar adventurer, too.