Stairway to Heaven...
Les 4 Vallées is Switzerland’s largest ski domain, famous for its breathtaking vistas and the glamorous resort of Verbier. But it’s also a winter wonderland of surprises at La Tzoumaz, Nendaz, Veysonnaz and Thyon. How well do you know les 4 Vallées?
What springs to mind when you think of les 4 Vallées? Verbier – the VIP hangout where vintage champagne and sushi is the new normal? Well, even that snapshot is a touch misleading. True, there are some amazing designer hotels and restaurants but even the party crowd can’t shake Swiss tradition. Verbier’s also a family-friendly resort lined with cosy chalets and criss-crossed by gentle slopes. Indeed, les 4 Vallées is the gateway to five special villages, 95 ski lifts and an incredible 400km of fully-linked pistes at every level.
What’s your perfect snow day? Skiing leisurely through lush pines or a high altitude adrenalin run? Or maybe heaven is a deck chair on a sunny terrace? The views from les 4 Vallées are a Who’s Who of the Alps... the Cervin, the Mont Blanc, the Rhone valley. There are also three designated snowparks to keep daredevils out of trouble and with many pistes above 2,500m, the action is assured right across the season – which starts early and ends late thanks to the Mont Fort glacier (at 3,000m+). Varied skiing is also on hand, created by the difference in altitude between the lower and higher slopes, which in this case is 1,900m. Les 4 Vallées are also renowned for off-piste thrills; just be sure to book a guide.
While the villages of les 4 Vallées are perfectly linked – each with English-speaking guides and ski schools - they all have their own individual ID. International Verbier buzzes with celebrities and is home to some of the swankiest ski hotels in the world. However, it’s also hot on contrasts. While the Mont Fort challenges with steep moguls and the Tortin itinerary, there’s also great family skiing. With a piste map in hand it’s easy to seek out the hamlet of Bruson, where you can ski through snow-covered fir trees and forget the party- crowd completely. Or maybe you’re looking for an Xtreme experience? Hike up Verbier’s “Stairway to Heaven” and ride down a powder run that’s second to none.
If Verbier is the international one, then La Tzoumaz is the natural one, set in the heart of a huge protected park. Its name actually comes from the Swiss German word tzoumer, which means "take a break", so with that clue to its DNA it’s safe to say that this a quiet choice. Highlights include a natural ice rink and the longest sledge run in the region - 10km of slipping and sliding that the kids will love! Talking of which, La Tzoumaz also has the school holidays covered. Its north-facing slopes on the Mont Savolyres keep their snow right through until the Easter break.
If La Tzoumaz is the natural one then Veysonnaz is the family one. Just 13km from Sion it’s a classic, bucolic village in summer – famous for cow fighting (which is not as violent as it looks and is typical herd behaviour ...) However, in winter it links seamlessly into the Four Valleys and revs up to become a World Cup hotspot. Fancy yourself as a winner? Ski the Piste de l’Ours and you’ll be following in the tracks of all the greats. Ski school and facilities for children are also top notch, plus the Four Valleys family discounts – up to 50% - apply on all ski lift passes.
Don’t ski? On the way up to Verbier there’s an ice-karting race track that won’t break the bank. With sweeping bends of packed ice and circuit speeds of up to 50kmph this is not for kids – this is serious karting F1 style. Ten- minute sessions, quite long enough to scare yourself rigid, start at CHF65. Or rent the entire track with friends and host a Grand Prix from CHF1,300.
Nendaz is the village which really does offer a room with a view. Perched at 1,400m it boasts a sweeping Alpine panorama across three cantons - Berne, Valais and Vaud. Although it has maintained its classic charm, Nendaz is definitely not the traditional woodworking/ farming village that it once was. A modern resort has developed alongside the ancient timber barns and grain stores, linking with nearby Siviez to create Super-Nendaz. Family-friendly is also key here and there are great little touches that will make a weekend trip so much easier. Check out toy hire, handicraft programmes and childminding for toddlers.
With a Kids’ Snow Village, a safe slow-piste zone, and a designated indoor picnic room (a rare find in any ski resort), Thyon is the high one; indeed most of the resort is at 2,000m, hence Thyon 2000. This sector is where most families base themselves and it’s home to the ve-hectare CentralPark, voted top snowpark in Swiss Romande by boarders’ bible Whiteout. From beginner to professional, this is freestyle gone mad, with equipment to test, competitions and events - plus that all- important laid-back vibe. Hats off to Thyon also for thinking of young budgets, offering BOAS Swiss Hotel low cost rooms at CentralCamps from CHF40 a night, plus a 30% discount on ski/board rentals.
WHERE TO STAY
W Hotel opened its designer doors in Verbier last year opposite the Médran ski lift, and immediately brought a sexy slice of urban chic to the mountains. It has a spectacular spa, a theatrical cocktail bar (literally – seats are banked to make the most of views from the vast windows), a resident DJ, fine dining, lm star suites and quirky swing bubble chairs on every balcony. And the mark of success? It’s almost always fully booked. Rooms from CHF300, B & B. Families stay from CHF500.
Hotel Nevaï is another Verbier address that’s the last word in luxury. Again, not aiming for chalet-style but instead clean architecture, a pale, soothing palate and a super-stylish bar, complete with sunken re pit. The penthouse suites – which overlook the Place Centrale and the mountains beyond - have open res and balcony hot tubs. Doubles from CHF180, room only.
For an overnight in La Tzoumaz try Chalet La Luge, which offers a cosy fire, great views and a bespoke catered experience for up to 12 family members or friends – or up to 16 if you don’t mind the odd bunk bed. Bedrooms are ensuite; and there’s a sauna and Jacuzzi, plus an après-ski refuge in the shape of a home cinema/games room. From CHF700 pp a week, double room, full-board.
Can’t resist a luxury Spa? Check in to the Hotel Nendaz 4 Vallées & Spa and indulge the senses in a stylish suite with log fire, private sauna and a balcony with views to die for. Split-level family rooms are snapped up by savvy regulars as they offer privacy and space – plus free access to the hotel’s famous Spa des Bisses. This huge pamper-zone extends over 2,000m2 – and including a beautiful outdoor pool and fountains, a Finnish steam dew bath and a choice of salt or ice grottos in the relaxing hamman. Feel free to float away your stress in the Zen flotation pool, or workout in the counter-current swimming pool or gym. After all that the panoramic sauna is probably just the icing on the cake ... From CHF250 for a double, room only.
For a ski-in/ski-out experience in Veysonnaz stay right on the piste at the Hotel Magrappe. This three-star traditional chalet hotel is a budget booking and the whole family will love being able to ski right to the front door! With balconies, pine fittings and warm rustic colours – and that great added extra – a pizzeria. From CHF196 for two, B&B.
WHERE TO EAT
Back to the WVerbier to check out the stylish dining options. With Eat-Hola taking care of tapas ‘re-invented’, the alternatives are the restaurant Arola (pricey but super-cool), and the W Cafe. However, for a relaxed vibe try the W Off Piste. This is an outdoor lounge-style chill zone, but with great heating and a busy bar it’s definitely the option for W fans. Chill out to sounds and grab a delicious spicy smoked chipotle burger. From CHF30.
Restaurant le Nomad (ground floor of the Nevaï) is also a big deal in Verbier, with its ‘essential sushi lounge’ drawing a faithful crowd. The menu proffers Asian cuisine with South American influences; hence grade 11 Kobe beef direct from Japan. Platters start at CHF28.
For a self-service bargain lunch on the piste try relative newcomer Le Mouton Noir, at the top of the Medran lift. Sausages, pizza and pasta sustain a young crowd and the giant terrace is impressive. And because you’re so close to the lift it’s a great place to kick off the après ski. From CHF15.
La Cambuse serves traditional Swiss mountain dishes on a sunny south-facing terrace, with only a short shuffle of the skis from piste to table! With a cosy Coin Raclette and a panoramic dining room should the weather close in, La Cambuse has got all possibilities covered. It’s also a hotel so be sure to check out their half-board prices. Specials around CHF24.
- - Follow the clues left by the Penguin and win fun prizes in the Veysonnaz children’s Treasure Hunt on skis! This one runs all season – details at Veysonnaz Tourism.
- - Polaris Festival - Verbier – early December. Live electronic music plus DJ sets.
- - Swatch Xtreme Freeride World Tour Final - Verbier - April. Skills and thrills at the highest level.