Steve and Chrissy Evans, owners of Stephen Evans Optometrist in SA1 have been avid skiers for many years. Last month they travelled to the French Alps to stay with Bethan and Chris of Chilled Chalets in St Jean D’Aulps. Bethan is a Swansea girl now living her dream of running a luxury ski chalet with her partner Chris. Here Chrissy Evans recalls the highs and highs of her winter holiday along with a cautionary tale of BA baggage madness.
After negotiating the incomprehensible and unworkable baggage rules and regulations on British Airways, and arriving in a ski resort to the very unwelcome sight of persistent rain, the greeting we received from Bethan on the doorstep of Chilled Chalets’, Chalet Christiana could not have been more welcoming.
After a quick distribution of luggage to the relevant rooms she enticed us into the lounge with the welcoming smell of vin chaud which was warming on the top of the huge log burner. The main chalet lounge is a lovely room filled with squishy sofas and low tables, and at one end of the room a large cupboard/sideboard which was open to reveal an interesting array of both familiar and unfamiliar local drinks. This cupboard turned out to be the “honesty” bar and it immediately became the main meeting point for everyone at the end of a day’s skiing, not only as the place to grab a beer or any drink of choice but most importantly as this is where Chris would lay out his wonderful home made bread and cakes for afternoon tea.
On this occasion the cakes were beautiful French macarons, which I normally find a little too sweet, but these were offset this by a filling of butter icing and a slightly tart coulis, which was just a perfect combination.
Our bedroom was really cosy, with French doors leading onto a balcony that overlooked the garden and the village. The rooms were simple and tasteful, with a comfortable king size bed and lovely white linen, and it was here that we first started to notice Bethan’s attention to detail. Bathrobes hanging on hooks, slippers and extra soft blankets in the wardrobe, fluffy towels and nice toiletries in the bathroom, the hairdryer you would expect, and most importantly a multiplug and adaptor. French bedrooms just never seem to have enough places to plug things in and these days when we all travel with so many things that need to be “plugged in and charged up”, it was brilliant that Bethan was one step ahead.
The chalet has a delightful layout on the ground floor, not only the large lounge already mentioned, but next door a smaller “snug” with another big comfy sofa, a large TV and DVD player, and a very interesting collection of DVDs to watch or if you prefer lots of board games and books. Possibly the most important room in the whole chalet was of course was the kitchen, where Chris always seemed to be working hard, producing amazing food, but always happy to stop to explain what he was doing or to tempt you with hints about the meals to come.
The dining room proved to be one of the most sociable areas with a huge square table that seated 13 of us with ease. Bethan was always on hand at mealtimes, checking everyone had a full glass and giving us the chance to try something a little different such as French table beer (which was a real surprise and so good), or perhaps a small glass of local Genepi – a lovely Savoie digestif.
Luckily for all of us, the rain in the village was falling as snow up on the pistes, and the following morning we were full of enthusiasm to get out skiing. But before we could go anywhere we had to have the first of many glorious chalet breakfasts guaranteed to set you up for a day on the slopes. Cereals, fruit, yoghurt, bread, croissants, jams, juices, teas and coffee all there for you to help yourself, and Chris on hand to cook you eggs any way you wanted served with lovely local bacon. Amazing as this all seemed, he actually apologised, as because of the humidity he hadn’t been able to cure his own bacon, something I’m sure would be well worth tasting!
This was how breakfast went all through the week and it did start to raise the question, when did the dynamic duo ever sleep?
St Jean D’Aulps is a small village just a little way from the much larger, sprawling resort of Morzine. When we first decided to visit Chilled Chalets we were a little concerned about the position of St Jean, as although it has its own small ski area, Roc D’Enfer, we felt this would be very limited skiing for us. We knew we would need to visit the much bigger Porte du Soleil skiing area, which would involve driving to one of the main entry lifts. Yet again Bethan and Chris were one step ahead of us. Two mini buses meant they were always able to take us wherever we wanted to start our day’s skiing, whether it was Ardent or Prodain to get into the Avoriaz region, Pleney or Nyon for Morzine or even Les Gets.
Bethan and Chris were also more than happy to extend the lift service to the evenings, if we still had the energy to move at all after a day’s skiing and eating one of Chris’s wonderful meals.
Now would probably be a good time to mention Chris’s food and anything I say just can’t do it justice. He is a truly talented and enthusiastic chef and his food is just fabulous, as a week’s worth of totally cleared plates confirms. We had many debates about exactly what was our favourite meal during the week, the trio of pork, the confit duck, the lamb.…the list was endless, and there could be no definitive answer, it was all delicious. From fabulous starters, stunning main courses and tempting desserts, everything was a high point. Out of the 13 guests in the chalet during our week’s stay Chris had the added challenge of having amongst us, two coeliacs, one person who was lactose intolerant, someone who didn’t eat refined sugar and was on a paleo diet, and one who didn’t eat fish. None of this fazed Chris at all, he just saw this as a challenge to provide something special for everyone and he certainly succeeded. This even included him making all his own bread and cakes and everyday there would always be a home-made gluten free alternative, all of which tasted superb.
Throughout mealtimes, our perfect hosts were full of information and happy to answer any questions we might have, whether it was about the ingredients or the cooking, where the best mountain restaurants were, or the question always on every skiers’ lips, what’s the snow forecast tomorrow?
Even Bethan and Chris need to have one day off, and this is officially Wednesday. Instead of our usual chalet evening meal an outing had been organised to a mountain restaurant.
All 13 of us plus our hosts piled into the two mini buses and we drove out towards Nyon to what seemed to be the end of the road! We got out of the vans and were each given a sledge. We then started to walk, towing our sledges up a snowy track through the woods. After about 15 minutes we started to see lights and there was our destination, Marks’s mountain restaurant. Everything was ready for us, wine opened, beer chilled and a spectacular selection of all the familiar Savoie specialities – fondue, tartiflette, pierrade (a hot stone where you cook your own selection of meats and veg), with all the side dishes you could possibly need.
Eventually, none of us could eat any more and Mark suggested a good way to make room for dessert would be to get out of the chalet, head a little further up the hill and get some practice runs on the sledges, and believe me this was no easy feat after all that tartiflette! After a hilarious half hour mostly spent falling into piles of snow and clambering back up the hill, we had indeed managed to create a bit of room for the apple tart he served for dessert. Then we finally felt ready for the high-light of the night, the sledge ride back down the track to the minibuses, which despite all the hilarious laughter and a number of slightly dubious individual routes, we all managed to survive. A truly wonderful night.
Steve and I have been skiing for over 30 years and during that time we have tried all sorts of holiday options, hotels, chalets, self-catering and we have visited many ski resorts in a number of countries. This has included visits to the Portes du Soleil region, staying in both Morzine and Les Gets a number of times, but I have to say no other ski holiday has come close to the experience we had at Chilled Chalets.
The welcome, Chris’s brilliant food and Bethan’s wonderful attention to detail, along with the feeling that nothing ever felt like too much trouble for this talented couple, created a wonderful atmosphere and one of the best chalet experiences ever.
If you feel like a week or even a short break out in the snow give Chilled Chalets some serious consideration, I think you will be more than pleasantly surprised.
JUST A QUICK FOOTNOTE ABOUT THE HORRIBLE EXPERIENCE WITH BRITISH AIRWAYS
Although their website and publicity would have you believe that ski carriage is free on their flights, in practice this is practically impossible to achieve. Despite making two phone call enquiries to their call centre to try and confirm the rules, when we arrived at check in we were informed we would have to pay excess baggage for our two ski bags which amounted to £130 one way. It appears they will take your skis for free, but they will only allow you to have one hold bag, and you are therefore left with the interesting choice – shall I take my skis on my ski holiday, or my clothes! Not wanting to be caught out with these exorbitant charges at the airport again I pre-booked our skis onto the plane for our return journey, to take advantage of the online discounts. This was still a costly £80, and, just to compound our dreadful experience with BA, when we arrived at Heathrow airport our skis didn’t! It appeared all passengers’ skis had been left at Geneva airport.