The Four Seasons’ newly opened Les Chalets du Mont d’Arbois makes for a luxurious long weekend – but, dear God, stay longer if you can, writes Elle Blakeman
I think the moment my husband turns to me and says, ‘I can’t be bothered to pole today, let’s take the horse,’ is when I realise we are through the looking glass. Two days in Megève and he’s turned into Princess Margaret.
We’re here to explore Les Chalets du Mont d’Arbois in Megève. Newly opened this season, it is a collaboration by the Rothschild dynasty – for whom it was once a family home – and the Four Seasons.
Megève owes much to the Rothschilds. Noémie de Rothschild – fed up with running into Germans in St Moritz – sent her ski instructor to find somewhere beyond Switzerland that could rival its charm. Impressed by gentle slopes, pretty village and proximity to Geneva, he settled on Megève. There the Rothchilds invested heavily, building hotels, lifts and infrastructure to tempt mountain-bound glitterati from their Swiss hangouts.
Noémie selected a prime spot for her private residence. Five minutes out of town, on the Mont d’Arbois side, the snow-capped Aravis mountain range provides a spectacular panoramic backdrop. And it’s as glorious today as it was in 1927, when Noémie’s chalet was built.
It is this residence to which we head: one of three traditional wooden chalets that comprise this new Four Seasons outpost, complementing the Four Seasons Hotel Megève that opened in 2017. The chalets are named after three sisters in the current Rothschild empire: Ève, Noémie – who shares a name with her paternal great grandmother – and Alice (their younger sister, Olivia, has been left out in the cold for now.)
After an easy flight to Geneva, we’re whisked to the mountains in just over an hour. The towering Mont Blanc looms into view fifteen minutes before we arrive, an invigorating sight. We chuck our stuff in a fabulously comfortable suite in Chalet Noémie – chic Savoyard décor, low-lit black marble bathrooms, hidden large-screen TVs, large balcony with full dining table outside, large stone fireplace, floor-to-ceiling windows, fancy Japanese toilet, bathroom full of Codage products, you know, the usual – and swiftly don ski gear.
One benefit of staying here – apart from living like an actual Rothschild – is the connection to the larger Four Seasons Hotel Megève, just up the road. Guests at Les Chalets can use all facilities at both locations. It’s the best of both worlds: the cosy charm of a chalet, albeit one with where the steely polish of the Four Seasons is never far behind, coupled with the impressive facilities of a five-star hotel. That means a vast La Prairie spa, high-end restaurants, a big kid’s club and a teen room replete with video games. (Tip: If you lose your husband, he’s here, playing Grand Theft Auto V).
The hotel is also your conduit to the slopes. It’s not technically ski in/ski out, but it’s the closest you’ll get in Megève, with around 500m of flat, snow-covered ground to cover before you reach Mont d’Arbois. You can pole it – strong skiers will find this quickest – or take a horse-drawn sleigh to the slope like a major royal. Or you can jump in a shuttle to the foot of the Mont d’Arbois lift, but that seems a waste when the world’s chicest commute awaits, literally with bells on.
We stop by the boot room and fire measurements at them before lunching at the hotel’s Bar Edmond. Fellow diners look as if they’ve been cast by a director, their new-season skiwear teamed with stonking jewellery and blow-dries. We inhale delicious burgers and Chablis and feel like we’ve arrived.
Thanks to the speedy boot room team, we have time to spend a couple of hours on the slopes and get the lay of the land. Three main ski areas offer some 325km of excellent pistes: Mont d’Arbois, where the hotel resides, Rochebrune, accessible from the foot of d’Arbois via a cable car with stunning views over the connecting valleys, and Le jaillet, which can be reached by bus or shuttle.
The runs are mostly easy reds, tree-lined and perfect for intermediates, although there are nice blues and greens for beginners and, on Rochebrune, a couple of good sharp black runs. For experts, brilliant off-piste powder covers the mountains and most guides are more than happy to take you on detours to experience it.
When the lifts close, we swoosh back to the horse, who carts us gently back to the boot room. There we are all but lifted out of our skiwear like children: boots are unbuckled for us, goggles and helmets stored in lockers and a banquet table of calorie-dense, restoring foods – hot chocolate, biscuits, dried fruits – offered.
Back at Les Chalets, a handsome Frenchman awaits, stirring a cauldron of mulled wine. He asks us if we want crêpe and Nutella. Yes, we do.
In the name of research, I feel the need to remove ourselves from this five-star bubble just for a moment, so I summon a Four Seasons-branded Mercedes to take us down to the town. There we find a nice mix of local bars and restaurants – and, on the recommendation of a driver, dip into Es bar for a cheap and cheerful drink.
The nice thing about Megève is that it remains unspoiled by well-heeled visitors. Yes, there is a Hermès, but there are also galleries selling inexpensive paintings by local artists. There are supermarkets. And cafés. You could replace a lost pair of gloves for fifty quid, which is more than you can say for many swanky resorts.
Back at the Four Seasons is the region’s only Japanese restaurant. Kaito blends wonderfully fresh sashimi and sushi with mountain produce – an oddly delicious combination. The restaurant is full of families, chatting merrily and enjoying akami tuna with black truffle or a tartlet of chestnut and yuzu confit.
The following day we are booked in with Jeremy, a guide from the ESF school, who takes us as far as our lift pass will go. Morning is reserved for exploring Rochebrune, capturing the sun before lunch. Naturally he knows the best places to avoid the crowds, but even so it feels fabulously deserted. There are times when I see no one from top to bottom. ‘Forty per cent of visitors don’t ski,’ reveals our guide. ‘They just come for the pretty town and to take pictures.’ Glorious news for the 60 per cent who appreciate a short lift queue.
We stop for lunch at L’ldéal 1850, another Rothschild output (there’s no escaping them and frankly they’re very good at what they do). Perched atop Mont d’Arbois, directly facing the epic Mont Blanc, L’ldéal is no pizza-and-chips joint: its gourmet fare is in keeping with the Bond-film panorama beyond. Slow-roasted chicken, fresh shellfish and orecchiette drowning in truffle are hard to resist, as are the serious dessert buffet and punchy wine list.
In contrast to the untroubled slopes, the restaurant is packed and no one without a booking has a hope in hell. We’re told the sundeck, complete with crab and champagne bar, is usually the place to be. But it’s seriously cold today and the second floor – with floor to ceiling windows – is fine consolation. There’s even a single super-luxe suite for those who relish the illusion of being stranded after the lifts stop.
Just up the mountain, the music begins pumping at La Foile Deuce. We debate a visit, before remembering that we’re not 22 and that climbing on a table will not end well. Instead, we spend the afternoon on d’Arbois, going on and off-piste, taking advantage of a fresh layer of soft powder blasted by cannons across the mountain.
We ski until the horse feels like the only option. Jeremy doesn’t object. At Les Chalets, I book myself in to their fabulous Bamford spa – smaller than the La Prairie one up at the main hotel and much more intimate, I am the only one here for most of my visit – and try not to nod off during a ridiculously soothing massage. I attempt the indoor/outdoor pool, but it’s chillier than expected and the views of Aravis are just as nice from the outdoor sauna. The large Hammam showers prove a fabulous way to erase a long day in the cold.
That night we dine at Prima at Les Chalets, presided over by maestro Nicolas Hensinger and newly bestowed with a Michelin star. The extensive menu is lavish, including soft veal cooked with ice cider, apple and turnip, and local suckling lamb with cabbages, grapefruits, and gentian root. It’s faffy and fabulous, as a Michelin establishment should be, though after a long day on the slopes it’s hard not to crave something more simple and carb-heavy. I make a mental note to return when I can properly soak up Hensinger’s faultless cooking.
A wine list arrives like a sacred text: huge and leather-bound, with gilt edging. We open reverently and take in the acres of carefully selected fineries, both local and New World. Naturally there are several from the family vineyards. By 11pm we’re on our first pre-dessert and wondering if there’s a Four Seasons-branded wheelbarrow to haul us back to our suite.
The next morning provides a few more perfect hours of skiing, and happily returning ski gear is as easy as leaving it in the boot room so no slope so no time is wasted. A 5pm flight has us home within two hours, proving that Les Chalets du Mont d’Arbois is entirely doable in a long weekend. But, dear God, stay longer if you can.