Downhill from here - The Escapist 2018 - Magazine | Monocle

thumbnail text




Once a far-flung Alpine farming hamlet, Lech is now one of Austria’s best-kept secrets when it comes to rustic mountain refuges, fireside charm and pretty slopes.

Hotel: Almhof Schneider: Standing on land that’s been in the Schneider family since the 1400s, the 70-room Almhof Schneider is familiar and grand in all the right proportions. Expect refined Alpine design, impeccable service and a vast spa.

Lunch: Rud Alpe: Vertiginously perched on the slope just overlooking the village of Lech, Rud Alpe is the spot for traditional Austrian fare (don’t miss the Kaiserschmarren, or shredded pancakes to you and me) as well as people-watching from the broad wooden terrace.

Dinner: Hus Nr 8: A homespun restaurant housed in a 300-year-old chalet that serves exquisite Alpine fodder ranging from raclette (we’re not far from Switzerland here, after all) to hearty Käsespätzle, the Austrian version of mac and cheese.

Shop: Strolz: This elegant multi-level shop wraps around an atrium; each floor displays top-notch sporting goods, from bespoke skis and skiwear to designer clobber for men and women. It stands on Lech’s main street and has been open since 1921.

Slope: The White Ring: This 22km slope circuit is rightly lauded, looping down one side of the bowl-like valley to nearby village Zürs and back around to Lech. The landscape is jagged, the views panoramic and the experience is sublime.

Experience: Schneggarei: For après in an atmosphere that is both refined and rollicking, head to the Schneggarei, a bar and restaurant by the foot of the main lift. Perch on a cowhide cushion, snuggle into a blanket and enjoy watching Lech’s cast of eccentric characters come together and clink glasses.




Aspen has evolved from a quaint mining town in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains to an outdoor getaway with year-round recreation. A growing appreciation for the arts makes it especially enticing.

Hotel: Hotel Jerome: This historic hotel, which first opened in 1889, embodies both Aspen’s history and its future. Today, the place remains a landmark and a must-see with 93 rooms, an intimate spa and a smart but rustic feel.

Lunch: The White House Tavern: Housed in a former miner’s cottage, the White House Tavern’s relaxed atmosphere is the ideal setting for a hearty sandwich paired with one of the bar’s many distinctly warming libations.

Dinner: Matsuhisa: Tucked away in the basement of a Victorian house, Matsuhisa comes from renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa and serves modern Japanese fare, including uni shooters and king crab tempura. The contemporary interior design elevates the experience.

Shop: Pitkin County Dry Goods: Founded in 1969, Pitkin County Dry Goods has evolved from offering custom floral shirts and handmade leather belts to carrying desirable brands such as Dries Van Noten, Simon Miller and Our Legacy.

Slope: Buttermilk Mountain: Buttermilk Mountain mirrors Aspen’s complex identity. Having been home to the Winter X Games and with a nice range of terrain, it’s the ideal slope for both fledglings and veterans (after lunch).

Experience: Maroon Bells: Aspen’s most stunning view is the Maroon Bells, which consists of two 4km-high peaks alongside a shimmering lake. During the winter they are inaccessible by car, making the spectacle all the more dramatic.




The southern hemisphere’s most reliable powder falls in the resorts a snowball’s toss from this picturesque city beside lake Wakatipu in New Zealand’s rugged South Island. The Southern Alps are a fittingly dramatic backdrop and although there’s plenty in the way of pulse-raising extreme sports to undertake, we’d recommend making the most of the slopes and the on-the-up hotels and restaurants.

Hotel: QT Queenstown: The 69-room affair from the Sydney-based outfit takes full advantage of glistening Lake Wakatipu and the (aptly named) Remarkables mountain range with vast picture windows and wraparound vistas throughout. Choose Reds Bar for après entertainment and Bazaar to eat.

Lunch: Vudu Cafe & Larder: With seating overlooking the lake, and hearty meals – potato, pumpkin, cavolo-nero hash, with fried egg, halloumi and tomato jam – to warm you up, this is the locals’ favourite brunch spot so expect it to be busy.

Dinner: Rata: Queenstown’s seemliest dining room is a smart black box complete with a floor-to-ceiling image of beautifully back-lit rata trees. On the menu, food by chef John Emmett is some of the finest, freshest and most heartening in New Zealand.

Shop: The Winery: This straight-forwardly named place, which specialises in New Zealand wines, means you can taste some 80 varieties, from Central Otago pinot noirs to sauvignon blancs and sweet rieslings from Marlborough. Plus there’s a range of small-batch local whiskies.

Slope: Cardrona: A 50-minute drive from town, there are 345 hectares to ski across, with 30 per cent “advanced” and 20 per cent “expert” terrain. This is where the real skiers and boarders hit the slopes.

Experience: Heliskiing: Pilot Louisa “Choppy” Patterson and her crew take you to the best powder to be found in Queenstown’s glistening, remote backcountry. Ski a whole, or half day and they’ll bring along a decent lunch.


St Moritz


St Moritz has been rolling out the red carpet for mountain tourists (in summer and winter) for more than 150 years and all that practice has made visiting it a rather sophisticated affair. In the summer there are verdant valleys and bracing hikes to get the blood pumping. Winter is no less wonderful: expect crisp slopes and peerless pistes.

Hotel: Badrutt’s Palace : Badrutt’s Palace offers 120 rooms and 37 suites, is known for the panoramic view over Lake St Moritz and was a benchmark of Swiss hospitality when it opened in 1896. Its reputation continues to grow.

Lunch: Hatecke: The Hatecke family serves culinary treats from the region in the small bistro in the heart of the old town. Homemade soups, salads and cuts are on the menu.

Dinner: Kulm Country Club : Come here for hearty classics that are best enjoyed on a generous terrace designed by Norman Foster. It’s a contemporary counterpoint to all those pitched roofs and Alpine architecture.

Shop: Faoro St Moritz: Get the best threads from around the world (and the region) for men and women (such as Bergfabel outerwear and Merz b Schwanen undies). Great for layering up as the mercury dips.

Slope: The Olympia: The descent through the woods from the Saas Runzöl ski lift station to the village allows skiers to relive the path taken during the 1948 winter Olympic Games here. It still delivers the thrills.

Experience: Wandering on the frozen lake of St Moritz: Do this before the busy snow polo season starts in late January, though a visit to Badrutt’s Palace and sinking a Glühwein in the Renaissance Bar come a close second.


Nozawa Onsen


Japanese ski resorts differ from their Western counterparts due to their sense of calm, order and charm (there are far fewer noisy stag dos and overzealous early-in-the-day drinking competitions). And even by Japanese standards Nozawa is quiet, well-kept and supremely civilised. Known for its thermal hot springs, which have been in use since the 8th century, Nozawa Onsen is also a popular winter resort that is a favourite among Japanese powder skiers. The 13 public hot springs around the village are a welcome balm for sore muscles after a day on the slopes.

Hotel: Naraya Ryokan: Opened in 1912, this ryokan (a traditional inn, look up the rules of engagement and schedules before you arrive) has 10 rooms and private hot-spring baths. Guests sleep on tatami mats and dine on elaborate breakfasts and dinners made with ingredients grown locally or foraged in the surrounding mountains. There’s no better start to the day.

Lunch: Atarashiya: Grilled, marinated Japanese eel and chicken are the specialities of this restaurant, which serves your choice on top of a bowl of fluffy rice. Perfect for a revivifying mouthful before you return to the pristine pistes.
+81 269 852 044

Dinner: Daimon: This soba restaurant opened in 1926 and makes its noodles from buckwheat grown in nearby Iiyama. Daimon adds locally sourced forest Nameko mushrooms and makes its tempura with maitake (hen of the woods) mushrooms.
+81 269 852 033

Drink: Libushi: Tom and Emiko Livesey run Anglo Japanese Brewing Co, Nozawa Onsen’s only brewery, which produces a range of tasty beers but is best known for its casked-aged sour beers.

Slope: Yamabiko: Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort’s Yamabiko slope starts at the summit of Mount Kenashi and runs along the ridge of the Skyline course for nearly 6km along moderate and challenging drops.

Experience: Mount Kenashi: Watch the sun dipping behind the range from the peak of Mount Kenashi.


Val d’Isère

Hotels: Le Refuge de Solaise: The highest-placed hotel in France will open in December in Val d’Isere (located at a vertiginous 2,551 metres). The former cable-car station, with 360-degree panoramic views, will have 10 bedrooms, six apartments, a spa, a 380-seat restaurant and a vast sun terrace. The project is a partnership between local restaurateur Jean-Claude Borel and architect Jean-Charles Covarel.

Le Blizzard: This family-owned and managed hotel has fully renovated over the past four years. The Blizzard stands in the heart of the village, 100 metres from the slopes. It’s the best address for a long ski weekend, a great lunch under the sun and a wonderful massage. It’s also where the locals like to gather and is open from December to May.

Lunch: La Grande Ourse: Rightly considered Val’s finest restaurant, La Grande Ourse offer a menu that includes grilled Dover sole, lobster ravioli and duck foie gras with sautéed apples. It opened in 1936 when there was just one lift on the mountain. A warm atmosphere on the terrace keeps it social and the heated tent is a go-to should bad weather hit.

Dinner: La Baraque: Another great restaurant and one that remains open for much of the year. It provides consistently excellent food and is also a resort rendezvous for night owls popping in for quiet drinks, live music and perfectly muddled cocktails.

Shop: Boutique Arpin by Mattis: Arpin textiles have been made in the Alps since 1817 and were originally used to make clothes for Alpine expeditions (the iconic Drap de Bonneval fabric for instance). The brand has now opened a shop in collaboration with Gérard Mattis, a Val d’Isère native and retailer.

Slope: La Germain Mattis: The Germain Mattis slope is a great pleasure for more advanced skiers. The views are unparalleled and the varied slopes make the hearts of even the most passionate skiers beat a little faster.

Experience: La Ferme de l’Adroit: Visit this fourth-generation farm to see cows, goats, sheep and pigs that provide plenty of produce and products in the resort. They offer dairy products for the best raclette and yoghurt for traditional Savoyard dishes such as fondue or tartelette. At 17.30 you are welcome to come over to help milk the farm’s herd of 30 friendly cows.




Nestled in the Tarentaise Valley of the French Alps, Méribel was founded near the town of Moûtiers back in the 1930s by Colonel Peter Lindsay. He was looking for a resort beyond the reaches of the then-growing national socialist movement in Germany. Situated in Vanoise National Park and a part of the well-connected Les Trois Vallées area, today Méribel offers skiing for all standards, plus hospitality to sate the most discerning palette.

Hotel: L’Adray Télébar: A traditional Savoyard-style wooden chalet run by Fabrice Bonnet, son of founder Adrien Bonnet who opened it back in 1949. This is a homespun, unpretentious, family-run affair and a natural meeting point for hungry skiers lining up for delicious servings of escalope à la crème (veal scallop in a creamy mushroom sauce) served with frites maisons, the house speciality.

Lunch: La Bouitte: When they opened La Bouitte in a tiny hamlet near Méribel in 1984, René and Marie-Louise Meilleur served simple dishes such as fondue and raclette. When they opened another outpost in the close-by resort of Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, René started developing a more sophisticated and creative take on her native fare. He ended up scooping an impressive three Michelin stars and becoming an institution along the way.

Dinner: La Galette: For raclette, fondue, crêpes and the eponymous galettes (pancake made with buckwheat flour) head to this cheerful and atmospheric joint, which is often frequented by chalet staff on their evenings off.
+33 479 085 390

Slope: Pistes: Méribel Valley has about 150km of slopes in its own right but offers access to a total of more than 600km of pistes served by 166 lifts. For more experienced skiers, the red Combe du Vallon route from the top of the Mont du Vallon gondola at 3,000-odd metres above sea level is a sound option with unparalleled views.

Experience: La Folie Douce: While on the slopes, stop off here for great food and drink. It is also one of the best après ski destinations if you’re party-inclined. Try to arrive between 02.00 and 03.30 to hit the height of the partying (earlier is obviously fine if you’re less fussed about the revelry).




Italian resorts get short shrift compared to their French, Swiss and even Austrian cousins but to overlook them entirely is a mistake. The Alpine resort of Courmayeur is decidedly low-key compared to its higher-altitude rivals but it makes a strong base camp for autumn hikes, relaxing getaways or winter ski breaks.

Hotel: Au Coeur des Neiges: Located conveniently close to the centre of town and the ski lift, the property offers both spacious apartments and guest rooms with traditional mountain decor, wood flooring and stone accents.

Lunch: Chateau Branlant: Chateau Branlant is a homely chalet on the slopes. Warm up next to the open hearth and sample quiche, polenta and hearty Valdostana meat dishes with local vintages.

Dinner: Chalet Plan Gorret: This rustic Valdostana inn hosts an impressive restaurant that mixes mountain fare and seafood – one of the owners hails from Sardinia. Reservations recommended.

Shop: Guichardaz: The Magenta family attracts a loyal following with a well-stocked assortment of casual and outdoor looks for men and women. The shop stocks brands including Schneiders, Holubar and cotton flannel shirts by Aspesi.

Slope: Val Veny: In the picturesque Val Veny, where the runs offer more challenges to skiers, go 1,000-metre plus down the white powder of the Youla piste. It’s a thrilling descent that feels never-ending but nice.

Experience: Thermal springs: Fed by the snow of 4,000-metre peaks, the thermal springs at the QC Terme Pré Saint Didier spa offer an indulgent way to unwind after a day’s outing on the slopes or trails.

Share on:






Go back: Contents



sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio


  • Monocle Weekends