Travel review: Verbier
It may be renowned as the playground for the rich and famous, but there is an affordable side to Verbier as Catherine Scott discovers.
Pixie Lott spent New Year here, James Blunt has a chalet here and a lift named after him and Diana Ross opened a cable car. Welcome to the Swiss ski resort of Verbier.
However, as the economic squeeze effects even the high end resorts, many places, including Verbier, have had to promote themselves as being are more accessible to a wider range of budgets.
I have never skied in Switzerland as I believed the hype that I would need a mortgage to buy a beer. But this is far from the truth. It may be that in the past Verbier was quite happy to perpetuate this idea to keep its elite status, but no more. With numbers down, it has woken up to the fact that in order to survive it has to broaden its appeal.
This year there is the first of what will be an annual music festival held over the last two weekends of the April ski season. Texas are headlining, with the hope that Verbier lover James Blunt will do the honours next year.
A wider range of accommodation is being created to ensure that it is isn’t just those that can afford the five star luxury who can enjoy the amazing skiing the famous 4 Vallees has to offer.
The village of Le Chable is a short gondola ride from Verbier. Here there is a station which links efficiently to Geneva, restaurants and a variety of accommodation. The brand new Hotel A Lârze has beautiful rooms from as little as £83, it has a sauna, heated boot room and amazing views. It is B&B, so you still have the expense of eating out.
However, for those on a tighter budget and for those with families Le Chable also has a choice of self catering apartments and chalet accommodation all just a short walk from the gondola which can take you quickly up to Verbier or alternatively to beautiful tree-lined Bruson on the opposite side of the valley.
Verbier is at the centre of the largest ski area in Switzerland, with 410km of piste open from the beginning of November to the end of April with a plethora of blue, red and black runs.
Home to the famous Mont-Fort run, adrenalin junkies have to give this 1,750m black run, which runs from an altitude of 3,300m, a go. The view from the top, including the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc,on its own is enough to take your breath away, but being amongst the steepest slopes in the Alps and unprepared by machines, leading to natural moguls, has given it legendary status.
I have to say I didn’t know any of this before hurling myself (well almost) down this beast. But thanks to the expert guidance and patience of our guide/instructor Alex from Altitude Ski and Snowboarding School, I made it. My style wasn’t anything to write home about but there was sense of pride in having completed the Mont Fort without falling on my bottom.
My desire to complete the run was compounded by the fact we were skiing with former pro-snowboarder and BBC Ski Sunday commentator Ed Leigh.
Watching him shred the powder (I think that’s how they put it) almost made me want to ditch my skis and take to the snowboard, almost but not quite.
After a day’s skiing and snowboarding (never drop the “snow” or you will have Ed to answer to) we popped in for a taste of the famous Verbier apres ski at the Pub Montfort. I was surprised to be greeted by a voice shouting “Who’s from The Yorkshire Post? It’s the best newspaper in the world”. My fan club turned out to be the manager, Will, who hails from York where his parents still live. Pub Montfort isn’t expensive, around 6chf (£4) for a beer, less than some London pubs.
A trip to Verbier wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Le Farinet. Live bands, frantic dancing and jugs of beer on one side, exclusive VIP seating and cocktails on the other. Pixie Lott was spotted there on New Year’s Eve.
But even without a celebrity budget, Verbier has so much to offer if you can forget the hype. Skiing is expensive, full stop, but Verbier is no more expensive than many other Alpine resorts if you know where to look – and it is definitely worth looking.
General information at erbier.ch/en
Hotel A Lârze: rooms start from £83 per night (+41 027 776 17 10, alarze.ch).
Les Ruinettes: rooms start from £104 per room per night. (+41 027 771 19 79, lesruinettes.ch/en)
Flights: Return flights from London Heathrow to Geneva are available with SWISS from £65, swiss.com
Train: Return train transfers priced at 141 CHF (£98), myswitzerland.com.
Ski information: Skis hire from montagneshow.ch; An adult six-day pass is priced from £258. Altitude Ski and Snowboard School, +41 027 771 6006, altitude-verbier.com