I would call myself a competent skier, not wholly confident but can get down a red slope with the right encouragement. I have always and only ever been skiing with my other half and their family to the wide slopes of Kvitfjell in Norway, where the local primary school children can ski better than they can run or walk.
The allure of Courmayeur beckoned earlier this year, as I took a group press trip in January. I had heard from colleagues about the incredible food and wine, the glistening slopes of Val Veny and Val Ferret, and a traditional village centre, where the majority of all businesses are owned by friendly locals.
Upon arrival at Geneva airport, we were whisked away in a transfer, past Chamonix and through the Mont Blanc tunnel before heading towards the sunny side of Mont Blanc. Sunny though, it was not. We arrived in a blizzard, delighted but also apprehensive about the sheer amount of snowfall that had no sign of stopping. We were welcomed to a traditional alpine hotel, draped in fairy lights and covered in snow. We hauled our cases into the newly renovated Hotel Gran Baita and checked into our rooms – cosy and traditional in feel yet complete with modern amenities a seasoned traveller has come to expect. Contemporary, yet exuding traditional alpine charm, we left the rooms and headed to the lobby to sit by the fire for a welcome aperitivo. Apres ski here is low-key, taking the form of ‘aperitivo’, with glasses of Italian wine and meats and cheese from the Aosta valley by the fire. We were then welcomed to the hotel’s restaurant, La Sapiniere, where we dined by candlelight on boar ragu, gnocchi and tartiflette – there was no doubt we were in the mountains now.
After a good night’s sleep, we woke to the continuous pounding of snowfall. It looked, for a short while, that skiing might be off the cards.As the morning went on, the snow lightened and we were able to head to the slopes for a few hours of skiing. The slopes were quiet, but the powder was deep, which made for some heavy-going for the less-experienced skiers in the group. We marvelled at the views and enjoyed a few runs before heading to La Chaumiere for our first slope-side lunch. The mountain cabin was rustic and cosy, serving hearty Italian fare and of course, exceptional wine. We sat whilst sipping bombardinos and sampling fresh pasta and salads, recuperating from a morning of digging ourselves out of the powder.
Bellies full, we enjoyed a few more runs before taking the cable car back down to the town and heading to the hotel. We had some downtime, relaxing in the spa and making use of the steam and sauna, jacuzzi and outdoor pool. Tonight’s dinner was supposed to begin with a night-time skiddu, but due to the visibility, it wasn’t possible. We headed to a local restaurant, Brasserie D’Entreves, instead, run by an Italian Nonna who welcomed us with open arms and served us tartiflette and more local wine. We dined that night the Italian way, coming together in a group and sitting around a table chatting and mingling, sharing a meal with new-found friends and sampling some of the best wine in Italy. Dishes here are simple, but cooked with the freshest local ingredients with historic recipes that are incredibly delicious, and unlike anything I have tried before (despite living in the cultural melting pot that is London).
The next day, the snow had stopped and the clouds had cleared, to give us the most beautiful, glistening views of Mont Blanc. We were all desperate to get our skis on and experience the slopes at their very best, having been bashed the night before. We gulped down some breakfast and made a break for the transfer to take us to the cable car. Enjoying panoramic views of the mountains, the skiing was incredible. We enjoyed different runs, being taken to different areas of the resort by our guides and sampling mostly the red slopes. There are no moguls here, which I am particularly delighted by.
Another slope side lunch awaited us at Chaueau Branlant, and I was excited to try their pasta of the day, with a glass of wine by the fire and my feet up after some hard runs! We spent some more time in the sunshine on the terrace, sipping Aperol Spritz before heading out for our final runs.
That evening, we were headed to one of the town’s best restaurants, La Terrazza, where I had one of the best meals of my life – genuinely. Aosta bleu risotto to start was followed by filet of ‘Fassone’ beef with a truffled mushroom cream. All washed down with local wine (as was the theme of the trip), our last dinner together was simply perfect, and very much needed after a long day soaking in fresh mountain air and skiing hard!
On our last day, we headed to Skyway Monte Bianco – a state-of-the-art cableway connecting the Italian Alps to the French with its highest point at 3,446 metres. We took the car up to the Pavilion, alongside a military group with lots of overnight camping gear, who proceeded to sing songs the entire way to the top – our guide suggested they were a mountain troop, training in the mountains and getting themselves psyched up for hurling themselves off the top. She was true to her word, and as we reached the pavilion and admiring the views from the warm indoors, each member of the troop proceeded to ski off the tip of the mountain. A much less relaxing activity than the group we saw snowshoeing across the glacier to Mont Blanc. We also toured the exhibition that tells of the history of the resort, and the cable car as well as the future of Skyway. Skyway is the first company to propose an environmentally sustainable research project to preserve the Mont Blanc glacier, clean up after extensive construction in 2015 and intends to analyse recent activity results in order to implement an achievable action plan with a clear social and environmental focus. This includes utilising green-certified supplies, reducing waste volume, eco-energy sources and emissions, water and eventually, developing a green consortium.
As we headed back down the cable car to the base, we waved goodbye to the white mountains and hopped into our transfer – heading for the airport. The visit is one I remember fondly, and will return to time and time again for the exceptional food and wine, local hospitality and views that never get old.