FROM SUR­REY TO

When a Farn­ham cou­ple em­barked on a build­ing project in the Alps, they turned what was once a 17th cen­tury farm­house into a lux­ury ski chalet right be­low Mont Blanc. Rebecca Younger paid a visit

Surrey Life - - Lifestyle -

The moun­tain re­gions sur­round­ing Mont Blanc are a Mecca for skiers dur­ing the win­ter but there is more to the Alps than ski­ing – as Farn­ham cou­ple Ed and Anna Hur­ley dis­cov­ered when they em­barked on a Grand De­signs- style project in Sain­tGer­vais-les-bains.

Hav­ing owned an apart­ment in the small French spa town for a num­ber of years, in De­cem­ber 2014 the cou­ple de­cided to up­scale their liv­ing ar­range­ments and launch a new catered ‘ski chalet’ busi­ness.

Ed and Anna could have sim­ply pur­chased one of the ready-made chalets in the area and move straight in but they had a very clear vi­sion of what they wanted their ‘new home’ to be like and so de­cided to cre­ate their own – trans­form­ing a tra­di­tional alpine farm­house into a lux­u­ri­ous, six-bed­room moun­tain es­cape.

The project took two years to com­plete, with lo­cal crafts­men car­ry­ing out the work, but it wasn’t as smooth run­ning as they had hoped. “There were lots of ob­sta­cles to over­come along the way,” says Anna. “We had hoped the orig­i­nal foun­da­tions of the build­ing would be enough but they weren’t so we had to dig down fur­ther.”

Just weeks be­fore the Hur­leys were due to un­veil the fin­ished project to 22 mem­bers of their friends and fam­ily for a spe­cial Christ­mas get to­gether in De­cem­ber 2016, there were still no win­dows. As Ed ex­plains: “In the end we had to drive to Italy to ex­plain to the win­dow com­pany how im­por­tant it was that we had the glass in be­fore Christ­mas. A few days later the frames ar­rived but there was still no glass! There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing but even­tu­ally it came, along with the glass for the stair­case and mez­za­nine balustrade, which my fa­ther in-law and I were still fit­ting the day be­fore our guests ar­rived!”

The re­sult is sim­ply breath-tak­ing. From the out­side, the chalet may well look sim­i­lar to other chalets dot­ted across the moun­tain­ous land­scape of St Ger­vais but step in­side and you’ll be blown away by the flaw­less de­sign and im­mac­u­late at­ten­tion to de­tail.

It was im­por­tant to Ed and Anna that they re­tained as much of the orig­i­nal ma­te­rial as pos­si­ble. Con­se­quently, most of the wood and other fea­ture work (such as the rus­tic brick­work in the en­trance hall) are from the orig­i­nal farm­house so it’s still got that tra­di­tional cosy Alpine lodge feel – with a com­fort­ing oak aroma to boot – but with lux­u­ri­ous, con­tem­po­rary touches, such as un­der­floor heat­ing and a Sonos mu­sic sys­tem.

There’s an amaz­ing first floor open-plan liv­ing area, with stylish kitchen fea­tur­ing no less than two dish­wash­ers, and a large cen­tral is­land to gather around for predin­ner drinks, while the din­ing room has a long, oak din­ing ta­ble which can seat 14.

In the lounge, a modern fire­place – com­plete with stag’s head above and plenty of comfy seat­ing – helps add to the cosy, home-from-home feel, while floor-to-ceil­ing glaz­ing of­fers prime views across the sur­round­ing moun­tain ranges of Aravis, Fiz and mighty Mont Blanc. There’s also a snug on the mez­za­nine floor, where you can watch TV should you – un­likely – get bored of the views, or step out­side to the ad­join­ing bal­cony and see if you can spot any climbers scal­ing the sur­round­ing moun­tain ranges.

Each of the six bed­rooms (two on the ground floor and four on the up­per floors) is en suite but the mas­ter suite on the mez­za­nine floor, which we were for­tu­nate to stay in, is the piece de re­sis­tance; the open plan bath­room has a huge free­stand­ing bath and there’s also a pri­vate south-fac­ing bal­cony.

Ed and Anna are real food­ies and so meal­times are a fo­cal point of any stay at Ski Chalet Mont Blanc. Anna, who has trained with Dav­ina and Rachel Allen at Bal­ly­maloe Cook­ery School in Cork, Ire­land, and Ash­bur­ton in Devon, cre­ates tan­ta­lis­ing menus, which are shared with guests and al­tered to their tastes be­fore

ar­rival. Af­ter­noon tea is served ev­ery day with a home-baked cake and on the first evening guests are treated to a Cham­pagne and canapé re­cep­tion.

While tra­di­tional Alpine menus can be served in the evenings, Anna loves cook­ing Mid­dle East­ern food, in­spired by her favourite chef, Yo­tam Ot­tolenghi. Ei­ther way, ev­ery­thing has to be lo­cal. We sam­pled dishes in­clud­ing beet­root and ap­ple soup with spiced seeds; Mediter­ranean salmon en croute with tomato pesto sauce, lemon and olive oil mash; chicken shawarma with but­ter­nut squash and tahini, bul­gar wheat, cu­cum­ber and red onion salsa and zhoug; and pas­sion fruit par­fait with pas­sion fruit ice cream and coconut caramel – all were equally de­li­cious.

Each three-course meal ends with cheese from La Ferme des Roches Fleuries, a fam­ily-run lo­cal farm, which we were priv­i­leged enough to visit and view the cheese-mak­ing process dur­ing our stay.

MORE THAN JUST SNOW While the chalet is, of course, a prime spot to base a ski break (the near­est ski lift is only five min­utes away and the iconic ski re­sorts of Megeve, Cha­monix and Les Con­tamines are all within 15 min­utes), vis­it­ing out­side of the ski sea­son, as we did, pro­vides the ex­cuse to ex­pe­ri­ence St Ger­vais’ other at­trac­tions.

You can swim in the ‘heal­ing’ wa­ters of St Ger­vais’ fa­mous 200-year-old ther­mal parc at Le Fayet, take a trip on The Mont Blanc Tramway to the Bion­nas­say glacier, or sim­ply soak up the 19th cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture and watch the world go by at one of the many restau­rants which flow out onto the town square. We loved Brasserie du Mont Blanc, for its huge burg­ers and spe­cial­ity moun­tain dishes, and Le Serac Bistro (sis­ter restau­rant of the Miche­lin­starred Le Serac] for its ex­cel­lent value set menu and mes­meris­ing dessert counter.

There are plenty of walks to suit a range of fit­ness abil­i­ties. One of the more ac­ces­si­ble routes we walked took in the pretty Notre Dame De La Gorge Church, while an­other, more chal­leng­ing walk, saw us climb to 1365ft to visit the high­est gin dis­tillery in Europe.

Run by Scot James Ab­bott (if his ac­cent doesn’t give it away then his kilt def­i­nitely will), Distillerie Saint Ger­vais sits in an unas­sum­ing old don­key shed on the side of a moun­tain. Its pro­duce, Le Gin, is dis­tilled, bot­tled, la­belled and of­ten de­liv­ered solely by the in­cred­i­bly eco-con­scious James, who sticks la­bels on with don­key milk and has ren­o­vated his hut en­tirely with re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als.

James, who worked with ‘gin guru’ Tom Ni­chol to per­fect his recipe for the spirit (and even named the still ‘Brave Tom’ in his hon­our) has plans for a larger site in the val­ley to even­tu­ally in­cor­po­rate a whisky dis­tillery but for now, here is the only place you will get to see James pas­sion­ately go about his work.

The route is by no means easy but well worth it and a soak in the hot tub back at Ski Chalet Mont Blanc – the back­drop of the moun­tains and a ‘Le Gin & tonic’ pro­vid­ing much-wel­comed com­pany – is enough to re­pair those aching mus­cles.

While Saint Ger­vais Les Bains has been on the tourist map for decades, with the help of Ed and Anna, you’ll get to scratch be­neath the sur­face and find there’s much more to this place than meets the eye.

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