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Discovering the French-Swiss Alps

February 6, 2014 Leave a comment
The Portes du Soleil ski area is also home to the Chavanette or the Swiss Wall, a one-kilometre ‘orange’ (more difficult than black) ski run with a vertical drop of 331 metres starting at 2,151 metres above sea level.

The Portes du Soleil ski area is also home to the Chavanette or the Swiss Wall, a one-kilometre ‘orange’ (more difficult than black) ski run with a vertical drop of 331 metres starting at 2,151 metres above sea level.

This area of the French-Swiss Alps, was once undiscovered. Today, it’s part of the massive Portes du Soleil skiing area, which combines parts of France and Switzerland and, yes, like its name suggests, it’s sunny.

Click here to read the full article published in the Sunday Times, February 9, 2014.

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On top of the world

January 13, 2014 Leave a comment
The only way to Hotel Plein Ciel in winter is via cable car and then through the snow on foot or by ski.

The only way to Hotel Plein Ciel in winter is via cable car and then through the snow on foot or by ski.

Perched high up at 1,800 meters in the Chablais Alps, lounging on a deck chair soaking up the sun’s rays with 360-degree panoramic views of the Dents du Midi (Teeth of the South) and Dents Blanches (White Teeth), it’s easy to understand why Hitler built his Eagle’s Nest high in the peaks above Berchtesgaden, Germany, and why Bavaria’s ‘mad’ König Ludwig had ambitious plans to build his last residence at Falkenstein.

In the Alps it’s all about the feeling of being on top of the world and far away from cellphones, wifi and civilization. I feel completely removed from the outside world bar the occasional jet stream overhead reminding me that I’m just a stone’s throw away from Geneva’s international airport as the crow flies. Besides the occasional jet engine, there’s little sound apart from the circles of ravens and the odd eagle gliding effortlessly above and the dim sound of a ski lift and a whish of skis. The only way for humans to get here in winter is by cable car from Champéry.

The former cable car station is now the Hotel Plein Ciel, perched on an 1,800-meter-high mountain top overlooking the town of Champéry.

The former cable car station is now the Hotel Plein Ciel, perched on an 1,800-meter-high mountain top overlooking the town of Champéry.

Looking at the old cable car perched on the mountain top outside the Hotel Plein Ciel at Planachaux, 1,924 meters high in the French part of the Swiss Alps, it’s a reminder that getting to the top wasn’t always as easy as today with the super-modern cable car that can carry 125 passengers up in just six minutes. This area of the French Swiss Alps, bordering France, was once undiscovered. Today, it’s part of the massive Portes du Soleil skiing area which combines parts of France and Switzerland and, yes, like its name suggests it’s sunny. This is also home to the Chavanette or the Swiss Wall, a one-kilometer ‘orange’ (more difficult than black) ski run with a vertical drop of 331 meters starting at 2,151 meters above sea level.
The Hotel Plein Ciel is a gem of a find. Many chalets and hotels in the Alps claim to be perched on mountain tops but when you arrive turn out to be in a village with the mountains as a backdrop. This place actually lives up to its website promises.

To get there is a bit of confusion (we are in the French part of Switzerland after all where ‘la confusion’ from its bigger neighbor seems to have flowed across the border!) but once you’ve discovered where to park your car, leave your luggage and rent your skis you can settle down and enjoy a magnificent trip by cable car up the mountain. What makes this place feel like a real adventure is that you can only reach it by cable car and after 5 pm the hotel is completely inaccessible in winter. So, once you’re there for the night, there’s no chance to leave. When you disembark from the cable car, you can either brave the 15-minute trek on foot down to the hotel (as you soak up the views, the chances of slipping are quite high!) or ski your way down in just five minutes.

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Stunning 360-degree views of the Dents du Midi and the Dents Blanches in the French Swiss Alps.

The hotel itself is super-cozy and homely with spectacular views and friendly staff who lend an informal relaxed vibe to the place. In the dining room, there’s a fireplace to gather around and make new friends and plenty of reading material (only in French), board games and a billiards table. If you’ve been out on the slopes all day, you can warm up in the sauna before dinner which is a very laid-back affair. It’s a good idea to take the half-board package which includes a set three-course menu. On the evening we stayed there was tartare of smoked omble chevalier (a local ‘noble’ fish from Lake Geneva), duck and a delicious lemon tart. If you don’t eat anything on the menu, the chef will offer you an alternative. During the day, try Marcel’s cheese fondue or a planchette (wooden board with cheese or meat) on the spectacular rooftop wooden terrace to soak up the mountain views and sun. It’ll be hard to drag yourself back to the ski slopes.

All in all, Hotel Plein Ciel is the perfect get-away-from-it-all weekend escape in the French Swiss Alps, for skiers and non-skiers alike.

In the area:

Les Bains du Val-d’Illiez: large indoor and outdoor thermal bath fed by three springs which are rich in sulphur, calcium and magnesium set in the valley below Champéry and surrounded by the mountains.
Portes du Soleil ski area: covers 12 resorts in Champéry and Les Crosets in Switzerland and Morgins and Champoussin in France.
To get to Hotel Plein Ciel and Planachaux: Access via the cable car to Planachaux at Champéry which is approx one hour from Geneva.

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