Say the name Verbier and you will conjure up images of expert skiers, snowboarders and paragliders soaring through the rarefied air of the snow-kissed Alps. And let’s not forget the partying. The Swiss resort boasts what many veterans of the slopes argue is the best après-ski in the world. So, surely the 410km of pistes, the bars, the restaurants and the night life must come at a hefty price. Well, not necessarily. You can have it all for a lot less.
Start by taking a short ride on the gondola down the mountain side to Le Châble. Despite being only minutes away from the action, the village takes a softer approach to life on the ice. English is still widely spoken down here, but Le Châble has a more authentic Swiss feel. Nowhere will you experience better the warmth of Swiss hospitality than at the chalet-style Hôtel A Lârze, where I stayed.
Small and cosy, the hotel is so new that you can still smell the larch wood after which the hotel is named in the local dialect. Nor will staying there break the bank. At just CHF120 in the low season, and CHF160 in the high, it’s a snip compared to the pricier options higher up. There’s even a sanarium (a type of sauna) in which to sooth those aching muscles after a hard day’s skiing.
Rested and refreshed, it was time to head out into the village for dinner. At the traditional L’Escale restaurant, you can gorge yourself on the famous dish, raclette, where the side of an enormous half of the cheese is heated and scraped off onto your plate like a decadent hot yellow avalanche to be scooped up with bread and potatoes.
Or if you fancy traditional Swiss dining with a modern twist, swing by Brasserie 1. My dry-aged Swiss pork loin, confit belly and cider-braised cheek combined succulence with deep, rich flavours, while the accompanying apple and green olive salsa gave the dish an added tang. That was washed down with a few glasses of inky-red Cornalin, a local grape type, and followed with a cheeky nightcap of Williamine – the Swiss eau de vie made from pears.
Then it was up bright and early to hit the slopes. Verbier is best known for its expert runs, which only the very best or suicidal of skiers should go anywhere near. But, in fact, the resort has slopes suitable for all levels, including complete beginners like me. So it was just as well that my fabulous Swedish instructor, Sofie from the Altitude ski and snowboard school, was the epitome of patience and never stopped smiling despite my woeful attempts to stay upright.
After lunch, what began as a quick coffee with Sofie to wait out an admittedly short-lived gondola malfunction turned into an afternoon whiled away on bean bags outside the quirky Le Dahu restaurant and bar, enjoying stunning views of the mountains. Although the thermometer read sub-freezing, it was rendered meaningless by the hot, bright sun that we watched slowly sink beneath the peaks, casting the faces of the mountains into glistening whites and yellows, set against a darkening blue sky.
So, while you can choose to spend lavishly or modestly in the Verbier area, for me, the very best of what the Swiss Alps has to offer is all around you. And it is free.
One for party animals
If all-night partying is more your scene, head to the Hotel Farinet in the heart of Verbier. Singer Pixie Lott spent New Year’s in the swanky Lounge Bar, sampling its impressive range of cocktails. On the other side of the glass wall, the hedonistic partying goes on well into the early hours. The roof even retracts to let in the snow.
Upstairs, the newly refurbished bedrooms (pictured) offer boutique modern luxury, with views on the Petit Combin mountain and the valley below. If you’re feeling flush, stay in the penthouse suite for CHF1,350 a night. It comes with its own private sauna. Hotel Farinet is perfect for fun-loving couples. Just be sure to leave the kids behind.