There’s nothing like cold crisp air to make you feel alive. Even it you don’t ski often or well, you still feel healthy on a ski weekend break, even after eating tons of tartiflette and cheese fondue. It’s clomping through snow and all the other wintery activities that invigorate you and make you feel revitalized. The resort of Val Thorens has gone one step further in making sure you are keeping well. This season they have launched their My Serenity program, highlighting all the other things you can do in Val Thorens to look after yourself, your wellness and your wellbeing.
The resort of Val Thorens in the French Alps is the highest ski resort in the whole of Europe at 2300 m. Purpose built in the 1970’s to take advantage of the best ski conditions, Val Thorens was seen as the hippy cousin to its posh relatives Meribel and Courchevel. Its modern, hurried architecture felt a bit stuck in the past, but in the last few years, it has developed into a luxury skiers’ paradise.
Getting to Val Thorens
Getting to Val Thorens can be easy if the road is clear. Driving with First Exclusive Transfer, you can always feel secure in making the journey of two and half hours from Geneva airport. The owner has been living in Val Thorens for sixteen years, so his team is used to driving on ice and snow. Needless to say, the cars are all 4 x 4s!
Starting off the Wellness Weekend in Style
The Hotel Pashmina is the epicenter of My Serenity program. At check-in, you are handed hot apple cider served in a heated silver mug by the friendly, Alpine-clad staff – an inviting welcome drink after a snowy journey. Virginie, the wellness coach, is on hand to greet every guest and outline all the activities that you can take advantage during your stay.
We were led upstairs past the dedicated L’Occitane spa, the bar, and the restaurants to our wonderful junior suite, overlooking the mountain, the slopes and all the snow. One of my favorite scents, L’Occitane’s Lemon Verbena, was wafting through the room, and I almost didn’t want to leave. Even a gorgeous box of fresh clementines was left in the room for us to enjoy!
After unpacking, you can head down to arrange ski rental, which is conveniently found on the ground floor of the hotel, so there is no need to go outside.
Pre and Post Skiing Wellness
Everyone in the hotel can take advantage of pre-ski yoga in the morning. The first one at 7:00am is really the one to schedule, as it’s hard not to fall in love with Val Thorens while watching the sun rising over the mountains. There is also a class at 8:15am for those not so enthusiastic. After the ski day was over, she gives another super-relaxing, evening stretch class in a candle-lit, cocoon-like room, making you ready for the sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi in the spa.
Virginie is present at restaurant for breakfast to make sure you don’t miss the “corner bien-être” including homemade jams, all different dairy options, seeds, nuts, and honey. What a relief to see the same unsweetened soya I use in my tea back home – a rare find in any hotel. I also was thrilled to discover bircher muesli, one of my favs, and here I could dash it with spirulina, bee pollen, and loads of other rich antioxidants.
Qi Gong and Skiing
Having started skiing too late in life to be a natural, I never go without an instructor. One wellness activity I had to try was a morning of Qi Gong and Skiing! QI Gong is a gentle form of exercise designed to move energy around the body in slow conscious movements. For anyone who is slightly fearful of skiing, I highly suggest it. Caroline, who leads the classes, starts the session off with a series of Qi Gong exercises before hitting the slopes. She adds a few exercises on the chair lift as well and, as you’re finishing up for the day, ending the day with Qi Gong.
Say no to fondue??
You think after four hours of skiing that you deserve a hearty lunch and you would be right, but that doesn’t mean it has to be bad for you. A new vegetarian restaurant, Supernova, has opened in town. Pressing fresh juices and cooking up homemade, delicious filling fare, Supernova was packed with ruddy-cheeked snowboarders when we arrived. The crusty, in a good way, lasagna and green salad with a beetroot, apple and ginger chaser hits the spot and then you can be off for more skiing.
Try to arrive in Val Thorens on a Thursday so you can catch the outdoor market! All the produce is local – big wheels of Savoyard Reblochon and Beaufort cheese, Génèpi flavored sausages, honey and homemade nougat – perfect to eat now or take home as reminders of a great weekend.
If you miss the market, go right in town to the wonderful La Belle en Cuisse for all your cheese and sausage needs.
Wellness comes in many forms – from your interior to your exterior. The prettiest spas in town are at the Hotel Pashmina and the Pure Altitude Spa at the Altapura Hotel. Make sure you treat yourself to a signature facial at the Altapura. I had tried the Pure Altitude products while in their sister hotel in Chamonix and was desperate to see the spa here. Cold air dries out the skin and, after a few days, it can feel like paper. After more than an hour in their hands, your skin will be back to normal and you will feel as relaxed as humanly possible. Don’t forget to bring your bathing suit as the indoor/outdoor pool has a fabulous view over the area.
I’m of the thinking that once you add alcohol and sugar to a drink you can no longer use the term ‘wellness” to describe it, still, you can’t get more local than the Pashmina’s Head Bartender’s creation, Le Petit Marsellais, a combination of Tanqueray 10, lemon juice and verbena syrup. Younes Bahir, my guest on A Lush Life Manual, took the verbena from the garden of the grandmother of the owner of the Hotel Pashmina as inspiration. It tastes like pure summer and has to be good for you, right?
Going off-Piste – slightly
I swear that I am telling you the truth when I say that I hate driving in London – the bikers, the uber drivers, etc. all make for an obstacle course that I try to avoid. So what was the first thing I signed up for in Val Thorens – you guessed it. Ice Driving.
Grab the wheel and, for the next ten minutes, you will be swerving and swaying all over the place. It was such a blast and, led by my trusty instructor, I was told I was a natural. Not technically a wellness activity, but a great skill to have especially if you live in a snowy, icy part of the world. After this year, we know that the UK can be included as one of those places.
Keeping check on your wellness, doesn’t mean you can’t eat well…just in moderation. If want your tartiflette, fondue, onion soup, I would recommend La Maison in the middle of the resort. It’s defiantly the chicest place in town to have traditional Savoyard fare. Sit on the terrace if the sun is out or, as we did, dine in the cosy, yet light, multi-level dining room that has windows overlooking the slopes. Don’t miss the furry chandeliers!
For food connoisseurs and those who want something other than the usual mountain offerings, Les Explorateurs in the Hotel Pashmina earned a Michelin star, thanks to the geniuses of Chef Josselin Jeanblanc and Chef Consultant Romuald Fassasnet. We dined on snails with mushrooms with grilled polenta crumble; blue lobster roasted with yellow, carrot purée, Yuzu sauce and “vin jaune” from the Jura region; and ended the meal with the scrumptious duo of apples with vanilla all the way from tiny Reunion Island! A feast for the eyes as well as the tummy!
For the polar opposite, but just as satisfying an experience, we ended our wellness weekend at the locals’ favorite hamburger place, Crewzer. Tiny and packed, we were lucky to get two seats at the bar and watch Zim (from Zimbabwe – his home country) flip burgers all night until the crowds went home. Then he sat with us until we closed the place, talking lovingly of why he has returned to Val Thorens every year for past ten years, scrolling through photos of him snowboarding his way down the mountain.
A few other restaurants shouldn’t be missed if you have the time – Alpen Art and Restaurant La Pause de Pierrette!
Just remember that “looking at a pleasing natural landscape reduces cardiac rhythm – reducing the effects of stress in a matter of minutes,” according to the My Serenity pamphlet. I think Zim is onto something!
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