Top 5 ski resorts in Europe for Christmas

Imagine waking up on Christmas morning, you cast a glance out of the bedroom window and lo and behold the world has turned white. Actually, it’s been white ever since you arrived in resort but it’s still nice to see the ‘snow on Christmas day’ box ticked. Choose any of the resorts below and it’s pretty much guaranteed that that will be the case. There’s something quite magical about being in a chichi ski resort in the mountains at Christmas. Snow plays a big part in the imagery but so do the cosy wood-clad Heidi chalets, the smoke wisps from the chimney’s from the open log fires, all redolent of childhood memories of the quintessential picture postcard festive season.

Zermatt

As Switzerland’s premier resort, Zermatt attracts visitors from all over the world, all year around. The skiing ranks amongst the very best to be found in the Alps. Zermatt lies in the Matter valley in South-Western Switzerland, almost on the border with Italy. It’s possible to ski over the border and lunch in Italy and many do. How about skiing over for some christmas pud? You could work off the calories on the way back.

At 1,620m Zermatt is the highest town in the valley, and though famed for the iconic Matterhorn mountain surprisingly this is not the highest peak. Zermatt is surrounded by 38 summits over 4,000m.
Zermatt is especially alluring at christmas and is steeped in history. Originally Zermatt was part of a farming valley. In the area next to the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof several old buildings show the traditional building style of the original Walser residents. Some of the old barns and grain stores in the resort are up to 500 years old. They’ve seen santa come and go many times.

At the northern side of Zermatt sits the exclusive ‘Petite Village’ with its collection of stunning chalets all lit by night to produce a fairytale scene. These chalets dot the mountain flank above Zermatt giving stunning views of the whole valley and village below. Church Square is the hub for most town events, including the Christmas Market and New Year’s Eve fireworks display.

As a car free town, one of Zermatt’s unique sights are the electric taxis and buses which transport both skiers and pedestrians from one sector of town to another, allowing you to explore the full area wherever you choose to stay. To be fair though, Zermatt is quite compact so you never have to walk that far. For the romantics among us there are also traditional horse drawn carriages and sleighs.

Lech

This old farming village developed into a ski resort in the early years of the 20th century and its amazing snow record means that it is always a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts. Lech drips old world charm and is the perfect venue for a festive season ski break. The village is very pretty and the centre is quite compact, with the main lifts to Zurs and to Oberlech easily accessible. Lech rightfully takes its place in the elite ‘Best of the Alps’ club of ski resorts. The chocolate box architecture and stunning views will take your breath away.

Lech and the neighbouring village of Zurs are found at the top of the high Flexen Valley and until the roads were built in the late 19th century, were cut off from the rest of the world. Lech is the larger village and is built along the banks of the river Lech, and it was originally known as Tannberg am Lech. Walser migrants who came over the mountains from Wallis in Switzerland founded the village in the 14th century.

The lift infrastructure and network of slopes on offer is of the highest order and most skiers and boarders will find something to suit.

Verbier

Visitors flock to Verbier from all over the world for the authentic Swiss charm, beautiful traditional ski chalets and the vibrant and buzzing town centre. Verbier is the perfect destination for an xmas vacation.
As with most Alpine ski resorts Verbier was originally a farming hamlet; when the first recorded attempt at skiing in Verbier took place in 1925 their companions were cows and some herdsmen who must have thought it a strange sight. It wasn’t until 1946 that the first lift system was installed, but it was the snow sport boom of the 1960’s that began to transform this small farming village into the world leading ski resort  that it is today. Verbier has a number of fascinating museums and galleries that are well worth visiting and display the journey that Verbier has taken from farming hamlet to international ski destination.

From Verbier’s high point at the top of Mont Fort (3330m) you will be treated to panoramic views across the Alps including the Matterhorn, Dom, Dent Blanche, Dent d’Hérens, Grand Combin and the Mont Blanc massif. As part of the Four Valleys ski domain you can ski Verbier, Nendaz, Veysonnaz, La Tzoumaz and Thyon under the one lift pass, with over 410 km of marked pistes.

Today accommodation in Verbier consists predominantly of traditional Swiss-styled chalets, but there are also a number of outstanding international hotels here including the stylish W Hotel, which opened its doors in 2013. A popular location is always the area between the Médran gondola, which is also the ski school meeting-place, and Place Centrale – and this is where most hotels are located.

There is another little pocket of chalets up next to the Savoleyres lift which boast beautiful views over Verbier and the valley below.

The quiet and exclusive ‘Plan Pra’ area of Verbier is always popular; only a few minutes drive from the main lift station and the buzz of the Place Centrale and also boasting stunning views over the village, also offering a real sense of privacy. Don’t worry if you’re like me and you always leave christmas present shopping until the last minute. There are many flag ship stores of high end brands to peruse and shops selling less expensive bits and bobs for stocking fillers.

Megeve

Megève – glamorous, chic, charming and so very French. This pretty medieval town was developed as a ski resort in the 1920’s as a response to Switzerland’s St Moritz and it has continued to be the resort of choice for the well-heeled French since then. The resort owes much of its early development to Baroness Noemie de Rothschild who felt that with its rolling pastures and pretty medieval centre it was ideal to compete with the Swiss ski resorts.

In 1925 architect Henry Jacques Le Meme moved to Mégève and one of his first commissions in early 1926 was to build Chalet Noemie for Baroness de Rothschild, which is now part of the Domaine Du Mont D’Arbois and is still owned by the Rothschild family. He took the design of a typical Savoyard farmhouse and transformed it into a more contemporary building and he was instrumental in setting the Megèvan style. Examples of his work can be seen all over the resort and his design has influenced many of the buildings in the area, resulting in a beautiful town.

Although the recent development has been linear along the valley road, the town centre built around the 14th century church is very compact and is very pretty. The town has an incredible number of smart shops, fine dining restaurants and chic hotels and chalets, making it an increasingly popular choice for a more international clientele and a great place to spend christmas.

The ski area is divided into three main sections – Mont d’Arbois, Le Jaillet and Rochebrune. The town is most directly linked to the Rochebrune sector and the other areas plus the villages of Combloux, St Nicolas de Veroce and La Giettaz are all linked by lifts or pistes.

Megève’s charming old centre is car-free and comes complete with open-air ice rink, horse-drawn sleighs, cobbled streets and a fine church. Lots of smart clothing, jewellery, antique, gift and food shops add to the chic atmosphere.

Val d’Isere

Arguably the most iconic of the French Alpine resorts, Val d’Isère has a lively and vibrant ambience, and carries itself well as one of Europe’s top ski destinations, with a fearsome reputation for its challenging black pistes and off-piste itineraries, and its buzzing après ski scene.Val d’Isère’s high altitude and links to glacier skiing make it a safe bet for early and late season skiing.

Historically a small farming hamlet providing accommodation for farmers grazing their animals on the high alpine pastures, the village developed first into a summer destination, before winter sports enthusiasts encouraged the development of the ski resort we know today. Less than 5 km from the border of Italy, and on the border of the Vanoise National Park, Val d’Isère is for the most part now a traditional-looking alpine village, nestled between the famously steep sides of the Isère Valley.

Val d’Isère lies at the far end of the steep Isère Valley, at the farthest end of the larger Tarentaise Valley region where you will find the biggest concentration of world class ski resorts in the world. Alpine skiing began here in the 1930’s, and was later linked into the neighbouring ski resort of Tignes, to form the extensive Espace Killy ski domain.

In the 1960’s the resort’s architecture took a turn for the worse with high-rise buildings and apartment blocks. Luckily thanks largely to the 1992 Albertville Olympics bringing the men’s downhill events to Val d’Isère improvements were made to the look of the resort, and many of the high rise buildings were slowly changed into buildings reflecting traditional design and using local materials, leaving us with the pretty resort we know today.

The development of Val d’Isère was largely thanks to three people; Mr Charles Diebold and Parisians Mr & Mrs Jacques Mouflier, led by local Mayor Nicolas Bazile, who strongly believed in the resort’s potential. With the construction of more reliable roads and access to the resort (including the pass over the Col de L’Iseran) the winter sports market grew apace. In addition to the ‘beautification’ of the resort carried out in the run up to the 1992 Olympics there is also now a strictly-enforced no parking policy in the town centre; roads are left snow covered and mature trees line the route where cars once parked, much improving the winter wonderland feel of the resort. The iconic church of Saint Bernard de Menthon was built in 1664 and is undoubtedly the most charming feature of the resort, forming a central focal point around which the town has developed.

Danny Frith is Director at SkiBoutique. SkiBoutique is a luxury ski chalet agency based in Switzerland.

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Comments (8)

  1. Jen says:

    I can almost hear “Last Christmas” playing in the background. These scenes are all SO Wham. I can imagine a youthful George Michael gambolling through the snow with his collection of supermodel blondes. When do I fly?

  2. Caroline Bartlett says:

    Very rarely do we have an account of how ski resorts developed which makes this a fascinating post. The quality of these pictures makes me think that you could have a wonderful coffee table glossy book on the history of Europe’s great ski resorts.

  3. John says:

    Hi, maybe you should also take a look at Arachova on Mount Parnassos in Greece.

  4. Cara L. says:

    This almost makes me want to plan a holiday in the alps. While most people would run away from all the snow and cold weather, I want to experience a storybook Christmas with all the trimmings. I would definitely keep these beautiful towns in mind. Val d’Isere most especially.

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