The team of South African journos of which I was a part looked uniformly crest fallen as we ascended higher into the mountains in our little bus. There was no sign of snow in the surrounding valleys or on the higher peaks and the bleak, rocky outcrops jarred with our preconceived notions of a romantic, wintry French landscape. It was early morning in December and we’d just been picked up from Geneva International Airport for the launch of the new Club Med ski resort, Val Thorens Sensations, in the Trois Vallees ski region of France.
The season was early, we had been warned, and had to date been unusually warm. Suddenly, the driver rounded a corner, and miracle of miracles, a winter wonderland unfolded before our eyes. Thank goodness for modern technology and snow machines. A few days of solid snow a week before our arrival combined with the nifty gadgets that use a combination of water and pressurised air to create the soft powder meant that every surface was covered in a pleasing blanket of white.
Club Med Val Thorens Sensations is a part of Val Thorens, a resort town that caters predominantly to the ski holiday trade in the colder months, although it is also popular in the summer season. Strict building regulations mean that the town is uniformly quaint and every structure conforms to the European log cabin trope. The hotel itself is situated conveniently close to all the popular ski passes and makes use of expanses of glass in its design to make the most of the sweeping views of the surrounding mountain ranges.
Interior designer Sophie Jacqmin’s interpretation of the classic ski lodge is
definitively modern. Neon pink accents adorn the public areas, combined with soft pale pine, distinctive light fittings and boldly patterned wallpaper. Jacqmin’s quirky style is exemplified by the full-scale climbing wall that
occupies the far wall of the hotel lobby. After a day of rather awkward beginner-style shuffling around on the snow outside the hotel, our group decided to get adventurous and try the green-rated slopes higher up the mountain.
Ski slopes are assigned colours that denote difficulty levels, and green is pretty much the easiest slope you can tackle, with wide routes and low angles of descent. I would recommend making the trip up the ski lifts if for nothing but the incredible vistas that open before your eyes as you ascend into the mountains.
The glaciers and mountains were breath-takingly beautiful, with the ice, snow and clear aquamarine skies evoking a panorama worthy of a kitsch curio shop
postcard. It was magical. Ski and winter sport enthusiasts the world over dream
of spending a few days in the renowned Trois Vallees. The permanently-on-holiday resort vibe permeates the town and people are friendly and welcoming.
Book a trip even if you’ve never set foot in skis before. It’s worth it if only for the sheer pleasure of laughing at yourself after your second fall in as many minutes and for the natural beauty of this most seductive area of France.
Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the evening song and dance performance given by Club Med’s “Gentil Organisateurs” or GOs, the term used to refer to the members of staff employed by the hotel. These quirky shows are notorious for their use of synchronised dancing and flamboyant costumes. Our team was treated to a performance inspired by Felix Baumgartner’s plunge from a helium-filled balloon in the upper atmosphere in 2012 in a bid to break the world skydiving record.
Club Med is well known for the abundance of cuisine on offer almost 24 hours a day and Val Thorens is no different. The spacious dining rooms on the ground floor are structured to facilitate an open and friendly dining atmosphere. Choose to mingle with your fellow diners at larger tables or grab one of the two-seaters positioned within one of the cute yurts in the middle of the dining
room, built to resemble the traditional houses of the Mongolian people.
If you’re looking for something a bit more special, then the Epicurious Lounge is where you need to be. Local Michelin star-rated chef Edouard Loubet proudly incorporates the best seasonal ingredients into his dishes, creating new inventions and putting a spin on time honoured recipes. On our final day, we enjoyed a delicious beef stew and a squid dish with a vinegar dressing.
HITTING THE SLOPES
Club Med Val Thorens allows you to master the art of skiing in an unintimidating and supportive environment, with the help of their master ski instructors from the highly regarded École du Ski Français. Our instructors, Elisa van Stappen and Gaelle Nachon, were infinitely patient with us at every stage and possessed that all-important sense of humour crucial to good teaching. Elisa regaled us with tales of chasing the seasons from one Club Med resort to another. She is skilled not only in teaching skiing, but also scuba diving and snorkelling and so travels from one resort to another all over the world, where her services are needed.
We all listened to her rather jealously after a particularly long day on the slopes, waiting for the transfer bus to take us back to the hotel while a light dusting of snow fell from above, the first real snowflakes that we had seen since our arrival. As part of their flexi-ski programme, the club also allows you to book your ski equipment online in advance of your stay. In ideal conditions and after a few days of snow, you should be able to strap on your skis in the ski room, and simply jet out the door to the nearest ski lift. Ski programmes are included as part of your overall package when booking your trip.
Airfrance KLM offers superb Business Class seating that ensures you arrive at your destination refreshed and rejuvenated. The airline flies out from OR Tambo in Johannesburg seven days a week, connecting to Geneva International Airport through Charles de Gaulle. From Geneva, expect a few hours’ transit via bus or rental car through the picturesque countryside to Club Med Val Thorens.