27th July 2018
Wild strawberries, emerald slopes and warm mountain air – ‘There’s more to the Alps than skiing,’ says Ellie Smith
There are few things that rival the awe-inspiring power of the mountains, but in the golden afternoon light, engrossed in the careful watering of his hand-planted carrots, chef Anthony Bisquerra is unstirred by his alpine office. Peeking behind the rolling hills of Megève, the powdery tip of Mont Blanc gazes on as he nourishes the produce that helped earn his restaurant its first Michelin star. It’s a true picture of quality. As you wander through the chic-yet-subtle chalets of Alpaga – one of Les Hotels d’en Haut’s five-star locations – you can capture this image at every turn.
We stayed in a deluxe room, a sunlit haven nestled in the heart of the lazy, green hamlet. The smell of fresh pine drifts through the air and sweetens everything from the king-sized bed to the eco-friendly toiletries, specifically designed to be refillable instead of disposable. On the table, propped against a bottle of complementary blueberry juice, was our first taste of just how family-friendly Alpaga is – a voucher inviting children to redeem a sweet treat, or a ‘goûter’ as it’s better known in France. Kids can visit the bar themselves to claim their surprise. Skipping with an excited independence, vouchers clutched in hand, they begin to revel in the joyous freedom of holiday life.
Sweet treats aside, little stomachs are well looked after at the restaurants, too. As we indulged in our al fresco lunch, the family next to us savoured their own, with their cheerful two-year-old sitting proudly at the table in true French fashion. The kids’ menu is enough to delight even the fussiest of taste buds. Featuring the meat or fish of the day and a sophisticated selection of pastas, each dish is crafted with the same calibre of local ingredients as their adult counterparts.
It’s at the table that this hotel really shines. With Chef Bisquerra hand-selecting some of the finest locally-grown seasonal produce, restaurants l’Onyx and La Table construct what can only be described as culinary masterpieces. Vibrant salads are dotted expertly with herbs from the hotel garden, while a rich rice pudding is sprinkled with tangy alpine strawberries. The philosophy is that simple, unhurried food generates excellence. The proof is in the pudding. And the mains, and the starters, and the appetizers, and the wine…
Whilst it is tempting to spend all day at the restaurants, there’s more to Alpaga than eating and drinking. For cooler days, the SMALLable Kids Club offers an indoor cinema and cooking workshops to keep the children busy. But during the summer, this skiing hotspot emerges from its snowy cocoon as a lush playground, carrying with it an array of activities to get the adrenaline pumping – or just to feel the mountain breeze and enjoy the great outdoors.
Tobogganing, bungee-jumping, climbing, and hot air balloon rides bring Megève to life as the sun gently warms the landscape. We, however, opted for a hike.
Led by our guide Guillaume – a ski instructor in winter, trekking explorer come summer – we meandered through the grassy heights, flanked by age-old trees on one side and breathtaking panoramas on the other. With his cheeky but wise demeanour, it’s easy to see how Guillaume is a hit with the kids. On skiing adventures, attentive to the needs of the whole family, he casually stays behind with the little ones while the grown-ups steal moments of speedy, uninhibited fun.
He’s an advocate for making the most of nature’s beauty, whatever your age. While the kids march through the fields, nibbling happily on freshly foraged edible flowers, the idea of young eyes glued to their phones seems a million miles away.
When you eventually return to the hotel, the connection with the environment endures. Made from organic materials, and inspired by the traditional architecture of Megève, the quaint cluster of chalets meld seamlessly with their surroundings; a harmonious fusion of pale timber and mellow pastures, it’s as though the place has sprouted from beneath the blooming terrain itself. Inside, from the stone-wrapped bathrooms to the wooden kids’ bunk beds, the best of the alpine wilderness is harnessed – even the breakfast buffet is posed elegantly in hollowed-out tree trunks. The natural charm of the Alps is reproduced, and a living, breathing energy hangs in the air.
As we leave, winding round the picture-postcard lanes, it’s impossible not to feel utterly refreshed. A trip overflowing with outstanding food, spectacular scenery and unpretentious luxury, Alpaga excels as a sanctuary of pure elegance. The hardworking staff may have learned to ignore the sensation of wonder inspired by their magnificent environment, but for me, as the mighty peaks glide past the taxi window, it’s hard to feel anything else.
For a family of four, two-bedroom suites start from €756.
Alternatively, two adjacent rooms can be booked – rooms are available from €276.
How to get there:
The closest airport is Geneva; British Airways offers flights from London City, Gatwick and Heathrow, starting from £26 one-way. EasyJet also offers flights from Manchester, Bristol and Liverpool.
Alpaga is around a 1h 15m car journey from Geneva airport.