It is not a secret that I am a huge fan of Val d’Isere, which I had visited in 2012 and 2013. So much so, that late in March 2013, I decided to go back again. Yes, again. I like it that much. I usually do a couple of ski weekends each season, which are very useful to find my (not so fab) ski legs, and having travelled twice with VIP Ski, with whom I had been to Val d’Isere before and also to Alpe d’Huez, both in France, I decided to book a chalet with 5 close friends of ours, who we usually travel with on annual long ski adventures.
As I had been the organiser of the last 9 annual ski trips, I asked one of my friends to deal with VIP and all the booking process, and also so we would have a completely normal booking experience – I was happy not to be dealing with the financials and all the email correspondence with our group, for once.
One of the decisions we had to make, when we booked was if we were to take the whole package (flight, transfer and catered chalet) or not. When we asked what would the discount be if we were to take scheduled flights and told it would be £50pp, and that the transfer would not wait for us if we were delayed, we hit the first stumble. As a group we decided that we would join the flight as a) I had flown on an empty (6 of us!) VIP Ski charter flight at the beginning of the season and it wasn’t bad and b) the flight was only 1h20m, so we would not die.
So on an early Sunday, we made our way to Gatwick Airport, South Terminal and naively expected to see a check-in desk for our flight. I am not London Gatwick’s biggest fan, namely the South Terminal, so that in itself was a bit off-putting. But I think I died a little when we were faced with this:
We seriously could not believe it, and tempers started to get going amongst all of us. 50 minutes later, we were done, and because I was slightly prepared, I had organised for me and some of my friends, fast track security and lounge access with No 1 Traveller. I have to say, it was the best moment of my morning (overall!), and a must any time I have to fly from London Gatwick South. It is available to any airline passengers and great value at £22.50.
Our flight was quite uneventful (and a hint, if you go on these charter flights, ask for a seat in the first rows as they have extra space) and in less than 90 minutes, we arrived to Grenoble Airport. There was a bit of chaos on arrival, with all the luggage, and the coach allocation and I will never forget my friend Steffen who kept saying ‘This is not very VIP’. It wasn’t fun, to be kind, and the whole arrival could have been easier, and shared bus transfers are definitely not for me or my friends. To make it even worse, we were starving and stopped at the most uninspiring petrol station in France (which was a shed with days-old sandwiches, so I had to make do with some chocolate). I don’t know why we did not go to another one… oh well!
After almost three hours, we finally arrived to the centre of Val d’Isere, where the whole VIP Team was waiting for all of us – we had a mini bus to take us to our chalet, and our bags were to follow suit.
We got to Davos, our 4-bedroom, 5-bathroom chalet, which was lovely and a most welcoming sight after our journey, and a huge relief. But all we wanted was to do was to eat, and were delighted with the selection of fresh bread and cakes our chalet hostesses had prepared for us.
We felt much better at this stage and were impressed by the welcome from our chalet hostesses, as well as the manager, who came to each chalet and answer any questions we had and explain how everything worked. We had pre-booked our ski lift passes, which were then delivered to us (saving us a long walk), and we were also given the opportunity to have our ski equipment booked and delivered that day. As we weren’t sure if that was an option, I had pre-booked with Sweet Ski, who I had used before and really liked, and a lovely gentleman came to us, at 6pm as organised with all our equipment.
At this stage, our luggage arrived and it was time to head to our rooms, which had been pre-allocated by VIP’s team. Mr. O and I got the master bedroom, which was phenomenal, and sadly, not all the rooms where of the same standard (and size). In my previous experiences with VIP they had always been at par, to be perfectly honest, and we did not check this time. The main issue was not the spec, as the rooms were all very nicely done, but the size and the height of some of the rooms. So, always triple check this before you book, as we had some really unhappy guests.
We had towels (to be changed mid-week, which I wished happened more often), and Molton Brown toiletries (which were actually not replaced at all), which was a nice touch, especially the Lip Saver, which is a great lip balm!
On the first and last night of your stay, you have champagne and canapés, which is a good way to start (and end) the experience. We had booked a chalet for 8 (with my share being complimentary for the purpose of this review), but in the end we were only 7 (so we did pay for myself). However, at the last-minute Mr. O and one of the other husbands had important business meetings and were only to join us on Tuesday – which meant we had extra champagne and wine for a few days 😉
6 of the 7 nights, you have a 3 course meal with wines (with others available at a supplement), and having had two experiences before with VIP, as I said earlier, with the meals cooked by the chalet hostesses on one occasion and a chef on the other, my friends opted for the first option, based on my feedback. And I have to be honest, whereas on my first stay the food was very good, on this stay, it was only OK.
Our days were pretty much the same, and that is something I love about ski weeks. I love the routine. Each morning, we had our VIP driver taking us to the slopes (a service available from 8am to 8pm each day, on demand, which always worked brilliantly) and then split as a group as we had different ski instructors, except for some of the boys, who skied on their own.
This time around, I spent my mornings with Matteo from Oxygene Ski School, who was Italian and great fun. Very skilled, but also quite relaxed, which makes for a great ski instructor.
Each day, we had lunch at a different mountain restaurant, and we ended our lessons at the agreed location, so I always got to have lunch with the rest of the group. We went to La Folie Douce 3 times (I do like their Fruitiere restaurant), to Le Signal once, and discovered Le Peau de Vache, which was also very nice.
My afternoons were spent doing 3 different things… walking around town (where there is a bit of shopping to do, but not so much…), napping or using of the chalet’s best feature: the hot tub. It was outdoors and worked brilliantly – and we loved it! Because we all got back at different times in the afternoon, it meant we didn’t have to be in it together.
We used VIP Ski’s concierge service a few times – to book our lunches, and most importantly, our dinner on the hostesses’ night off, which is midweek. On our only night out, we started with cocktails at Le Blizzard, which was a very nice hotel bar, and then had dinner at La Casserole, where we feasted on fondue, raclette and other local specialties.
This wasn’t the perfect trip, for a number of reasons, but hindsight is a wonderful thing, and hopefully, this blog post will be useful when you next decide to book your ski holiday.
What I did not like:
– The charter flight and shared transfer. Next time I will just suck it up and book a BA flight and private transfer or hire a car, which would cost maybe £300 total per person.
– The food. The breakfasts (cooked to order) and afternoon tea were really fantastic, but I thought the dinners were really subpar, so I would definitely have VIP’s Platinum Service, which a private chef and a different selection of wines (from £350, per person, per week). I had that before and it is definitely worth the money.
– The ski room was the next door chalet’s garage and was pretty bad and dirty. If we were all there at the same time there was no place to sit and put your boots on, and even if we were not, the options were not great.
– Pre dinner drinks – we ordered a bottle of gin at the beginning of our stay and tonic water every night (charged extra, great value), but we always struggled with ice every day. We kept asking, but if we could do one round a night with ice for all, we would be lucky (and there was no room in the freezer to make more).
– The room distribution – with a price per person, everyone should get more or less the same as the others, and to be fair to VIP, on all other occasions, they always were. We may have chosen the wrong chalet for us.
What I really liked:
– The quality and spec of the chalet in general
– The concierge service worked very well and always on the case
– The on demand driver service was spot on, and worked very well
– The hosts were nice and all the VIP on location team were very professional and pleasant
– Knowing that any problem would be sorted
Despite some aspects, we did have a good holiday – we all slept well, skied a lot, spent some quality time together and the snow was divine. And I continue to be a great fan of VIP Ski, but next time I know I need the 2 extras and spend more time looking at the room sizes. Oh well!
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Disclaimer and Fact Box:
I was a guest of VIP Ski but the rest of the group were not, of course (and we did pay for the extra person at the end). A week at Chalet Davos costs from £1059 to £2639 per person (based on an occupancy of 8 people), depending on the time of the year and it includes chartered flights from London Gatwick, shared bus transfers and half board accommodation (breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner), including select drinks. Platinum service, which includes a private chef, starts from £350 per person, per week.
Oxygene in Val d’Isère are an innovative ski & snowboard school offering on-piste, off-piste and adventure activities. They do whatever it takes for their clients to have an amazing time, whether it’s for beginners, children or adults, snowboarders or ladies only, they’ll enjoy every moment. They can even organise everything from heli-skiing to private jewellery viewings and have their own in-house equipment rental shop. Children’s groups start from 295€, adult groups from 222€, private lessons from 60€ per hour and private off-piste guiding from 315€ for a half day adventure.
For Ski Rental, contact Sweet Ski (prices depend on type of skis, of course).
Val d’Isere Lift Passes cost €260 for 6 days (for Espace Killy, which includes Tignes and over 300 kms of pistes).
No 1 Traveller operates stylish lounges at various UK airports, with single-entry access starting from £22.50 (if pre-booked).