Many a quip is made about the precision of Swiss transport, and from this authors experience, every one of them is true. The trains not only ran on time but were comfortable and uncrowded. The direct journey to Sion was done in under 2 hours, but I couldn't help but wish it had gone on for longer. The tracks skirted around Lake Geneva before plunging into the Valais, winding up the middle of the valley making various stops along the way until we alighted at Sion.
Waiting for us at Sion was Max, the owner of our accommodation for the week. He drove us from the station up through the old town of Nendaz, to the new alpine station of Nendaz. Apricot orchards producing the local liquor abricotine, fleeted past the windows of there minibus as my ears popped on the ascent. Arriving in the town, it was apparent that I was in a different world from the mega-resorts I had become so accustomed to. The compact but not cluttered town is made up of wooden chalets lined the quiet streets as Max explained that 95% of the residences in the resort were privately owned apartments.
Arriving at, Etoiles des Montagne, I immediately felt at home, although it was unlike any other chalet I have ever stayed in. Each of the six rooms housed a mammoth king size bed had its own unique charming decor and modern bathroom. The rooms were more like a hotel than a chalet but still maintained a homely feel. The living area was made up of contemporary pastel tone furniture emanating from a huge wood burning fireplace all housed under a high pine ceiling and surrounded by huge panoramic windows. Outside there are balconies on every floor where vistas of the whole Valais valley will tempt you outside, whatever the temperature. The newly built boutique chalet maintains a classic alpine feel without falling into the cliché chalet palette of matching red cushions and curtains, a refreshing change.
The nuances didn't stop at the decor. In the classic alpine chalet formula, a gap year student boasting a two-week pre-season cookery course cooks each of your evening meals. In Etoiles de Montagne however, Andrew who manages the chalet works with a professional chef to create a tailored menu which is prepared in-house. Each evening the meal is beautifully prepared and accompanied by wines of the region specifically paired with each dish. Over the week we would eat a range of cuisines from all over the world, each meal crafted with huge experience, Andrew's goal is for the food served in the chalet to not allow guests any reason to eat out.
After a deep nights sleep, I awoke to calm surroundings, but my head was spinning. The cause was not the chalet wine, but the thought of getting back on snow. After a hearty breakfast I went through the familiar but foreign motions of pulling layers and layers of ski wear on, but with the addition of a new knee brace.
The hotel's minibus ferried the group to the foot off the main gondola in Nendaz, where we collected our ski hire and met our instructors. The lift whisked us from 1400m through the forest to the Tracouet peak at 2200m. Here there is a fantastic array of beginner and intermediate slopes perfect for blowing away the cobwebs or learning new skills. My instructor from Nendaz's local ski school coaxed me down the pistes helping me find my feet and edges.