Thrill-seekers should consider a ski safari, where they will spend five to six days skiing across several villages. // © 2016 Joost Schreve
Feature image (above): San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge in the Dolomites hosts up to 10 people at a time. // © 2016 Joost Schreve
An alpine holiday is already at the summit of an outdoor lover’s list. But to raise the bar on a traditional European mountain getaway, these luxury travel specialists gave us their tips on taking an alpine vacation to new heights.
No trip to the Alps is complete without a bit of outdoor activity, no matter what level of adventure seeker you might be.
Taylor Methfessel, a luxury travel advisor with SmartFlyer, suggests booking a private guide and enjoying a full-day skiing adventure down the Vallee Blanche in Chamonix, a resort area near the junction of France, Switzerland and Italy.
“This is a long day, but a midday meal on the glacier with the most spectacular views makes up for it,” she said. “Stay in nearby Megeve and have a private driver shuttle you over for this experience.”
In Megeve, a picturesque village closed off to cars, Methfessel suggests renting a horse-drawn sleigh. Additionally, the ski runs are wide and long, making it a top spot for both novice and experienced skiers.
“And you can’t go wrong with the French ski schedule: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by a long lunch and lots of wine at some of the best restaurants in the world,” she said.
Ski safaris are another great way to up the ante on an alpine getaway. On a ski safari, which typically lasts five to six days, travelers will cross alpine valleys and ridges as they ski from village to village, arriving at a new valley each day.
“It’s a very spontaneous type of trip, where the locations we end up at tend to be last-minute decisions based on the conditions and weather,” said Hans Solmssen, a Swiss-trained mountain guide with Mountain Adventures and local guide for Kimkim. “Verbier, the area of the Alps in which I am located, is special because we are in the corner of France and Italy. A lot of the ski safaris that I do go between France, Italy and Switzerland. Sometimes, clients will ask me which country we are in throughout the day. It’s very special.”
During summer months, Solmssen also recommends glacier trekking. These seven-day excursions start in Chamonix and end in Zermatt.
“Instead of using skis, we are on foot, using any ski lifts we can to get us up partway into the mountains, and then we walk from there,” Solmssen said.
He combines these hiking and trekking trips with stays at beautiful mountain hotels and alpine huts.
“Because the conditions of the accommodations are so good, travelers need only to take a small backpack on the treks,” he said. “Every day we are doing anywhere from four- to nine-hour hikes, depending on peoples’ capabilities and the routes taken.”
Mountain biking is also growing in popularity in the Alps, but not in the way you may think. E-mountain biking has been on the rise over the last few seasons.
“There’s a recent trend where travelers are renting mountain bikes that are powered through electricity and that they charge up at the end of the day,” Solmssen said. “Travelers who aren’t in really great shape can get up and over these mountain passes and down into the next valley without exerting much effort. We are going to see a big boom in this style of travel.”
For a more low-key, but no less unique, alpine experience, consider a visit to Sasso San Gottardo, a museum tucked inside the mountains of Airolo in Ticino, Switzerland. The exhibition lives in the former underground secret network of tunnels that was once used by the Swiss army.
“The museum still feels hidden, as not many travelers know about it and it is only accessible during the summer months,” Methfessel said.
To get the full experience of the underground former defense system, suggest clients hire a private guide, who will provide a tour complete with flashlight and helmets, as well as include visits to rooms that are otherwise closed off to outside guests.
“Imagine caves full of crystals, crawling through tunnels, visits to the soldiers’ living quarters and riding a tiny funicular to the top level,” Methfessel said. “Finally, end with a private lunch or dinner high above on the museum terrace with the most spectacular views of the Italian and Swiss Alps.”
“For me, the most unique experience in the Alps is San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge in the Dolomites,” said Eduardo Gaz, founder of SkiUSA. “It’s totally out of the ordinary.”
The four-bedroom lodge can host 10 people at the most, and the owners — the husband is the former CEO for Italy and France of designer brand Escada, and his wife is the granddaughter of the founder of Italian menswear couture house Brioni — have dedicated themselves to this small cottage.
“It’s not only about the skiing,” said Gaz, who does note that the skiing is fantastic, with Tirol just 15 minutes away. “It’s about living in the Alps in a very different style. You can travel with one of the owners to the market to help her pick out what she will prepare for dinner that evening. You can help milk the cows in the morning. It’s totally off the beaten path.”
The ground floor of the chalet has 16th-century vaulted ceilings, a day room with internet access, a tea room and a dining room decorated like a traditional Tyrolean “stube.” The first floor has a lounge with an open fireplace, as well as the four bedrooms, each with views of the Dolomites or Plan de Corones Mountain. The cottage’s wine cellar is stocked with more than 1,500 bottles of wine, and other amenities include a Finnish sauna and Turkish bath with chromotherapy, panoramic whirlpools and an outdoor lounge.