Zermatt

Zermatt is in the German speaking Canton of Valais in Switzerland, at the end of a valley called the Mattertal. At 5310 ft above sea level, it is nestled between the mountains at the foot of the Matterhorn, one of the most … Continue reading

Verbier

I have just spent four days with friends in Verbier. I love skiing in Switzerland, it is just so easy to get everywhere by train, and the journey to Verbier is beautiful along the shores of Lake Ge…

Source: Verbier

Verbier

IMG_0475I have just spent four days with friends in Verbier. I love skiing in Switzerland, it is just so easy to get everywhere by train, and the journey to Verbier is beautiful along the shores of Lake Geneva. It feels a lot less hassle than renting a car at Geneva Airport, which involves heaving luggage onto a bus for a short ride from the airport to the rental car, pick up and drop off.  Taking the train does take about three and a half hours, so longer than driving which is two hours but it costs less and once you are in the resort, the buses which are free, run around the on a regular timetable so it is easy to get around. It takes about ten minutes to walk from the Place Centrale to the Médran where the main gondola is. Alternatively and less stressful, cutting down the journey time, take the train to Martigny which takes just under two hours and we can organise a car service from there which takes 40 minutes.

IMG_0447IMG_0448

The skiing in Verbier is fantastic. It has about one hundred lifts and 400 kilometers of runs. IMG_0434_2 The scenery is breathtaking, and on exiting the gondola at highest point of the resort on Mont Fort, you can see Mont Blanc and as far as the Matterhorn in Zermatt on a clear day.  There is some awesome off piste skiing in Verbier and worth taking a private guide for on/off piste skiing. Make sure you contact École Fantastique, midway down the hill from the Médran and talk to Philippe Bruchez. They are well qualified and have the best private Swiss teachers for ski school for children/adults and fantastic guides. You will also receive a discount if you use them for your ski/boot hire only, in the ski shop opposite just next to the Fer à Cheval.

Verbier is not the best place for five star hotels, (it misses out on something like the Blizzard in Val d’Isère with its fantastic new Clarins spa), so we would recommend taking a chalet or apartment as it is full of really great ones to rent and we have a partnership with a very good agent based out in Verbier, so can help you find the best properties in the resort.

Here are my recommendations below for the best hotels in the resort.

Starwood Hotels opened the W Hotel in December 2013, which has three hundred bedrooms and is a welcome addition to a resort short on good hotel rooms. The W really is perfectly located by the Médran, so pretty much ski in/ski out give or take 50 metres. I am not a huge fan of W Hotels particularly but it is very new, still looks fresh, has a nice bar, good spa, great tapas restaurant downstairs and good bedrooms and bathrooms. Rates vary according to the season and they start at around CHF 400 per night in low season.  It is definitely one of the best places to stay.

Chalet Adrian is a Relais Chateaux property that opened 12 years ago. It is a more traditional style hotel with a lovely sun terrace, Champagne Bar and very traditional bistro Le Grenier at the bottom of Savoleyres. Rooms in low season are from about CHF 336. The hotel is cosy but the rooms are a bit tired and could do with some updating, as could the spa. Even if you don’t stay it is worth having dinner at Le Grenier and lunch on the terrace. You can take the gondola back up after lunch.

Another good hotel is the four star La Cordée des Alpes. It is not the best location as it is at the bottom of the town, (it has regular shuttle buses to the Médran) and we have heard rumbles of poor service this year which will hopefully change. The hotel has 32 indiviudal rooms and serviced apartments which are ideal for families, a nice spa, lovely restaurant and rooms start at around CHF 290 per night.

Hotel le Vanessa  is a firm favourite, located 50 metres off the Place Centrale. It is an excellent four star property, offering a good service, bedrooms that are simple but cosy and a great restaurant as well. It has a nice Wellness area with Jacuzzi. Rates start from CHF300 in low season for a deluxe room. It is worth going for a junior suite as they are spacious. Rates include wifi and breakfast.

VERBIER OVERVIEW

Hotels
W Hotel – right next to the Médran
Hotel le Vanessa – 50m from Place Centrale
Cordée des Alpes bottom of village with shuttle buses
Chalet Adrian, bottom of Savoleyres

Lunch
Chez Dany – favourite although food can be a bit hit and miss
Carrefour – even bigger favourite with amazing food
Marmottes (and for dinner and sledge back down)
Le Dahu
Cabane Mont Fort, rustic and with the best views of the mountain
Le Mouton Noir at Ruinettes, great terrace, good food, dj and dancing
Walk up to Marlenaz for lunch or dinner, it is the prettiest restaurant on the mountain

Coffee by Médran
W Café

Dinner in Village
Vieux Verbier
Potance
Nevai – Asian Fusion dinner and sushi bar
Chalet Adrian – bistro very traditional
Le Caveau – cheese fondue and raclette are their specialty
L’etoiles rouges dinner dancing
Le Rouge Restaurant

Clubs
Farm Club – super expensive but fun

Ski School
École Fantastique
Hire and Ski service opposite who give 10% off ski and boot hire if you book through École Fantastique
Heidi.com for t-shirts

Après ski
W Bar at bottom of regular shuttles to the Médran (you can almost ski to the bar!)
Le Rouge
W Bar/Living area

We would love to help you book your skiing holiday for the coming winter. Please contact us for hotel and private chalet bookings sarah@masonroseprivate.com

WHY I LOVE MY TRANVERZ EASTPAK BAGS…

ss15_travel_lookbook.15791.201501261455My super stylish interior designer friend, Samantha Todhunter introduced me to Eastpak bags a few years back. As we trundled through the airport, she and her two children had Eastpak luggage rolling gently along behind them. The fact that Sam is the ultimate Queen of Style anyway made me think this warranted further investigation.

I started with a medium sized one (midnight navy), then bought a small one (chocolate brown) and then completed the trio by buying the biggest one (midnight navy).

I love them for many reasons because they are not ridiculously expensive, are tough and lightweight and they come in a huge range of colours from pink squirls or army camouflage, to grey flannel to good old plain red, black or navy blue to mention but a few.

valise-eastpak-tranverz

If you are a multi Eastpak owner, you can easily fit one inside the other and therefore they do not occupy too much storage space.

Packing is a dream as they have two zip up compartments, one on either side of the bag, plus a zipped pocket on the outside. So imagine you are going skiing and have a big bag – ski kit including helmet on one side and regular clothes, toiletries etc. in the other. Coming home, if you have not had access to a washing machine or are too mean to use what can be the expensive hotel laundry service, then one side is for unclean clothes.

71M2rjCXAPL._UY679_eastpak_tranverz_s_7322

When you have finished packing, have closed the two zipped up sections to become the one bag and then find you have inevitably left out your bag of chargers, or in my case, it is always my hairbrush (god forbid that would not be good), you just open the top and stuff the elusive item in between the two compartments. Easy. I stuffed a bottle of Ruinart in the middle recently and it survived.

The wheels are shhhhh, quiet, they roll along the ground effortlessly and smoothly. The handle is the perfect length for a five foot nine inch tall me and they have handles all over to help lift the bag on and off luggage carousels.

ss15_travel_lookbook.15793.201501261455

I travel so much now that lugging a shoulder bag around with my mobile office is physically stressful on the old shoulder and neck, so my small chocolate coloured Eastpak one has all my work paraphernalia, documents, magazines on one side, my travel pillow and travel duvet from Brookstone, cashmere wrap, headphones in the other and my laptop and kindle in the front zipped pocket so I can get them out easily going through security. I can put my handbag, which is a Kelly Bag style over the handle, and it sits securely on top so I can just pull it around easily. On a low cost airline, I take a small crossbody bag and stuff it in between the compartments until I am on board the plane.

You can get them directly from Eastpak (they often have good sales and it features their entire range of bags). I bought mine from Amazon, who seem to have the best deals. Small bags start from £95, medium from £120, and the large ones start from £130. Trust me, they are worth it!

www.eastpak.com

OSLO AND TROMSØ – in search of the Northern Lights

OSLO

I am one of many who saw the BBC documentary ‘In the Land of the Northern Lights’ with the enchanting Joanna Lumley a few years ago and had dreamed about going ever since.  Last October I mentioned it to my friend Inge Solheim, a well-travelled polar explorer and guide (he is the Expedition Leader for the expedition and guide for the American Team in the race to the South Pole for Walking With The Wounded this year) who of course made it happen.

I flew into Oslo for the first part of my journey,  as there were no direct flights at that time. I stayed at the Hotel Continental overnight, it is very central plus it has a great restaurant and lively bar. It is easy to get to on the Flytoget train from Oslo Gardemoen airport. The train, similar to our Heathrow Express service, takes 20 minutes, costs £19 for a single ticket, saves a fortune in taxis and is the quickest way to get there. I got off at the National Theater stop and took the Karl Johans gate exit where the hotel, is literally, a skip across the road. This family owned hotel has recently been refurbished and it is a good property with lovely staff and an excellent service. It is extremely important to ask for a quiet room off the main street, as there is a bar opposite which stays open until 3am plus rubbish is collected early morning, as I found out! The Theatercaféen is their fabulous restaurant and bar which serves amongst the usual French dishes, delicious Rakfisk – a fermented trout, not for the faint hearted and an array of rather expensive but good wine.  If you have time it is worth a trip out to The Fram Museum which tells the story of Norwegian Polar exploration. It is located about a 20 minute cab drive away on the peninsula of Bygdøy. The shopping in Oslo is not over exciting, however there is a Dale of Norway store very close to the hotel for those who love the beautifully knitted traditional Norwegian sweaters, hats and ski sweaters. There were lots of them visible in the airport on both adults and kids.

There are other good hotels in Oslo, the Hotel Bristol is one, I have not seen the rooms but I had a cup of coffee there and it was cosy with a nice ambience and well located on Kristian IV’s gate.

Next stop… Tromsø

Tromsø

Norwegian now fly from London Gatwick (there is a layover in Oslo on the way out of about an hour and a half but the flight home from Tromsø is direct).

View of Tromsø and the Arctic Cathedral shining across the water

View of Tromsø and the Arctic Cathedral shining across the water

Tromsø is a tiny airport so luggage arrives quickly. I took a taxi to the town centre and arrived at the Rica Ishavshotel within ten minutes. This is definitely the best hotel in Tromsø as it stands on the quayside overlooking the Tromsø Strait with magnificent views of the harbour, Ishavskatedralen and Tromsdalen. Rooms start from about £117-£250 for a standard room and you pay a bit more for a room overlooking the water which is well worth the view. The rate includes Wi-Fi and a fantastic buffet breakfast (and if you go off early before the buffet opens they will make you a packed breakfast/lunch!).

Tromsø is the second largest city north of the Arctic Circle. It is a pretty town with beautiful old wooden houses and some nice little shops and restaurants. Its Arctic Cathedral with its beautiful stained glass window at the back was built in 1965 and based on a rock out in Sommerøy.

Dinner that night was at Brasserie 69, which had, delicious dishes such as lamb shank, moules marinieres and steak frites on the menu.

Finding the Northern Lights…

After dinner I was accompanied by a lovely guide to go in search of the Northern lights…and find them we did. It is of course, never guaranteed and what I saw was not as spectacular as I had hoped for but it is an extraordinary experience to see these dancing shards, moving curtains of green, blue, yellow and purple light. You need a tripod to take good photos and a lot of patience unless they are very active. If you are lucky you will see them in Tromsø itself during your stay.

The ferry to Finnsness at 7am!

The ferry to Finnsness at 7am! 

The following morning I headed up to Finnsnes by ferry operated by Boreal Transport. The ferry dock is about a five minute walk from the hotel and the journey costs about £29 per adult and £19 per child. An hour and a half later when I arrived, I rented a car and drove up to the Polar Zoo which takes about an hour and a half. I am not keen on zoos and animals kept in small pens, however this is more like a park. The enclosures for the animals are huge and they house moose, wolves, lynx, red deer, reindeer, wolverine, arctic fox and two brown bears (actually one is an albino so is white!). It is a perfect park to visit with children as they are allowed into some of the enclosures with the smaller animals. The most exciting enclosure is with the wolves (children must be over 16 yrs old and then it is still at the discretion of the keepers). Smaller children can go into the Arctic Fox enclosure with the soft, small foxes. There is of course an additional price for this. The drive back along the coast line is spectacular and worth doing during daylight hours.

Dinner that evening was at Emma’s Dream Kitchen (Emma’s Drømmekjøkken) with Arne Trengereid and his staff, who run the Norwegian Tourist Board. The restaurant is famous in Tromsø and the food delicious.

The next day we headed out to Sommerøy, Porsanger, Norway, a 40-minute drive from Tromsø, passing small herds of reindeer foraging for food and driving alongside sandy beaches in small coves with crystal clear water.  Sommerøy is about 22 miles west of the city of Tromsø and is a beautiful drive. The island is connected to the neighboring island of Kvaløya by the Sommarøy Bridge. There is accommodation including some private houses to rent through the one hotel, it is all very basic but fine if you will be hiking and hanging around on the beaches during the day.

Going to Tromso, is a great trip for three or four nights, and certainly worth taking children, especially if you incorporate the Polar Zoo and are lucky enough to see the Northern Lights dancing. If you want to be more adventurous and travel onto Svalbard, then we have the experts to help. There are lots of wonderful things to do in Northern Norway from King Crab fishing, dog sledding, kayaking to see walrus, cruising (we can organise private yachts) and many other activities.

Inge Solheim takes small private groups of adults or families at his discretion on amazing adventures world-wide from Mustang in the Himalayas to walking in the Arctic, to a family holiday in Svalbard. If you wish to discuss this then please contact me for an introduction to him and then we can help to organise flights and hotels during that time.

You can fly to Oslo first with BA from Termimal 5 at London Heathrow Airport and then onto Svalbard with SAS. My sincere thanks to Arne Trengereid and his wonderful team at the Northern Norway Tourist Board for organising a great trip.

If you would like us to help organise a trip to Tromsø or Svalbard, please contact me us info@masonroseprivate.com

The moon on the way back to Tromsø

The moon on the way back to Tromsø

REFRENCES

Northern Norway Tourist Board

www.northernnorway.com

British Airways

www.ba.com

Norwegian (airline)

www.norwegian.com

Flytoget

http://www.flytoget.no/eng

Hotel Continental, Oslo

http://www.hotelcontinental.no

Standard Room including breakfast £386.00 per room, per night

Rica Ishavshotel

https://www.rica-hotels.com/hotels/tromso/rica-ishavshotel/

Standard Rooms including breakfast and Wi-Fi: £117-£250 per night

Superior Rooms including breakfast and Wi-Fi : £144.86 – £300 per night

Brasserie 69

http://www.69grader.no/

Skoringen Store

http://www.skoringen.no

Emma’s Dream Kitchen

http://www.emmasdrommekjokken.no/

Walking with the Wounded

http://walkingwiththewounded.org.uk/southpole2013

Inge Solheim

www.ingesolheim.com

Northern Norway Tourist Board

www.northernnorway.com