Inside the poshest pad in the Alps
Tom Robbins ("The Guardian") finds out what rock stars und supermodels get for their money
Why spend £259 on a week's skiing when you can spend £40,000? His head swimming from Perrier Jouet, Tom Robbins finds out what rock stars and supermodels get for their money.
Wahay! That's it garçon, keep the shampoo coming ... a man could get used to this. What's that? Another lobster canapé? Don't mind if I do, old son.
Well, it's not every day you get to to see how the other half live. I'm in Klosters, probably Europe's poshest ski resort (and favourite of Charles, Wills and Harry), staying at Chalet Eugenia, arguably the poshest chalet in the Alps and probably the most expensive. We're settling in with a dinner at which every course comes with a new type of champagne and even the food has been infused with bubbly. Foie gras and lavender marinated in Perrier Jouët? Yes please chef.
How much? Well, since you're so gauche as to ask, for a week in peak season you're looking at £39,445. That's not including flights, lift pass, ski hire, mountain guide, transfers and so on. 'Do it really properly, and you can spend £100,000,' admits Kit Harrison, boss of Descent International, which runs the chalet. Still, the champers is free, and you can bathe in it if you like.
The luxury of Eugenia comes as something of a shock. The week before, I had paid £259 for a week's holiday in Tignes, including meals, flights and transfer. A few days before departure, a woman from the tour operator rang up to say we were lucky enough to be 'upgraded' to a different chalet. In what sense was it an upgrade? 'You get a towel.'
Now, instead of sharing a room with two farting lads and 12 ski socks drying on a tiny radiator, I have my own suite, with no fewer than two fireplaces, 10 windows and four balconies. Black rabbit-fur rugs are strewn across the bed and the rocking chair that looks out at the perfect view across the valley.
Descent is a young British company which has quickly established itself as Europe's smartest ski company. Unfortunately, Harrison is a real spoilsport about leaking the names of his celebrity clients. But when Victoria Beckham wanted to put a brave face on her husband's affair, she went to Descent's chalet in Courchevel - 150 paparazzi were camped outside, so he can hardly deny that one. After our five courses of champagne, I subtly tried to find out who had stayed in Eugenia, but he stayed meanly tight-lipped. 'Rock stars?' I pressed.
'Yes,' he conceded, frowning.
'Politicians?' Yes. 'Supermodels?' At least one. 'Royalty?' Nod.
Clichéd as it sounds, staying at Eugenia is enough to make anyone feel like a celebrity. For a start everyone wants to meet you. When we pull up outside, the uniformed staff are all waiting in line to shake our hands. Here's Jacques, the manager, Tanguy, our maître d', Sandra, our housekeeper, David, our chef, and Jeremy, our driver.
At the ski hire shop, there's none of the usual hassle and queuing, just the owner, Christian, and the ski guide, Nici, waiting to shake our hands. Christian even gives the slightest suggestion of a bow, before discussing which of the brand-new skis would suit us best.
Kit selected, there's no long slog back to the chalet juggling boots, skis and poles. Instead, Jacques and Jeremy emerge from the shadows where they have been waiting unseen in their groovy all-black Descent uniform, and take the equipment from us. As we stroll unburdened to the car, they follow a pace behind. I feel like a star with entourage.
I say car. It's actually a VW Touareg 4x4, in pristine silver with a discreet Descent logo on the back. The (heated) seats are black leather, the cubby holes always filled with snacks and bottles of water. Back at the chalet, Joel the masseuse is waiting to shake my hand, but instead I head up to the lounge to investigate tea. No one else is around, but the vast room is lit by 20 candles, and spread over the grand piano and a table at the far end of the room is the Everest of high teas - huge bowls of miniature scones with a giant silver salver of whipped cream, cakes, croissants, home-made bread, stöllen, jams, cold meats, fresh juices, delicate sandwiches and eight kinds of tea. Plus a bottle of Perrier Jouët cooling in a silver bucket of snow.
Here your typical Descent client would probably pick disdainfully at half a sandwich, then leave the rest for the servants. I stared in awe for a moment, then fired in as if I didn't know where my next meal was coming from. In fact a five-course marathon was due in the dining room next door in under two hours but still no one else came into the room, so I continued my Bunteresque frenzy, cheeks bulging like a giant hamster.
Of course, the chalet itself is amazing. There are roaring fires in every room, vast oak-beamed ceilings, antique furniture and large balconies with views across an empty snow-covered field to the summit of the Gotschna.
But it's the service that sets it apart. After dinner on the first night I go up to my room to find the curtains drawn (useful when there are 10 large windows), the lights dimmed, homemade chocolates by the bedside and a few fresh bottles of water on the dresser. A copy of Vogue I had been reading in the lounge before dinner has been brought up to the room, unbidden. The following morning, a tray of fresh coffee, orange juice and ready-sliced banana is left at the foot of the bed as a pre-breakfast appetiser.
The cosseting continues on the slopes. Rather than rendezvous with our guide at a cable-car station, he is waiting at the chalet in the morning, and is chauffeured with us to the lift in leather-clad luxury.
As we leave the chalet I'm handed a hip flask filled with home-made genepy. At lunch the waitress is waiting to shake our hands, and has a table reserved for us at the window. Towards the end of the afternoon, Nici's mobile rings as we're going up in a cable car. It's Stan the executive chef, wondering if we want anything special for supper.
But is it worth it? On one level of course not. Thousands of pounds on a week's skiing? The price of my week in Tignes would buy 66 minutes here. But think about it this way: it's very easy to spend £900 per person on a bog-standard chalet with paper-thin walls, surly 18-year-olds for staff, and red wine that arrives in kegs. In the quietest weeks of the season, Eugenia, which sleeps 12, costs £21,000 - £1,750 per person if you fill the whole place.
So for less than double the price, you're swapping plonk for vintage champers, spag bol for five-course feasts, and pimply school-leavers for professional chefs and chauffeurs. Those that can afford it are getting rather a good deal.
For me, though, tomorrow brings the big orange bird back to Luton and reality. But on the upside, that still leaves time for port, cigars, coffee and truffles. A couple more mini scones? Why ever not?