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The Best Resorts Where You Don’t Even Need To Ski

Hot springs, Michelin-star meals and husky sledding – how to live the high life in the mountains

  • Corvara, Alta Badia, Italy. Photograph by Mr Freddy Planinschek, courtesy of Hotel Sassongher

The mountains have long been a winter playground for men in search of adventure. One hundred years before people decided to slide down them on two skis, mountain villages attracted climbers, who preferred to head in the other direction. They flocked to the hamlets of Chamonix, Zermatt, St Moritz and Wengen to scale mythic mountains such as Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and the Eiger.

As their fame grew, these villages became resorts in their own right and started offering food and lodgings to mountaineers, who competed with their tales of derring do and extreme bravery. Today, skiing might be the primary pull for those heading to the Alps, the Rockies or the Dolomites, but there is as much fun to be had off the slopes as on them with Michelin-starred meals, husky sleds and hot springs just a few of the activities only a snowball’s throw away.

Coming skiing today? Maybe tomorrow.

Sölden, Austria

  • ice Q, Sölden, Austria. Photograph by Mr Rudi Wyhlidal, courtesy of Das Central

Nestled in the Ötztal Valley, the town of Sölden is not the most obvious of winter destinations, but the snowfall on this side of the Tyroleans is reliable, the food excellent and, in recent years, its popularity has shot up, thanks to a number of developments. First came 007, who raced over its peaks in Spectre and took a trip to Ice Q, a stunning glass restaurant that teeters on the summit of the Gaislachkogl mountain (it played a clinic in the film). A James Bond cinematic experience and museum opens beside it this year. Forget martinis, though, the wine tastes pretty good at 3,000m and in April, the annual Wein am Berg (“wine on the mountain”) festival comes to the town. There will be a gourmet tasting event on the slopes to celebrate Austrian wine. Be sure to sample the local Pino 3000, a bespoke wine aged at the top of the mountain, alongside some home-cured cold meats and mountain cheeses.

Where to stay

Recently voted Best Mountain Hotel at the World Luxury Hotel Awards, the family-owned Das Central feels more like the home of a stylish friend than a hotel – if your friend happens to wear loden jackets at the weekend, that is. The decor is Tyrolean traditional meets Alpine minimalist, and you can choose your suite based on which style you prefer. All come with the loan of a Salomon backpack for the duration of your stay, and some have their own sauna on the balcony. No visit would be complete without dinner in the fondue restaurant in the cellar, where there are 30,000 wines to choose from. The real highlight, however, is the Venetian-themed spa, with its 10 variations on steam and sauna rooms to stimulate the senses.

What to pack

  • Stella McCartney Jacquard-Knit Virgin Wool Sweater

  • Kjus Razor Pro Ski Trousers

Åre, Sweden

  • Copperhill Mountain Lodge, Åre, Sweden. Photograph courtesy of Design Hotels

In 2017, we bade farewell to hygge and were introduced to the Swedish concept of lagom, which effectively translates as “just the right amount”. If any town were to encapsulate this Goldilocks idea of balance, it would be Åre in Jämtland County. A charming Nordic community set on a picturesque lake, the town’s pace is pleasingly mellow, helped in deep mid-winter by the daylight hours – the sun emerges at 10.00am and retires at 3.00pm. This means there’s plenty of time for pursuits other than skiing, such as husky sledding, snowmobiling across frozen lakes, reindeer feeding, smorgasbord tasting and pottering around the shops under the stars (the Northern Lights, if you’re lucky). The locals are big on craft, so you can stock up on handmade candles, chocolates, Scandi fabrics and blown-glass. As with any lifestyle trend, food plays a key role in the execution of lagom and Fäviken, a remote two-Michelin-starred restaurant nearby (see our video), is the place for exceptional haute fare made with ingredients foraged and hunted close-by.

Where to stay

Copperhill Mountain Lodge, voted Sweden’s best ski hotel three years in a row, is one of a handful of Design Hotels in Sweden, and the vision of starchitect Mr Peter Bohlin. The name references the area’s history of copper mining, and this theme continues inside the cavernous chalet-style building with Tom Dixon copper shades and prints from the local Jämtland county museum dotting the wood-clad walls. Take a hike from the hotel through the snow-laden pines. Drink in the view from the comfort of the glass-walled pool. Sample tea and cake by the large open fire. But for a hearty Scandi supper, the hotel’s Library restaurant serves up the best the area has to offer – think smoked Arctic char (a cold-water fish) with dill and salmon roe, or reindeer with butternut squash, cranberries and kale.

What to pack

  • Orlebar Brown Newland Quilted Stretch-Nylon Down Jacket

  • Moncler Peak Pebble-Grain Leather Hiking Boots

Courchevel 1850, France

  • Penthouse Jacuzzi at L’Apogée Courchevel. Photograph courtesy of the Oetker Collection

This French town has long been considered the apex of Alpine luxury. With an altiport for private jets and helicopters slap bang in the middle of the slopes, it is the place for high flyers, to the extent that the local Spar supermarket sells lobster and langoustine. Never mind the 600km of pistes that make up Les Trois Vallées; drop in, instead, to one of the 11 Michelin-star restaurants, visit one of the 15 spas or embrace the magnum-spraying après-ski scene at one of the swanky mountain-side venues. In February, the valley is lit up by the annual International Festival of Pyrotechnic Art (that’s fireworks to you and me).

Where to stay

You can barely move for five-star accommodation in Courchevel, but L’Apogée is among the best. The hotel has an unbeatable slope-side location in the Jardin Alpin (where Chanel sponsors the cable car), and sumptuous interiors by Parisian designer Ms India Mahdavi. But our favourite part has to be that it offers La Prairie’s delightfully excessive signature caviar massage.

What to pack

  • Hamilton and Hare Cotton-Terry Hooded Robe

  • Loro Piana Bay Mid-Length Striped Cotton-Blend Seersucker Swim Shorts

Niseko, Japan

  • Kasara Townhouse Niseko Village, Photograph courtesy of Small Luxury Hotels of the World

Dunking bread in fondue and warming your cockles with vin chaud are par for the course in the Alps, but if you’re looking for something a bit different, head to Niseko in Japan and submerge yourself in the mineral-rich waters of the onsens (hot springs) set amid silver birch trees and the Mount Yotei volcano. The Japanese pride themselves on this holistic approach to bathing, an act considered a healing and meditative process, which makes it the perfect antidote to aching muscles. If you’re looking to dial things up a notch, the après scene has a host of karaoke bars for sake and a sing-song.

Where to stay

For a touch of Far Eastern elegance, Kasara Niseko Village Townhouse offers eight serviced houses with interiors inspired by the Japanese principle of shibumi – characterised by unobtrusive and simple beauty. All guests receive complimentary access to the onsen pools at the nearby Green Leaf Niseko Village and Hilton Niseko Village. NB: like many European saunas, most onsens have a strict nudity-only policy, so you can leave your Orlebar Browns at home.

What to pack

  • Arc'teryx Rush Colour-Block GORE-TEX Pro Ski Jacket

  • The Workers Club Ribbed Merino Wool Beanie

St Moritz, Switzerland

  • White Turf International Horse Race, St Moritz. Photograph by Mr Andy Mettler/swiss-image

For most winter revellers, ice is their nemesis, the slippery architect of their demise. But for those in the sophisticated Unesco-protected St Moritz, the frozen lake becomes a stage for the season. The Snow Polo World Cup takes to the ice at the end of January, Cricket On Ice bowls in at the beginning of February and the White Turf horseracing festival gallops by later that month. The town attracts a slick crowd, so there is just as much fun to be had as a spectator as a sportsman, particularly with the designer boutiques of Via Serlas nearby. Knock back a dram at the whisky bar in the Hotel Waldhaus Am See, which has the largest selection of whiskies in the world, or, if you’re keen to try something a little more adventurous, feel the rhythm and rhyme of the Olympic bobsleigh run, the only natural ice track in the world.

Where to stay

Check in to the Kulm Hotel and Country Club for some old-world glamour. The plush carpets, velvet curtains and chandeliers in the ballroom-style dining room might initially appear a little grandiose for a ski hotel, but the atmosphere is decidedly laidback, which, along with the seven dining options, a 2,000sq m spa and an ice rink, makes this the ideal place for families. The Kulm Club played host to the Winter Olympics in 1928 and is home to the Cresta Run toboggan track. Perhaps most fancy is the Sunny Bar, the meeting place of the Cresta riders, which now hosts improvised jazz concerts each weekend. Book one of the south-facing, lake-view rooms for a front-row seat to the action.

What to pack

  • Polo Ralph Lauren Mélange Wool and Cashmere-Blend Rollneck Sweater

  • Hestra Swisswool Leather Ski Gloves

Telluride, US

  • Telluride, Colorado US. Photograph courtesy of Visit Telluride

In the heart of a canyon in the Colorado Rockies, Telluride is a former Victorian gold-mining town, steeped in Wild West history, and an alternative to nearby Aspen. Flanked by the San Juan mountains, it was the setting for Mr Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and was once considered the bad boy of the skiing world thanks to the part it played in Mexican drug-smuggling rings – Telluride was a conveniently isolated drop-off for dealers and a safe haven for cartel bosses to unwind. Nowadays, people flock there in winter for the dramatic setting and reliable snowfall. But there’s much on offer to keep non-skiers occupied, such as fly fishing on the icy rivers, scaling the frozen Bridal Veil Falls by moonlight or horseback rides through the Aspen forests.

Where to stay

A 19th-century ghost town brought back to life, Dunton Hot Springs is an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Telluride, but offers authentic log-cabin seclusion. The original swing-door saloon is now the dining room, where a rotating seasonal menu of farm food, such as local smoked trout, is served at the long banquet table, and the dance hall is now a screening room with 800 films to choose from, including Mr Butch Cassidy biopics (the outlaw and his sidekick allegedly carved their names into the bar). There is a yoga studio on site, but the main wellness event is the soothing and mineral-rich hot springs, which are accessed at their source, in the restored bathhouse or in private springs that accompany some cabins. It’s worth earning your R&R time with a snow-shoe shuffle through the 1,600 acres of rugged wilderness and there are helicopters on hand for anyone brave enough for off-piste.

What to pack

  • Onia Calder Long-Length Printed Swim Shorts

  • TOM FORD BEAUTY Skin Revitalizing Concentrate, 30ml

Verbier, Switzerland

  • The AWAY Spa, W Verbier. Photograph by Mr Yves Garneau, courtesy of W Verbier

For some of us, the holiday part of a ski holiday kicks off around 3.00pm with the first proper drink of the day (a glass of wine at lunch doesn’t count when you’re gorging on tartiflette). Nowhere does après quite like Verbier. Kick back in a deck chair on the terrace of Le Mouton Noir, where a DJ spins house music all afternoon, then steadily make your way down to Le Rouge for an Aperol spritz while dancing to deep house as the sun sets. (If the mood takes you, you can stay until midnight.) We’d suggest heading over to the W Verbier spa to sweat out the alcohol and take a dip in the indoor/outdoor pool before a plate of filet mignon in the W Kitchen restaurant.

Where to stay

La Cordée Des Alpes is a traditional alpine lodge, all chunky exposed beams and cosy flagstone floors, with a range of rooms, suites and apartments depending on whether you like to cook for yourself or have someone do it for you. The spa has a heated 15m pool and a hamman, footbath and sauna to escape the cold. The bar, meanwhile, makes a mean espresso martini.

What to pack

  • Armand Diradourian Cashmere and Silk Eye Mask

  • Perricone MD H2 Elemental Energy De-Puffing Eye Gel, 15ml

Alta Badia, Italy

  • Restaurant St Hubertus at Hotel & Spa Rosa Alpina, Badia, Italy. Photograph by Mr Alex Filz, courtesy of Rosa Alpina

South Tyrol in the north of Italy is fast becoming a gastronomic mecca, mainly thanks to Alta Badia. The Michelin Guide has awarded the rugged nine square mile valley six stars for 2018. Corvara has always attracted the winter jet set as the gateway to the Dolomites. Now it boasts a host of fine-dining options to boot. You’ll be spoilt for choice between the one-starred La Perla, La Siriola, which has two stars, and St Hubertus in San Cassiano, which has three. Perhaps the most exciting way to sample the food here is on a Gourmet Skisafari, where guides lead skiiers between mountain huts to sample dishes created by Michelin-starred chefs.

Where to stay

Hotel Sassongher is a traditional five-star hotel in Corvara that has been run by the same family for more than 80 years. Parts of it date back to the 16th-century, so you can expect traditional four-poster beds and antique dressers in the rooms. Mediterranean fare is served in a warren of stüben (parlours), and make sure you leave room for something from the dessert table, piled high with Italian delicacies. Make the most of your down time by heading to the piano bar, or unwinding in the spa’s vitarium, a peaceful relaxation room set at a pleasing 45°C.

What to pack

  • Gitman Vintage Button-Down Collar Checked Cotton-Flannel Shirt

  • Thom Sweeney Slim-Fit Merino Wool Rollneck Sweater