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Travel: Slope off to Champéry for an Alpine adventure

© Shutterstock / James GrooThe Dents du Midi in Champéry, Switzerland.
The Dents du Midi in Champéry, Switzerland.

Purpose-built mega-resorts such as Val Thorens and Cervinia seem to be the order of the day. However, despite their appeal in terms of guaranteed snow, grey apartment blocks and sleek shiny infrastructure can seem slightly soulless, meaning those ski holidays over the years blend into one.

But as I sit on a rustic wooden terrace, a crisp mountain air hangs over the seven iconic peaks of the Dents Du Midi and the fondue is flowing. Just to the left of this stellar view, snow crystals glimmer like diamonds as the afternoon sun hits the almost empty piste.

There’s no chance I’m forgetting this trip in a hurry. I’m on the Swiss side of the Portes Du Soleil, the largest cross-border ski resort in the world. My base for this classic Alpine adventure is the beautiful village of Champéry.

About the resort

The first hotel was built in Champéry in 1857, but the picturesque main street hasn’t changed much since then. Its narrow lanes are flanked by charming wooden buildings hosting artisan shops and quaint cafes rather than bouncing bars, making Champéry perfect for a more laid-back ski holiday.

You can’t ski down from the local slopes to the town and the cable car is situated a good 10-minute walk from most accommodation. Not to worry if you don’t fancy the hike, there is a super cute shuttle train service that runs consistently at peak times.

Apart from its good looks, the appeal of Champéry is its location: under one lift pass you have two countries, 12 resorts, 206 lifts and 650 km of prime skiing – the area’s name literally translates as “gateway to the sun”. There are plenty of ski hire options in the village, but your best bet is Berra Sports, a family-owned store offering great hire gear and friendly service.

The slopes of Champéry are ideal for skiers of all abilities.
The slopes of Champéry are ideal for skiers of all abilities.

Where to stay

Traditional in the best way possible, Hotel Suisse’s three-star rating doesn’t do it justice. Slap bang in the middle of Champéry, the hotel’s cosy wooden chalet-style design, combined with its super friendly staff, means it ticks all the boxes for a classic Alpine hotel. After a long day’s skiing, Hotel Suisse has the greatest of aces up its sleeve. With thighs burning after a day of shredding powder, I was ready to collapse in my room, but I was directed to the conservatory where complimentary afternoon tea was waiting for me.

Usually, you’d find me piling into the nearest après bar, but tucking into homemade cakes with panoramic mountain views was the perfect end to a day of skiing.

The hotel only has 40 wood-clad cabin-like rooms, adding to the personal and intimate feel. The hotel bar is also surprisingly lively; a mix of locals and tourists creates a vibrant atmosphere.

The skiing

The imposing Swiss Wall is the headliner of any ski trip to the Portes Du Soleil. The legendary unpisted run traverses the border between France and Switzerland, offering magnificent views and a ridiculously perilous 90% incline. A kilometre of thigh-burning mogul heaven (or hell) awaits, depending on your persuasion, with the individual bumps sometimes reaching two metres in height.

After securing your bragging rights – it’s considered one of the toughest runs in the world – head to the summit O’Padcha Chalet to celebrate.

On the slopes.
On the slopes.

If you’re on my side and think people who actually enjoy moguls are a little bit insane, don’t worry, the Swiss part of the Portes Du Soleil is mostly made up of long, wide cruisy reds, perfect for intermediates and far quieter than over in the French resorts like Avoriaz. Portes du Soleil is also a freestyler’s paradise, with seven fun parks and three half-pipes. Due to the north-west facing slopes, the resort gets a proper dumping of snow, making it a haven for powder hounds. This also means hiring a guide is worth it for some epic off-piste skiing.

If you’re like me and skiing from café to café appeals more, you can skip the gruelling 30-mile circuit which takes you through all 12 resorts (similar to the Sella Ronda in the Dolomites) and instead link up the five resorts closest to Champéry by skiing to the French town of Avoriaz, then taking the Lechere and Cases chairs back up to ski to the three Swiss villages of Les Crosets, Champoussin and Morgins.

Harris on the slopes.
Harris on the slopes.

Where to eat

If you’re on the slope and fancy a bite to eat, you can’t get more Swiss than Gite Alpage La Chaux. After taking the La Chaux slope, you’ll see a traditional wood cabin that looks straight from a fairy tale.

If it’s warm enough, grab a table on the restaurant’s magnificent terrace, overlooking the towering peaks of the Dents Du Midi. The magic doesn’t stop there – after a morning hitting the slope, reward yourself with some classic hearty, home-cooked Swiss grub. It’s home to the best rosti in town – pan-fried potatoes and cheese, think hash browns but 100 times tastier – as well as monster pork cutlets that would make Henry VIII jealous. In Champéry itself, Café Du Nord is another traditional restaurant with a seasonal menu using local produce and serving top-class fondue.

How to get there

Fly from Edinburgh to Geneva direct with easyJet from £52 return. Then take the train straight from Geneva Airport to Aigle (1 hour 20 minutes) before changing to a train service which takes an hour to travel to Champéry.

Harris Clark was a guest of Switzerland Tourism.

P.S. The really adventurous can also try their hand at ice-climbing, snow-shoe walking or paragliding, or prove themselves on skiing tours or sledging runs in Champéry. The village also has an indoor ice rink and a curling hall which are open all year round.