Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Heaven in the Alps

For beauty and luxury, nothing beats a catered chalet in the French Alps. Our week in Val d’Isere was as close as we have come to vacationing perfection.

We set out from our apartment in a heavily-laden taxi for a drive along the Seine to the Gare de Lyon. Like the entrance into New York across the 59th street Bridge or seeing San Francisco across the golden gate bridge, nothing can make a drive through Paris along the Seine lose its magic.

From the Gare de Lyon we took a train directly to the city of Bourg St Maurice in the French Alps. There we were met on a snowy afternoon by a van driver with champagne and snacks and whisked off to our chalet in Val d’Isere. For one week, time stopped while we skied, drank and ate as much as we possibly could before collapsing into a collective case of la grippe.

Our chalet slept up 10 people, which ended up being our family, Yvonne’s dad, and a lovely family of 4 from Sheffield. Satisfying our every whim was a crew of three delightful hostesses – a British songbird, a Scottish actress and an Irish chef. Over a week of wonderful meals and late night conversations, we managed to break every conversational taboo, trying - mostly unsuccessfully – to explain to ourselves and each other the tangled stew of world politics and religion.

The most trying day of the week was when we hired a guide to show Yvonne and I the off-piste skiing. The short answer was that this early in the season there is no off-piste skiing. We spent the entire day hiking to the top of one rock-strewn couloir after another, with the guide intoning at the top of each one “zhis vill be fantastique skiing in February.”
At the end of the week we sorrowfully repacked and retraced our steps back home. Arriving at 10pm in a fog-filled Paris, we experienced for the first time the smoky Gare de Lyon captured by Monet, with everywhere a shimmering mist and a feeling of magical