Verbier should carry a government health warning, something like ‘You come here at your own risk’. Risk of what! Well, your wallet for a start, then your health, then your ego.
I’d better explain. It’s undoubtedly one of the most expensive resorts in Europe, with chalets fetching £10,000 per square metre. Ultra-chic, ultra-posh, and beloved of Brit, Swedish, and Belgian (yes, they do have some too) royals. Fergie and her ex, Andrew, raided their piggy-bank three years ago and bought Chalet Helora, a snip at £13 million. The seven bedrooms must make ‘I’m bringing a friend to stay the night’ much easier.
James Blunt has a chalet here and co-owns Le Vache mountain eatery with England rugby legend Lawrence Dallaglio and Superbike racer Carl Foggarty. He’s even got a lift named after him.
Careful on that piste…you might bump into Ed Sheeran, Pixie Lott and her squeeze Oliver Cheshire, or Madonna. Bear Grylls owns a home, but presumably not a lift-pass…he runs back up the slopes. In the game of my-chalet’s-bigger-than-yours, R. Branson must hold Top Trump. In his ‘The Lodge’ he’s hosted Leonardo Dicaprio, Jude Law, and Barack Obama. If you’ve got the £156,000-a-week asking price you can stay there yourself.
By now you’ve got the picture. Apart from the obvious money-attracts-money syndrome, why do they come to Verbs? (“not Verbier dahling…too common”) Because it’s beautiful, and it’s rated as among the tops for off-piste and freeriding. The highest lift, Mont Fort, at 3,330m, gives access to vast powder fields: the perfectly-named ‘Stairway to Heaven’ for example, involves a steep climb from Col des Gentianes, a drop over the ridge to an isolated valley down, down, and a glorious run back onto the piste at Tortin.
I doubt Fergie would be spotted here, but much more likely to be seen in the exclusive mountain restaurant, Le Mouton Noir at Ruinettes, with easy access by car and a fabulous view, their Black Sheep Burger a bargain at 31 CHF (£25) washed down with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot’s 2004 The Big Pink Lady equally good value at only 405 CHF (£324)
Skiing on-piste is a different affair. While the boy (and girl) dudes head over the edges and down the steepest, narrowest couloirs they can find, most of us life-loving folk are happiest on groomed runs. Verbier is a little disappointing in this respect. There isn’t much for the mileage-hungry, and it does get crowded. Although it’s marketed as 4 Valleys the town is at the end of a long series of connected slopes and smaller villages (which, incidentally, are much cheaper to set up base in)
It’s when the lifts close that Verbier really comes into its own. Slap-bang next to the Médran lift the Pub Mont-Fort fills up with instructors and saisonnaires telling their real and tall tales of the mountain. Set-aside from the boasters and wanna-be’s are a quiet group nursing small beers or coffees; these are the elite Patrouilliers
up and at work when many are coming out of the nightclubs. They blast avalanches, mark pistes, and rescue the unlucky, or plain stupid, who’ve fallen. They also recover the bodies.
The season kicks off in early December with the Polaris Electronic Music Festival. From a small beginning in a bar to a purpose-built stage at 1,600m on the ski-slopes above Verbier, it has morphed in four years into an international must-go-to event held over four nights (and days if anybody is awake)
The main stage is atop a plateau, home to golfers in summer, skiers in winter. The stage is framed by a view of the lights of Verbier and the valley beyond. It’s utterly stunning as the sun sets over the distant 4,000m peaks. Massive Attack opened the proceedings, with rumours of Banksy (aka Robert “3D” Del Naja, one half of M.A.) putting in an appearance. But no graffiti in town.
The evening builds and the crowd settle into the groove, helped, no doubt, by the obvious and extensive intake of additives. It’s everywhere, in the Gents, spilt on the carpet (and helpfully swept up by a smiling Security guard). But this is Switzerland, and we’re high (geddit!) up a mountain, far from the madding crowd and admittedly loose laws on medication. The raised V.I.P. balcony sways alarmingly to the weapons-grade beat and snow begins to fall, inside and out.
The vibe stays live until 4.00am back in town with the OFF Festival in L’Etoile and Le Farinet where nothing comes cheap, a bottle of Taittinger Brut clocking out at 4,200 ChF (£3,295) which doesn’t seem to daunt the denizens of this dive.
But no Prince Harry sofa-dancing here this time like he did before his recent nuptials.
You can eat well for a reasonable price (by Verbier standards, that is) at Le Caveau, on Place Centrale. You enter Hobbit-fashion through an upturned barrel. The speciality is…tah, dah! Cheese, raclette-style. No huge surprise given where we are, but Bagnard cuisine (Val de Bagnes is the roll of a cheese just down the hill.) It’s very hard to resist, just call for more for your individually-numbered plate, and another melted slice arrives. A word of advice: book ahead. It gets packed.
So, if your scene is hard-core skiing and hard-core nightlife, and you’re equally familiar with the contents of Hello! Magazine and Horse and Hounds Verbier’s the place for you. But, better check the bank balance first.
Tell me about skiing in Verbier
Michael Cranmer was a guest of Verbier Promotion:
+4127 771 22 26
Getting to Verbier
Geneva Airport is approx. 2 hours away with a choice of regular flights to and from the UK.
Swiss carries skis free
AlpyBus uses Mercedes Sprinters and Mercdes Vito either private or shared
T: +41 22 723 29 84