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January 14, 2024

Etoile du Nord: Val D’Isere’s Ski Chalet of the Moment

This ‘superyacht’ of chalets offers one thing no other has done before it: Tasteful, rural luxury chic on the grandest of scales.

By Luke Abrahams

When you think of a European ski holiday chances are that visions of adrenaline junkies swooping down mountains, techno parties on peaks and tables piled high with cheese dipped Après meats (and champagne) slide into your vision. All true. 

Yet, while the allure of living on the wild side this verge of the stratosphere runs deep, there’s something truly special about experiencing somewhere rebelliously off-piste, and anti- society glitz. Unlike the boutique chic of Courchevel, Val d’Isere is not a place for posing up an Insta storm on a sundeck donning bank account-busting designer ski suit pre a credit-card-maxing long boozy lobster lunch. The spirit of unabashed luxury – Gucci-branded gondolas, countless boutiques, and seasonal fashion shows – is, thankfully, almost non-existent here. 

In fact, what really draws people here in all their high-tech finery is the addictive desire for a challenge, on and off the slopes. Though it lacks the billionaire fashionista polish of St Moritz and 1850, Valdi, as it’s affectionately known, offers up a unique combo of perks you won’t find anywhere else in the Alps: guaranteed snowfall, fuss-free ski, beer and raclette on tap, and the Alpine charm of an ancient French mountain village (historical Alpine church included). And then there’s Val d’Isere’s newly opened Etoile du Nord, the hot ticket snow-flecked “cabin” of the moment. 

[See also: Elite Traveler’s Favorite Hotels of 2023]

val disere chalet exteriors
The slick mega Etoile du Nord chalet manages to up the luxury wintry ante with an almost Disney-esque offering / ©Philip Vile

Calling it a hotlist opening would be somewhat of a disservice. Ten years in the making, the modern-day Versailles of chalets managed by snow villa aficionados Haute Montaigne is the passion project of three creatives: Journalist and co-owner Amy Williams, architect Manuel Nogueira, and interior designer, Nicky Dobree. High spec to a tee, this ‘superyacht’ of chalets offers one thing no other has done before it: Tasteful, and covetable, rural luxury chic on the grandest (and most private) of scales. 

[See also: Venice Simplon Orient Express Heads to the Alps]

Stay

Strikingly modern, yet classic, the slick mega Etoile du Nord chalet manages to up the luxury wintry ante with an almost Disney-esque offering. Access is via a private underground tunnel which marries both the seven-bedroomed East Wing and six-bedroomed West Wing – both can be rented as a whole, or separately – perched high above the famed Petit Alaska enclave, as seen from the chalet’s behemoth near-30-ft-high windows. 

Rooms are arranged from the ground up, the best hidden away in tip-top glass annexes of the east and west wings. Expect huge beds draped in Italian linens, great big windows (with views of the mountains), egg-shaped tubs and private bubbling hot tubs (again, under the watchful eye of the mountainous peaks). 

Elsewhere, there’s indoor and outdoor swimming pools (the retractable in the East Wing will give you a super cool view of the games room), a private cinema, games rooms, snug lounges with open-log fires, bespoke furnishings and a medley of curated art pieces on the walls (including a Chris Levine print of the late Queen) plus no less than two spas kitted out with relaxation areas, steam room and Hammam. Concierge? Of course. All the activities, from ski to private excursions, are arranged pre-visit by Italian expat Matteo and his team. 

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etoile du nord bedroom
Expect huge beds draped in Italian linens and great big windows with views of the mountains / ©Yves Garneau

Though it all seems a tad ostentatious at surface level, the soul of the place takes its humble cues from Mother Nature. “It was all about bringing nature inside,” architect Miguel Nogueira explains. “The concept follows the principles of ‘rocky facets,’ a living forest that sits on and blends into the cliff face.” 

It was, as he notes at dinner, “about bringing the outside in.” Virtually everything in sight has been carefully considered. The staircase, modelled on the nearby Vallee Perdue, is built like a winding well where the verticality creates a traversing rhythm dictated by the surrounding treetops. The effect, as the London-based architect notes, is to “give you an idea of being within the calmness of nature”. 

The light, he says, travels down the staircase, bouncing off into the two swimming pools down into the playrooms. The idea is to get “a crevasse into the mountain that brings natural light into the property” so you feel as though you are part of the landscape. 

It’s this light play that adds an extra dose of warmth to the chalet’s spaces and two spas. “Never was it our intention to have the spas as a forgotten, hidden away space like you see in hotels”, Williams explains. 

[See also: Six Senses Kitzbuhel to Open in the Austrian Alps]

etoile du nord master bathroom
The master bathroom / ©Philip Vile

Instead, the ambition was to create a space within the locale, “one that inspires a mood and a sense of wellbeing”. It is, as she and interior designer Nicky Dobree skilfully sum up as “an opportunity to feel part of the place and experience the textures hewn from the outside within.”

Dine

All the food and drink is whipped up in Etoile du Nord’s kitchens by a private chef. Menus can be bespoke or set and feature seasonal three-course dinner soirees. Expect game, from beef to veal; locally sourced veg; freshly spun pastas; and fishy truffle numbers. 

Lunches feature a medley of fresh Med-inspired salads, tasty grilled meats, fluffy quiches and calorific cinnamon buns. For breakfast? All the classics, plus a mean Alpine eggy onion tart. The beauty of staying here is that you can totally curate your menus, so no matter the time of year, you can eat whatever you fancy at whatever hour. 

[See also: The Best Destinations for a Winter City Break]

Etoile du Nord
All the food and drink is whipped up in Etoile du Nord’s kitchens by a private chef / ©Philip Vile

Explore

Aside from raving it up at La Folie Douce post ski, the art of lazing reigns supreme at the chalet and beyond. Slow mornings at Etoile du Nord are spent watching the snow fall in a hazy daze on the sofa, while the afternoons usher in private massages in the spa and snoozes under the shadow of the mountain in the hot tub. The pools are best used at golden hour, extensively, alongside the detoxifying qualities of the Hammam. 

Outside, wellness continues in the form of rural pastimes. While skiers opt for the heavens, charge like I did for La Vallee du Manchet for a brisk walk to shake off the cerebral cobwebs. Aside from a few cross-country sporty types, the only company you have is silence, and what bliss that is. 

The town itself is small and features a medley of low-key shops, cute creperies, cafes, and if you want to break the bank, lunch at Loulou in the rather swish Les Airelles. 

From £102,448 per week on a fully serviced basis, inclusive of private concierge, private chef, in-chalet ski and boot delivery, hautemontagne.com

[See also: Experience a Winter Wonderland at Four Seasons Megeve]

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