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First Impressions: Club Med Val Thorens' Grand OpeningJanuary 12, 2015 By: Mary Winston Nicklin
When Club Med opened its latest resort in Val Thorens, Europe’s highest ski destination, the iconic French brand made headlines. For one thing, the contemporary design—punctuated with vibrant pops of pink—incorporated ideas from a crowd-sourcing contest on social media, in which 50,000 fans voted. For example, there’s an actual climbing wall in the lobby, a soaring, four-story space with walls of glass framing the snow-capped peaks. Another big selling point: This level of luxury is not usually expected at an all-inclusive resort. Beyond the meals and glasses of wine, guests get lift tickets and ski lessons included with their rates. Indeed, Club Med is promoting the fact that a week’s Club Med ski vacation in the French Alps is cheaper than a “do-it-yourself” trip to Aspen, even when factoring in the international airfare. (The closest major international airport is Geneva, 2.5 hours away, but you can also access Val Thorens by a four-hour train from Paris.) For the exclusive pre-opening weekend in December 2014, Travel Agent feted the occasion with a jubilant international crowd including French soccer stars, Brazilian soap opera celebrities and champion skiers.
As part of Les Trois Vallées (the largest ski domain in the world, which boasts 372 miles of pistes), Val Thorens is a favorite Alps destination for passionate experts. That doesn’t mean that it’s not appreciated by less experienced skiers, as the altitude guarantees good snow conditions. Club Med optimizes your ski experience with a ski-in/ski-out location, and an equipment room that’s like a retail shop stocked with all the latest, cutting-edge gear. When you arrive, you’re outfitted with boots, skis and a helmet (rentals are an additional fee), which are stored in a personal locker accessed with your room key card. Lessons with an instructor from France’s famous ESF ski school are an added bonus; the highly trained ESF instructors have insider knowledge of the best mountain terrain. And no matter your talent, who doesn’t serve to benefit from professional instruction?
Adrenaline hounds who want to take a break from skiing can try other sports like tobogganing, dog sledding and mountain biking on snow. When you return from the pistes, fuel up with a hot drink and snacks, and then unwind in the hammam. You won’t want to miss a massage at the Carita Spa, situated on the ground floor with 10 treatment rooms, a hammam, and a relaxation lounge where organic teas are served post-massage. Spa Manager Martina (011-337-8667-0778) oversees a staff of 10 highly trained therapists; we highly recommend Ophélie for a massage. Note that the spa packages, valid over a certain number of days, are a good choice as they combine the best treatments at a discounted rate. There is also a well-equipped gym that offers free fitness classes.
Let’s not forget the après-ski scene, which—in true Club Med fashion—offers a diverse range of entertainment. Live music concerts were staged in the wine bar, while the GOs (“gentils organisateurs” as the Club Med staff are called) put on a fabulous show themed after Felix Baumgartner’s epic space jump from the stratosphere in 2012. The dance party in the lounge continued into the wee hours.
Another reason the Club Med Val Thorens is not your typical alpine resort: the design aesthetic deviates from the standard, wood-paneled lodge. Designer Sophie Jacqmin created the 384 light-filled rooms in a contemporary style with a white palette and splashes of color. Our Club room had a balcony facing the majestic peaks of the French Alps. Of the five Junior Suites and six Suites, we liked Suite No. 979 because of its high ceilings, outdoor terrace, and sitting room with a fireplace. Suites come with extra amenities like Nespresso machines, Philips speakers and Zenology bath products.
“This resort is a symbol of innovation and digitalization, and designer Sophie Jacqmin’s style captures that,” explained Xavier Mufraggi, CEO of Club Med North America. “Technology is pervasive. When you check in, there’s an app you can download. There’s also the ’Social Jukebox,’ where guests can take control of the music.”
The dining experience is a real highlight, focusing on quality, terroir-driven products from the region. Michelin two-starred Chef Edouard Loubet designed the menu of the fine-dining restaurant Epicurious. Loubet was born in Val Thorens, and the kitchen’s specialties shine the spotlight on authentic, local flavors. We loved the boeuf en croût, filet mignon encased in a flaky crust and served with churros made from Savoyard pasta and Beaufort cheese. Local specialties can also be found in the buffet restaurant, where the drool-worthy ice cream case showcases an artisanal glacier from the Savoy region. A brigade of chefs prepares an exceptional variety of dishes, so that one meal you could dine on duck smothered in berry sauce, and the next could be steak frites or grilled fish. Don’t miss the cheese station! For a change of scene, there’s a Michelin two-starred restaurant right in Val Thorens. You can also have lunch in another Club Med property in the nearby Méribel resort.
Final verdict? Club Med is repositioning as a luxury product targeting international travelers, and this four-trident resort is a winning example of this new strategy. For bookings, travel advisors should access the dedicated website www.clubmedta.com or call 800-Club-Med. Rates start from $303 per person per night, based on double occupancy. Note that the Club Med Val Thorens Sensations does not have a children’s program.