If snow falls in the Alps and there’s no one there to ski on it, is it still ski season? Despite a few false starts and some wishful thinking on the part of tourist boards, the current season has mostly come to nothing. Across Europe lifts are still, slopes quiet and resorts have either shuttered or are catering to small numbers of mainly local visitors. But the bust of this season has, unsurprisingly, created a rush on the next, with bookings for the most exclusive chalets buoyant.
They don’t come much more exclusive than Chalet N, in Oberlech, Austria. Its website is a discreet affair, like the property itself. Bursting with glossy images of pristine peaks and lavish suites, it’s the epitome of “show, don’t tell”. Try though you might, you won’t find any pop-up calendars outlining availability or brazen “book now” buttons. Instead, only a local contact number and email.
It’s all a tad enigmatic and the reason simple: Chalet N needs neither to holler for attention nor sing for its proverbial supper. With prices starting at a tidy £250,000 per week, it is both the world’s most expensive ski chalet and one of its most sought after. Reservations are gold dust.
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Superior amenities and service levels
It’s high season, pre-lockdown, when I visit and yet the narrow roads of Oberlech are quiet. While Lech am Alberg at large is one of the Austrian Alps’s most swish destinations, Oberlech is its most elite enclave. I’ve been ferried from Zurich through theatrical scenery in one of Chalet N’s neatly monogrammed Range Rovers, but I’m told that the heliport – a ten-minute drive from the property – is equally popular, for those willing to shell on a flight transfer. In for a penny, in for a pound as they say.
Though Chalet N’s team are quick to distance themselves from the woolly honour, the property is widely called a six-star. It’s a rating one won’t find awarded by any official body, instead shorthand for a destination that takes ultra-luxury and bolsters it with an extra veneer of, well, luxury. In practice that means superior amenities and a level of service that rivals the grandest of hotels. In the compact cinema room, even the soft furnishings are Gucci.
There are 11 suites in total, including the vast top-floor mastersuite, with room for 18 adults and a further four children. My own bolthole is both larger and more smartly designed than the average urban flat. The balcony overlooks the Arlberg massif, with its corrugated strips of alpine trees and interlocking slabs of unspoilt snow. Lech pools below, its pitched roofs and timber façades the epitome of a model village come to life, as matchstick skiers drift in and out, their neon getups visible even from the distance of the chalet.
With no split occupancies, Chalet N is all or nothing. When only moderately filled then, as in my case, the sheer scope of the place is amplified. It’s possible to wander the plush hallways in total solitude, only occasionally stumbling upon one of the double digit-strong staff eager to check that no need has gone unmet.
Drift to the lower floors and the offer is more akin to a boutique hotel than a typical private ski-stay. A sprawling spa and wellness area occupies an entire level, with everything from a Finnish sauna and salt gallery steam bath to an ice fountain, gym and multiple treatment rooms. Faultlessly starched beauticians and masseuses stand ready to prune and pummel.
A bijou hair salon means, presumably, no dinner need go by without a slick do. There’s little excuse not to dress up, then – the combination of black tie, remote location and elegant chalet is a cinematic whodunnit waiting to happen.
Ultimate business card
In the cuisine there are nods to fine dining, but it essentially embodies the kind of soul-warming comfort food one needs as great clumps of white fall outside the windows and root-like strands of frost creep up the mirrored, bulletproof windows – the latter surely the ultimate in Bond-esque touches.
As well as a main dining room overlooking the slopes, there’s a quainter, wood-panelled snug, with an open stove. Alpine classics like Wiener schnitzel and the unctuous germknödel (a jam-filled yeast dough dumpling lathered in melted butter) do little for the arteries but are not to be missed. Needless to say, head chef Kevin Micheli is no average kitchen hand but a star of Bocuse d’Or. On leaving I’m handed a copy of his hand luggage-testing coffee table tome, the ultimate business card.
Below decks a wine cellar holds just shy of 1,000 bottles – many rare, one the size of an only vaguely underfed toddler. Tastings can be arranged and, as well as some of the more extravagant vintages, it’s a stellar opportunity to discover some of Austria’s finest local varieties. Upstairs the substantially stocked bar and lounge are a more casual après ski spot, with roaring fire and deep, yawning sofas.
RiRi, racers and royals
Perhaps the jewel in Chalet N’s crown, however, is its ski room, where each guest has their own heated locker and from which an elevator whisks early risers straight to ground level and onto the piste. For a property that prides itself on delivering privacy, there is perhaps no better or more stylishly appointed example of ski-in, ski-out.
Naturally the chalet’s team would never engage in anything so vulgar as name dropping, but as my own sojourn draws to a close and prices being what they are, I’m curious: who stays in a house like this? There are whispers that Rihanna, Tina Turner and megastars of Formula 1 have passed through; some say European royalty.
Regardless, it’s a rarefied experience and, a few days in, becomes an all too seducing new normal. As I traverse the mountain roads on the way back to Zurich, I find myself wondering if I wouldn’t have better taking the chopper.
Stay at Chalet N from £250,000 per week. See chalet-n.com or call +43 5583 37900.
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