We were invited by London City Airport and Swiss Air to the ski resort of Villars – a favourite of A-listers but often overlooked by British skiers. Let’s face it, we weren’t going to turn down the chance of a trip to this beautiful but low-key resort. There was just one problem: we’d hadn’t been skiing before. The organisers assured us this wouldn’t be a problem…
Our group flew from London City Airport to Geneva with Swiss Air, and arriving at the bus station in Villars sur Ollon we were greeted by Guy – a beaming Villars Tourisme promotion manager who promised us a weekend of skiing, fondue and lashings of glüwhein. Definitely my kind of place. After a train and bus transfer, we were high in the Vaud Alps, ready for a (mostly) beginners day of skiing.
Villars may be one of the lesser-known ski resorts, but is by no means under-developed. It’s also extremely easy on the eye. Filled with traditional chalets and surrounded by impossibly beautiful scenery – it’s not hard to see why Europe’s elite (Formula One drivers, actors such as Gerard Depardieu and even a handful of Royal Family members) find Villars such an attractive holiday option. It’s also handily only an hour and a half drive from Geneva, but far enough away from the grey skies of London.
We had arrived in Villars just in time to experience a typical end to the resort’s day: apres-ski. Squeezing in to the cozy L’Arrivee bar with local skiers and ski instructors, we were plied with warming glüwhein (a traditional drink of red wine and spices), Swiss salami and a couple of glasses of the local Ollon Pinot Noir. L’Arrivee is just the kind of place you’d expect to find in the Swiss Vaud Alps – a pretty wooden chalet bar, adorned with authentic decorations and filled with good natured locals. It also serves food and drink at some of the cheapest prices around.
Next stop was our early evening meal reservation, via a skidoo ride. We were dropped off by taxi at an unlit car park, from where we walked a few hundred metres into a snowy valley with only the moonlight to guide us. Turning a corner, we were met by the headlights of our transport.
Sitting on upturned plastic crates on a trailer pulled by the skidoo, we took a-once-in-a-lifetime journey through the snow-laden trees to Refuge du Solalex – a mountain hideaway that seems to sit in the middle of nowhere. Dinner – a typical meal of log fire cooked raclette, fondue and wild forest mushrooms, accompanied by the obligatory glass (okay, maybe five) of red wine.
The next day we found ourselves at Col de Bretaye, skis in hand but slightly fuzzy headed from the evening before. Thankfully our instructor Andreas was wonderfully patient – gently introducing us to the basics before picking up the pace and guiding us down increasingly steeper slopes. I found that it is definitely possible to feel both exhilarated and frustrated at the same time. How could I manage to turn on some occasions but not others..?
Getting comfortable on the snow isn’t always a feeling that comes easily, but when it does you feel pretty smug. As a group of mostly first-timers, we were thankful when our instructor said he was impressed with our progress. A light snowfall dusted the slopes while we ate lunch, which resulted in a completely different looking terrain for the afternoon. We continued where we had left off – moving on to a steeper slope that looked completely terrifying at the top, but of course much less so after having tackled (and survived) it.
I left Villars having been firmly bitten by the ski bug. Next time you book your skiing adventure, don’t overlook this underrated destination – with slopes perfect for both beginners and advanced skiers, beautiful scenery, plenty of fresh snow with a charming, anachronistic feel, Villars is one of those places that deserves a second look. Anyway if it’s good enough for Gerard Depardieu…