This review is taken from our guidebook, Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection: France.
The French for horse-drawn carriage is calèche. You may think this nugget only marginally relevant to anyone planning a stay in the upscale Alpine resort of Megève, best known for its five-star skiing and glut of gastronomic restaurants. But had my vehicular vocab been better, I might not have accidentally booked one within five minutes of arrival at the resort’s Alpaga hotel.
The mistake is mine. Guillaume the concierge is confirming our weekend arrangements in French, when he asks if Mr Smith and I want to ‘promener en calèche’ into town for dinner the following night. Feeling blasé about my powers of interpretation, I hear ‘walk’ but not the ‘en calèche’ bit. It is only when Guillaume picks up a pen to make a note of our plan to stroll into town that I realise we’ve signed up for something. Cue enquiry, explanation, embarrassment, then polite but firm refusal to take the horse and (tourist) trap.
Offers of twee equine tours aside, Alpaga makes an exciting first impression, its slick, contemporary Alpine style exuding the promise of luxurious touches and attentive service. By the time we’ve followed the porter through shades of cream and mink in the lobby, glimpsed the crisply linened tables in the restaurant, and ascended to our room, we are giggling with delight.
We find that our room itself – a Deluxe, located above the restaurant, with a balcony and mountain views – calls less for giggling, more for seduction. The decor is sumptuously touchy-feely, with textural detail galore. Faux-fur throw and pillows, a velvet armchair, unvarnished wooden floor and walls, and a slate bathroom all demand to be fondled (as does Mr Smith, judging by his come-hither sprawl on the bed). Even a painting in the bedroom – a modern picture of sheep – is daubed in rough-to-the-touch acrylics.
Bundled up in slippers, robes and swimwear, Mr Smith and I use Alpaga’s underground network of tunnels to get from our chalet to the spa, located in the basement of the entrance building, without ever stepping outside.
Mr Smith overrules my pleas for a massage, pointing out that, at these prices, the masseur must be on two euros a minute. I’m not sure whether to sulk or consider a change of career. We soak lazily in the warm spa pool, unwind to pruning point in the dark steam room, and float back to our room for a siesta before supper.
Dinner at Alpaga’s restaurant is another fantastic feat of texture. I start with a glorious glass of seafood – layers of shredded crab and pulped avocado, crowned by a moreish cheese crumble – while Mr Smith tucks into duck foie gras pâté?. We continue with perfectly pink filet mignon en croute and cod fillet with olive mash, both delicious, and all the better accompanied by a soundtrack of jazzy reworkings of pop tracks. We’re particularly taken with an Austin Powers-style version of ‘Rehab’ complete with jazz flute.
A cloudless indigo sky greets us the next morning; with fresh powder coating the pistes, the sunny conditions confirm it’s going to be a great day to ski. Which is just as well, given that it’s our only day to ski. Luckily, taking Alpaga’s navette to town, and nipping to Ski Concept to hire our kit right beside the Chamois lift means we’re on the mountain in no time, gently shooshing down tree-lined red and blue runs.
At twilight, restored by a steaming bath and a well- earned catnap, Mr Smith and I stroll arm-in-arm into town, delighted with ourselves for having body-swerved the jingle-bell cart ride. It’s a 25-minute walk, so perhaps we should have taken a cab, but we know we have cuisine savoyarde ahead of us (Guillaume has booked us a table at L’Alpage au Fer à Cheval) and we want to make room for all the cheese. A crackling wood fire and traditional decor greet us. It’s the perfect setting for a textbook Savoie feast.
Mr Smith and I are ushered to a cosy, candlelit table, where we tuck into a fondue so fine it makes me want to use words such as ‘heavenly’ and ‘simply tremendous’. We have smiles on our faces and cheese on our chins.
Well-to-do French families soon fill the remaining tables, the waitress disappearing under a pile of patent quilted jackets, aka doudounes, and floor-length furs. Mr Smith and I are riveted by Megève’s aristo set – fragrant billionaires here, fur-clad bottle blondes there – but if you cut through its flashy reputation (take a left by Hermès and go straight past Tod’s), there’s still a beautiful and charming resort beneath.
By the time we leave L’ Alpage au Fer à Cheval, the first snowflakes are beginning to fall. Undeterred, Mr Smith and I elect to walk home. Several wrong turns and 40 minutes later, we’re less than happy with our decision. The snow now falling thick and fast, we look like a couple of yetis – frost-covered, our cheeks red-raw with cold – as we pester the night porter of a (hopefully) neighbouring hotel for directions. ‘Are you in a car or on foot?’ he asks. ‘Er, c’est pas evident?’ I can’t help but smirk by reply. Thankfully, his instructions are better than his powers of observation, and 10 minutes later we are back at Alpaga.
It’s not the perfect ending, even if the frostbite on my nose is only temporary, but it is the perfect stay. We can imagine returning in June or July, say, when this low-altitude resort is covered in grass and wildflowers, its pine forests at their glossy summer best, the Alpine trails beckoning to be walked. Better still, we can really, truly consider returning in June or July: in the shadow of Mont Blanc, only 80 minutes from Geneva, Megève is much nearer the UK than we’d realised. And Alpaga is irresistible and close to town – especially if you take a horse-drawn carriage.