An intoxicating take on the traditional ski hotel, Experimental Chalet brings superlative cocktails and Seventies glamour to Swiss ski resort Verbier. Right at the heart of the village, this mountain bolthole is a high-altitude outpost of Experimental Group, the team behind some of Paris’ best cocktail bars and London’s Henrietta Hotel. As much a bon vivant as any of its city-dwelling siblings, the hotel has made good drinking and fine dining its heart and soul. In the restaurant, acclaimed chef Gregory Marchand puts a contemporary lean on traditional Swiss Alpine cuisine, freshening up old favourites like rösti and tartiflette. In the place of a lobby, the bar has become the hotel’s social hub, proving a definitive spot for après-ski soirees. If you’re still going strong at closing time, take the party downstairs to the Farm Club, the cornerstone of Verbier nightlife for over 40 years.
Get this when you book through us:
A cocktail each and VIP entry to the Farm Club (subject to availability)
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £124.90 (CHF158), including tax at 3.7 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of CHF4.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates include a buffet breakfast, which has been lavished with chef Gregory Marchand’s care and attention. Expect homemade granola, fresh pastries, sweet and savoury cakes, waffles, organic bacon and farm-fresh eggs.
The interiors are the work of Paris-based architect and interior designer Fabrizio Casiraghi, whose previous commissions includes lavish Venetian apartments, Parisian boutiques and Hong Kong nightclubs. In his typical style, he hasn’t shied away from combining diverse styles: in the rooms, you’ll see Edelweiss carpets mingled with Twenties furniture and Sixties art.
The hotel usually closes from from mid-April to late-June.
At the hotel
Ski room; concierge service; free shuttle to the slopes; free WiFi throughout; laundry. In rooms: Samsung TV; signature Experimental minibar stocked with homemade cocktails; Geneva retro radio; Amici coffee machine; tea and a kettle; free bottled water.
Our favourite rooms
If you’re happy to splash, it has to be the Panoramic Suite, which has a private Jacuzzi and no fewer than three private terraces, each with views over the rooftops and mountains beyond. If you’re a light sleeper, you might want to ask for a room on the higher floors – the hotel has been well soundproofed against any noise from the Farm Club, but it won’t do any harm being a little further away.
Experimental Chalet Spa is on the ground floor, and has three treatment rooms, a Jacuzzi, a hammam and a solarium. For their first ever spa, Experimental Group have collaborated with French skin specialists Biologique Recherche, who’ve been making cutting-edge cosmetics for more than 40 years. The treatments have been designed to make the most of their unique formulas, restoring skin that’s been tested by the Alpine elements.
With the Farm Club just downstairs, you won’t have to trudge through any snow to get there, meaning you can wear not-so-sensible shoes without risk to life and limb.
All of the common areas are wheelchair accessible, and there are three specially adapted rooms.
All ages are welcome. Under-2s stay in a cot for free. Extra beds for children aged 3-12 are CHF70 a night; breakfast is CHF18. Over-12s stay for CHF90 a night and breakfast for CHF42. Babysitting (CHF40 an hour) is available with four week's notice.
Cream cashmere roll necks, suede and mountaineer-style boots will keep you right.
Having already taken Paris and London by storm, Frenchie founder Gregory Marchand knows just what it takes to make regional cuisine sing. As with his other restaurants, it’s the local produce that dictates the menu, not the other way round. Trout is on the menu because it can be line caught in crystal-clear mountain lakes; the tartiflette earns its place because of creamy reblochon cheese from Savoy. Alongside the regular menu, there are sharing dishes cooked en cocotte and light bites that can be ordered throughout the day.
The bar is where a lobby would normally be, turning the ground floor into a cocktail-laced social hub. As with the other Experimental hotels, the drinks are the cornerstone of the experience – a menu of signature and new creations will be on offer, but the barmen are more than capable of going off menu to fulfil a custom request. During the day, post up by the fire or head out to catch a few rays on the sun-soaked terrace; after dark, the bar becomes the perfect prelude to the Verbier’s famous Farm Club, which is just downstairs.
Breakfast is served from 7.30am to 10.30am. The restaurant is open from 7.30pm to 10.30pm daily. Drinks flow in the cocktail bar from 6pm to 2am.
One hot dish and two cold dishes are available every day.
Experimental Chalet is in the heart of Verbier, minutes from the ski lifts.
The closest place to touch down is Sion, which can be reached directly from London’s City and Heathrow airports. There’s only one flight a week, though, so most people fly into Geneva (three hours’ drive) instead. The hotel can arrange transfers for €250 from Sion or €600 from Geneva.
If you’d rather go by rail, hop on a service to Sion at Geneva (you can catch the train from the airport station, saving the need for a trip into town). The journey takes around an hour and 45 minutes, passing plenty of mountainous scenery on the way. The hotel can arrange for a driver to collect you from Sion for €250.
You won’t need your own car in the village, which is easy to get around on foot. If you do want to hire at the airport, the Smith24 team can arrange it; the hotel has valet parking for CHF40 a day.
Worth getting out of bed for
Most guests will be hitting the slopes or trails during the day, which is why the hotel have lavished particular attention on the experience at first and last light. Mornings begin with Greg Marchand’s breakfasts, which balance gourmet-quality cooking with the reality that a day in the mountains demands extra energy. On your return in the afternoon, you’ll find the bar and terrace in full swing, with guests sipping craft cocktails as they soak up the last of the day’s sun. After dark, the bar becomes a destination in itself, but night owls will find it makes a suave precursor to famous after hours spot The Farm Club, which is just downstairs.
The greatest attraction is the resort itself – Verbier is the largest village in Les 4 Vallées, which has more than 400km of groomed piste, ensuring something for skiers of all abilities. What’s more, the vast majority of runs face south, so when it’s sunny, it’ll stay that way pretty much all day. Seasoned skiers will be aware of the resort’s reputation as a free rider’s paradise – Verbier has some of the best lift-served off piste in the world, and holds the final stage of the Freeride World Tour. If you want to guaranteed fresh tracks no matter what time you get out of bed, book a heliskiing session with Adrenaline, whose team of expert guides will tailor the routes to your ability. In summer, that 400km of piste is turned over to hiking and mountain biking. Others get their kicks rock-climbing or canyoning, but for a real natural high, try skydiving or paragliding over the surrounding peaks – you won’t get a better view of Mont Blanc anywhere else.
If you’re looking for a place on the slopes, try Chez Dany, a Verbier mainstay since 1936. The classic mountain-hut interiors exude warmth and cosiness on the coldest of days, but when the sun’s shining, the terrace is the place to be (ask for a fur rug if it gets chilly). The menu is full of hearty Swiss classics – röstis, cheese fondues and steak served on a hot stone. Down in the village, burger joint Le Shed takes a more modern approach to chalet chic, with blackened-steel chairs and low-hanging lamps adding an industrial edge. The burgers are some of the best in town, made with locally sourced beef and freshly baked buns – if you’re still not convinced, the restaurant’s signature chilli and parsley fries should seal the deal. For a fine-dining dinner, book a table at La Grange, opting for their ‘gourmet menu’. The cuisine tours the wilder regions of Europe, with Swiss specialities like Simmental veal served alongside Scottish lamb and Norwegian king crab. The wine cellar is stocked with some of Switzerland’s best vintages, including bottles from the high-altitude vineyards in Valais.
You won’t find anywhere with better cocktails than the hotel.
Motoring through the foothills of Valais, in the southwestern-most corner of Switzerland, Mrs Smith and I were playing a competitive game of Celebrity Who’s Who. ‘You know, the Beckhams, Madonna and the Royals visit Verbier regularly,’ Mrs Smith informed me, as we chicaned onto a handsome road, all centerfold curves and bumps in the right places. ‘Ah, but so does James Blunt,’ I replied, mischievously. ‘And I know you can’t stand him.’ She curled her lip as if to say I’d gone too far. Still, our excitement was plain to see. We were on our way to the smartest, chicest, most talked-about place in the Alps.
The Experimental Chalet, Verbier’s latest landmark, is the kind of box-fresh stay that’d attract a bevy full of celebrities even if it were only half as good. Sir Richard Branson, William and Harry, Beatrice and Eugenie, and some say Leonardo DiCaprio are all regulars in the resort. The likelihood is they’ll soon be queueing for a reservation at The Experimental Chalet — and it’s not hard to see why. It’s utterly original (thanks to Italian designer, Fabrizio Casiraghi) eschewing anything else we tend to think of when considering Alpine ski towns, and its restaurant and cocktail bar pretty much guarantee a ruthlessly hip crowd.
To set the scene: beyond the Swiss-red and snow-white shuttered frontage of the 1950s-era building, the resort’s main street gives way to a brasserie arranged snugly around a fireplace and vintage reception of the kind set-designed in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Hotel Budapest. The decor is all velvet banquette seating, spearmint-green palette and design catalogue tables and chairs. There is a subtle antler chandelier as a reminder you’re in the Alps, not Paris or Geneva.
Anyone seeking a more prosaic description of The Experimental Chalet might want to note that, at least aesthetically, the hotel is a warmer extension of the Experimental Cocktail Club brand, set up in Paris in 2007 by three childhood friends, Olivier Bon, Pierre-Charles Cros and Romée de Goriainoff, and followed by outposts in New York, London and Ibiza. We were instantly wowed by the team’s latest distillation of their look: eclectic, almost-improvised furniture and intimate service soundtracked by low-fi French electro.
Mrs Smith was still trying to out-fox me with more celebrity Verbier visitors when we found our room among the warren of doubles on the second floor. I had Ed Sheeran, Jude Law, Bear Grylls and Jamie Oliver in reserve, so was hardly worried and as we settled into our minimalist room we pressed our noses to the window to see the fairy landscape outside. Past the kingsize bed, the clam shell lamps and soft-edged side tables, we looked upon a joyous, sun-soaked view.
Only in a country as unashamedly beautiful as Switzerland would a road scramble upwards in search of a Shangri-La at the end of a u-shaped valley. But that is exactly what Verbier is. Its mountains, of the kind a child would would scrawl in a sketchbook, are snow-capped and peaked, skirted by evergreen forests and dressed with exceptionally pretty log cabin chalets. The promise of cable cars to ride, high Alpine plateaux to hike, and forest trails to careen down, is equally evocative and acutely Swiss. Before heading out, we had a quick snoop around. On the first floor is an Art Deco-inspired cocktail bar — all blissful slow-jams and innovative cocktails — and downstairs is the Farm Club, a renowned après institution for the resort’s rich and famous, now given a new lease of life. Most impressive of all is the spa, situated on the ground floor with a hammam, jacuzzi and solarium. It felt like stepping through the looking glass into another realm.
Verbier’s bold, high-wire act is that there’s as much to do in the mountains as in the town itself. Exquisite shopping experiences and haute cuisine tempt people off the slopes before they can say ‘après ski’. We mooched around Route de la Poste, popping our noses into stores, Mrs Smith dangling a credit card around as if she’d won the lottery.
The resort is no St Moritz dripping in fur and Elizabeth Taylor diamonds. So don’t expect any Chanel, Gucci or Bulgari here. Instead: Moncler, Patagonia, Arc’teryx and Zadig; Voltaire fill the storefronts, while reinforcements in the wings come from fabulous restaurants, including fondue specialist Chez Dany (admittedly higher up the resort, but still worth the effort) and Restaurant La Cordée, a brasserie from French wonder chef Fabrice Taulier. Afterwards, our bellies sloshing from too much Swiss wine, we rolled to bed, high on mountain air.
Cut to next morning: hungover and at breakfast, which was served in the ground-floor restaurant. Mountain cheese and air-dried hams were presented next to baskets of squidgy baguettes, pots of wild honey and frothy juices. Eggs and bratwursts were on the menu, so too udder-fresh milk and lighter-than-air yoghurts. In fact, it smacked of so much provenance there was little doubting a farmer somewhere in the valley had sweat on his brow and dirt under his fingernails.
On one level, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Experimental Chalet is as good as it is — food, drink, design, service, the full monty. Here is a hotel that’s able to give the best Alpine boutique hotels a run for their money and Mrs Smith, a Swiss national raised outside Zurich and obsessed (like many of her compatriots) with efficiency and details, was seriously impressed.
‘Let’s come back next year with my Mum,’ said Mrs Smith, hoping to book-end our stay with a repeat reservation. ‘Sure, I mean they let all sorts of riffraff in these days,’ I replied. The elbow in the ribs that followed was all I deserved, really.