During ski season, there’s one place you can pretty much guarantee a good covering of snow: in Europe’s highest ski resort, Val Thorens. But on a recent trip to this French village, in France’s Three Valleys ski area, I experienced some pretty temperamental weather conditions.
The Alps had suffered a severe lack of snowfall and, while it was still possible to hit the slopes, the rugged mountain peaks were severely bereft of the white stuff.
Fast forward to the last couple of days of the trip, and it was a different story altogether. The snow came in droves and, with the wind picking up, I found myself in the midst of a blizzard. The visibility was so poor that I decided to have a couple of rest days and instead treated my ski-tired legs to some much-needed downtime – at two of the village’s best spas.
I headed to swanky five-star Hotel Altapura’s ‘Pure Spa Altitude’ and the L’Occitane spa at Hotel Pashmina Le Refuge, known as the places to relax slope-side. But are they worth splashing out on and what do you get for the spa-day package price? Read on to find out…
Boutique property Hotel Altapura is architecturally cool and stylishly decked out (think fur throws adorning Scandi-cool furniture) and offers 88 rooms and suites at the foot of the slopes. It is also just a short walk from the centre of Val Thorens.
I arrived at the hotel on one of the snowiest days of our trip, and after the walk across town I was frozen stiff – my hair crunchy with icicles and nose red raw from the cold. But after descending the hotel’s main sweeping, spiral staircase to the lower-ground floor, I was soon cocooned in the warm oasis of the spa. The smiling receptionist immediately offered me a warming herbal tea and it wasn’t long before I was thawing out.
En route to Altpura Spa in the blizzard!
Peeling the layers off in the changing rooms, I couldn’t help but notice that they were a little on the small side – perhaps because many of the visitors here are hotel guests, and simply pad down from their rooms in slippers and robes – but on the plus side they were quiet, immaculately clean and had lockers with proper keys (who else hates those ones with complex code systems?).
THE WELLNESS FACILITIES
Altapura’s spa is described as “a place where the five elements of stone, wood, water, earth and fire are omnipresent”, and, like the rest of the hotel, there’s a natural, Nordic feel. From the rugged stone walls to the uniform lines of silver birch tree trunks – fashioned into a wall, as you descend the stairs to the steam rooms and saunas – it feels like the outside has been brought inside.
The wellness area is dominated by a large swimming pool, which is surrounded, rather unusually, by oversize beanbags rather than loungers. But as well as being super comfy, the bonus was that more of them could be squeezed around the pool, meaning there was no shortage of spots to recline between cooling dips, sauna sessions and treatments.
I started by trying out the hot tub and really had to drag myself out to slip into the comparatively cool swimming pool. After a few laps, I braved the outdoor Jacuzzi, too, which you swim right through into, beneath a plastic ‘curtain’ (to stop the draught coming in). The sub-zero temperatures will take your breath away at first, but it’s worth it for a few minutes (provided you keep your shoulders below the water!), for those dramatic views over the mountains and the rather surreal experience of seeing skiers zip past a few feet away.
Back inside, I towelled off and descended the staircase to the dimly lit warren of saunas and steam rooms below. I couldn’t get over how spacious it was – each of the rooms were massive, so it never felt crowded – and there were two saunas with different temperatures. There’s also a room filled entirely with ice, the aim being to rub it all over your skin and into your muscles to relieve your skiing aches and pains. I put one foot gingerly inside, before chickening out and retreating back to the hot tub.
If you’re feeling energized afterwards, hit the Technogym, which overlooks the wellness area, to work up a good sweat.
The décor of the wellness area continued on into the treatment rooms, which all had tree-trunk feature walls. In mine, there were also uninterrupted views over the slopes. I opted for the Pure Altitude Ritual – a massage-based body treatment using the in-house Pure Altitude products, whose main ingredient is the alpine edelweiss. They smelled amazing.
First, hot towels were wrapped around my feet, before my therapist gave them a very intense massage using a warming body oil. My ski-boot weary tootsies were soon in absolute heaven. She then went to town on the rest of my body, even massaging my stomach, until my aches and pains had completely disappeared. Afterwards, I sat in the spa lounge, sipping green tea and feeling the most relaxed I’d felt in ages.
The current spa day deal is 140 euros per person, but includes use of the extensive facilities, a 50-minute treatment and a gourmet lunch at the 2mille3 restaurant (starter and main dish or main dish and dessert, beverages not included).
Altapura’s spa is second to none and good value for the sheer amount that’s included in their spa-day packages. If you fancy a blissful afternoon post-slopes – or even a day off from skiing to completely unwind – this is the place to come.
Photo credit: Altapura / L. Di Orio, T. Shu, L. Brandajs & DR
HOTEL PASHMINA LE REFUGE
Opened in late 2015, Hotel Pashmina Le Refuge has set a new standard for five-star accommodation in Val. There are 50 spacious rooms, as well as a romantic, geodesic igloo pod on the roof, offering guests the opportunity to sleep under the stars (fully equipped with heating, shower and toilet facilities, of course!). Pashmina is a chic, cosy haven – inspired, it says, by the soft, warm, rich wool of its name – and the décor is an up-to-date twist on the classic chalet style (contemporary furniture draped in fluffy sheepskin throws, for example, with modern alpine artwork hung on the walls).
The spa is located on the first floor, and I stepped out of the lift to be greeted by the smiling and efficient receptionist, who gave me a thick, fluffy robe and slippers, and lead me straight through to the changing areas. Similar to Altapura, the changing rooms were a little cramped and I also found the locker code systems overcomplicated (I managed to lock myself out and had to call for assistance), but the spectacular wellness area I emerged into on the other side did make the initial faff all worth it.
THE WELLNESS FACILITIES
The 400-metre-square spa, gym and wellness area has a glamorous feel about it, with sexy nightclub-style lighting, pillars covered in mirrored tiles and beautiful pendant lights. There’s a bar area serving healthy drinks and smoothies, at an extra cost, and plenty of places to recline, from loungers and beanbag armchairs to the little ‘snug’ area carved into the wall.
The spa has one of the most beautiful outlooks, too. The large swimming pool and hot tub enjoy views directly out onto the slopes, maximised to the full with huge floor-to-ceiling windows. I reclined on a lounger right in front of them, watching skiers swish past and cable cars idle up and down the mountain not more than 100 yards in front of me.
If you’re brave enough, exit onto a wooden spiral staircase to the roof and sit in the outdoor hot tub… something I decided to give a miss, after eyeing the snow-clad stairs that I’d have to clamber up in bare feet (it’s clearly an experience best enjoyed on a blue-sky day!).
Instead, I spent half an hour in the hot tub and then a further half an hour experiencing the Swedish sauna and steam room. The sauna was a particular highlight, with its piste-side views through a round, portal-style window.
There is an extensive list of treatments – from facials to massages and body rituals, all using beautiful L’Occitane products. I enjoyed a relaxing 30-minute signature massage, which really helped to ease my post-skiing aches and pains.
The spa lounge, which you can enjoy pre- and post-treatment, is an experience in itself with its comfy chairs facing out onto the slopes, once again flaunted to the full with floor-to-ceiling windows. Magazines were splayed out on a huge hunk of knotted wood, fashioned as a side table, and candles glowed in glass lamps on the floor. The setting was spot-on.
If you’re visiting for the day, there’s currently a good-value spa and brunch deal on offer – for 105 euros per person, you can eat at the lovely Le Base Camp restaurant, have a 30-minute signature spa treatment and enjoy full use of the wellness facilities. (If you’re after a longer treatment, it’s 160 euros for a 60-minute massage and 205 euros for 90 minutes.)
Hotel Pashmina is a beautiful and glamorous spa, with one of the best outlooks on the mountain. If you’re after relaxation with breathtaking views, this takes some beating.
Author: Kirsty Nutkins
Kirsty is an experienced journalist and travel writer, currently working on a national newspaper supplement as Features and Travel Editor. She is the founder of TravelLuxe.co.uk.