Opulent and luxurious summer madness at Club Med Val d'Isère with e-bikes, paragliding, sublime dining, jacuzzis, drinks, great company and dancing galore!
ClubMed in the French Alps has gone luxury with a capital L. Opulence, exceptionally friendly service, fabulous interiors, exciting entertainment and most of all, thrilling activities. All are included in your stay.
But let's start with the location, it is an extreme visual banquet of peaks. ClubMed Val d'Isère occupies the best location in town.
Ski in-Ski out? You could ski from your balcony! Only we went in summer to take full advantage of the magnificent weather and enjoy the countryside untrammelled by snow or crowds.
The hotel entrance opens into the most surreal and beautiful terrace bang in the centre of the surrounding mountains, that ring the hotel like towering colossi staring down at you. An arena encircled by snow-capped mountains laced by streams gleaming in the sun like glass ribbons.
The colours remind me of the reaction people had when the Fauvists first exhibited their work. They felt only animals (Fauves) would paint with such extreme hues. The blue sky, green trees, white fluffy clouds and assorted wood tones are effervescent, electric, and almost eye-piercing. It is so astonishing that you can't quite believe it. You catch yourself thinking "Is this real?", the mind can't get take it all in, the scale is so imposing.
The aforementioned terrace looks like a Hollywood set, with wooden decking dotted with smoking fire pits, plus a variety of benches, seats, stools and tables, cleverly laid out for both privacy and social interaction. A giant wooden bear sculpture dominates the gallery, interspersed with a smorgasbord of food stalls laden with plump fruit, flawless vegetables, juicy meats and an attractive chalet bar. This arena and the encircling mountains are so surreal that I spent my entire time there marvelling at the scenery even when deep in conversation. And my colleagues were a fascinating and entertaining bunch.
If you manage to make it to the lobby without dumping your case under a table and diving into an Aperol Spritz, then you are ushered into a spacious, supremely welcoming lounge with nooks and crannies everywhere to sit around and relax. The reception desks are cleverly spaced out so that you can register in comfort.
The hotel has just been upgraded to a five-star (or five Tridents) and the refurbishment is impressive, finished to an extremely high level of detail. Warm, luxurious and welcoming in a modern traditional chalet style; the walls are lined with logs, the floors richly carpeted, and classic 70s screen prints and typical Val d'Isère objets d'art adorn every vertical surface. It is beautifully and tastefully done, impressive even for such a renowned and refined wealthy tourist destination as Val d'Isère.
Upon registration, you are proudly handed your Club Med trident bracelet, which is the key to your room and activities. There are 216 rooms and two types, Deluxe and Suites, though both are gorgeously furnished, the Suites have a larger lounge area but all have balconies that overlook the stunning mountain views.
Another great thing about Club Med is its zero-plastic policy. You are given a handsome red metal water bottle which they refill with still or sparkling water on request or at the various fountains scattered about, so there are no plastic bottles in your room. Many companies talk the talk, but Club Med is actually implementing this now, not promising to do it sometime in the future. A genuinely sustainable ethos to keep the Alps plastic free. They refuse to use plastic in their restaurants too.
Furthermore the refurbishment of the resort employed sustainable and eco-friendly techniques to minimise the carbon footprint. Heat pumps and a heat management system were installed to reduce energy consumption, cleverly working out in real-time where heat is needed by measuring guest presence and flow. Club Med invested 50 million Euros into the resort, and it shows.
My first stop was the indoor pool which opens out onto a large terrace with a jacuzzi. The stress of the flight melted away whilst sipping a glass of bubbly in the midst of the hot tub bubbles, admiring the snow-capped peaks, not so much in the distance, but right there, the slopes curving down around the resort. Bliss, plus the sun was shining and it was a balmy 27 C.
In the end, for us at International Excellence Magazine, it always comes down to the people. And the two pool guards could not have been more attentive and friendly. Within seconds of starting my swim, and blinking in the water, Manon and Willy offered me a range of quality swimming goggles for free.
That evening we took cocktails in the main lounge and bar which transforms magically into many different styles, day or night, employing a vast array of lamps, projectors and lasers to completely alter the atmosphere. A set of lounge chandeliers, hand-made from recycled fibres shaped as deers antlers, were festooned everywhere and particularly dazzling. The Club Med interior exhibits so many instances of inspired touches like this.
There are two restaurants in the resort, La Bellevarde and Les Millésimes. The former has three distinct areas, based on the village of Val d'Isère; Le Mélèze, Le Rocher and La Lauze. Each emulates a market hall with a bread oven, fishmongers stall, fruit stacks, Italian deli, cheese cellar, dessert trolley and ice cream parlour. Essentially offering a wide range of fresh local food to suit all palates, mountain epicurean style. Everything is fresh and appealing.
Les Millésimes is rather more exclusive though still all included. An a la carte menu, with French and Italian food, offering wine pairings recommended by the chef and sommelier. The decor and ambience are superb; mood lighting and subtle tones make you feel plush and pampered. Just the thing for a long evening chatting with friends and putting the world to rights. An indulgent treat. And at night they can transform it into a pumping nightclub, that is unrecognisable as the evening restaurant.
Then came the main event, a group of dancers led us all from one room to another performing amongst the guests, a new performer in each area. Eventually culminating in a terrific dance and light show on the terrace mirrored by the snow-flecked Alps. Club Med take pride in entertaining its guests in style.
The next morning I was booked into the e-bike tour up the mountain. They have 115 e-bikes with a range of 100 km at least. Three settings, Eco for those that want the exercise, Normal for an easy ride and Boost which effectively turns it into a moped, whizzing up the hills with ease. I tried to stay in Eco, but it was great to have Boost when going off-road on steep hills. We climbed over 1000 metres up Mont Charvet and the views were simply breathtaking. Horses, donkeys, cows, streams and waterfalls. I kept bursting into the song "The Hills Are Alive To The Sound Of Music", luckily no one could hear me.
The ride was three hours long and I could have kept going, the scenery was endlessly phenomenal, you just want to see over the next hill. And e-bikes are great exercise as you can choose how much you put in, while they take all the strain out of starting or the torque required for steep ascents. Brilliant for both beginners and excellent cyclists. Our guide took our safety and experience very seriously but made it fun too, he was, of course, a brilliant cyclist.
Another thing to note is that all the bikes are brand new each season, so you are guaranteed one that works brilliantly. Everything is included; bike, helmet, back protection and shoes. Plus they use the best and most expensive brands; Rossignol, Scott and Lapierre.
Club Med provide a wealth of family activities too, such as 150 hikes a week, and kids tours - teaching children about the local flora and fauna. They also have 10 hours of yoga classes a week, with a famous yoga partner. All included.
We then took a hiking tour of Val d'Isère, the guide Carole knew her history well, so the walk was a delight. She did mention in passing that the Savoie was poorly divided in two in the late 1700s, leaving half the locals in Italy and half in France.
Interestingly enough this was done by one of my ancestors, Herault de Sechelles (he was actually a Contades, but inherited his grandmother's name, as she was the mistress of his grandfather Erasme de Contades, a Marshall of France). Herault was commissioned with implementing the handover of La Savoie from the king of Sardinia in 1792 to France, spending much of the time travelling the area with a local lady, Adele de Bellegarde. He was also president of the convention of France several times during the Revolution, but that's another story.
“Cascades, maisonettes, vue bornée, masses immenses, sapins, ardoises, près fleuris, onde pure, peupliers, tout enfin!”
Hérault de Séchelles on La Savoie
He was just as enchanted by the area as I was.
After all that cycling, hiking and historical tours, it was time for a massage. My legs were gently pummelled with swirling fingers until I was completely relaxed. The French are less known than the Swedish for their massage skills, but this one was blissful. The masseuse used a lovely scented oil, Cinq Mondes Ayurvedic Oil, that moisturised my skin a treat.
La piece de resistance was an afternoon of paragliding. My friends and I were driven at speed along the mountain roads to meet Lionel and his team, who would be flying us into the cloudless firmament. They prepped their canopies on the side of a sheer mountain slope whilst we admired the vast expensive valley below us, a height of two thousand metres. The landscape seems to stretch on forever. I watched at least two friends scream their way into the heavens before it was my turn, the last on the mountain.
This was a tandem jump, so Lionel and I waltzed back and forth until the wind caught the wing and we soared up over the pine trees below. Rising swiftly up on a thermal we reached at least three thousand metres, far above the peaks and ski lifts below. Chalets were dots in the forest below. Three other canopies tangoed in the eternal azure sky around us. I have never experienced such a vast endless realm, dancing with winged angels over undulating ravines and meadows below. It is mind-boggling. Lionel and I just chatted as if we were strolling along Picadilly Circus, as he pointed out the landmarks.
The pitch of the wind is your speedometer, a soft low murmur indicates you are drifting peaceably, whilst a blustery high-pitched whistle means you are tearing along. Many paragliders also employ a height indicator that beeps as you rise or fall.
The flight lasts seemingly forever, 25 minutes is a long time when you cannot believe your eyes. Finally, we floated closer to the landing zone. In the distance, I could see Justin spinning around the axis of his airfoil. Then Lionel asked if I wanted a "dynamic landing". Well, of course I did (you can choose). Suddenly the adrenalin spiked through my body as we swerved brutally from one side to another, before popping into a full wingover. Needless to say, the exhilaration was immense, the world literally span, topsy-turvy, before my eyes.
Our landing could not have been more gentle and the entire experience was utterly thrilling. Lionel talked me through everything and was an informative, caring and entertaining companion.
We were now ready for the Aprés-Paragliding party which did not disappoint. Club Med laid on a legendary show with a terrific band. Including a sexy DJ in a gold sequinned outfit, three master guitarists and four world-class singers in silver sequins who sang like celebrity divas, with extraordinary range, from as high as the Beegees to as low as Louis Armstrong. They covered all the latest and greatest pop songs, with some classics thrown in. The whole audience danced like maniacs.
Club Med Val d'Isère is an exceptional experience, this is clearly intended to be a flagship resort, reimagining all-inclusive luxury holidays for the future. And it feels like something new, breaking ground even in such a competitive market. Club Med has been around since the 50s having invented the all-inclusive resort, and with over 70 of them they clearly know what they are doing, They enjoy a 70% client return rate and offer a membership program that rewards loyalty.
Possibly my favourite aspect of Club Med was the staff, they are carefully chosen and truly excellent. Club Med refer to them as GOs or Gentle Organisers, consisting of 22 nationalities and speaking multiple languages. They pride themselves on looking after their staff with care so that they look after their guests with kindness, a core value of the whole company. Staff can travel and work in all of the 70 resorts they have all over the world and access the amenities and activities.
Club Med call the resort guests GM or Gentle Members, which has a gentle humour all of its own. But jokes aside the ethos of kindness is evident. Continuing that theme their loyalty program refers to clients as Great Members. I was disappointed not to get an inscribed T-shirt!
Aside from the luxury, the marvellous activities, the incredible setting, the exquisite decor, the quality of the equipment, and the stress-free setup where they supply everything you need and arrange activities for you, it is the incredible location and staff that stand out. Happiness is contagious, if everyone around you is having a fantastic time, so will you. The atmosphere at this resort is carefree, merry and joyful. Not to mention you get super fit and healthy whilst having tremendous fun. Summer or winter, it's up to you.
I'll leave you with a few words from the founder of Club Med.
"The purpose of life is to be happy.
The time to be happy is now.
And the place to be happy is here"
Seven nights all-inclusive stay at Club Med Val d’Isere, French Alps from £1,727 (was £1,919) per person (based on double occupancy). Price based on departure date 23.07.2023.
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