As our car navigates the winding road up towards the Austrian resort of Oberlech, the alpine scenery is breathtaking, the early spring sunshine making inroads into the snow atop the mountain peaks. The stunning panorama is apposite as our destination is the summit of luxury accommodation and service.
Although the exterior of Chalet N is unarguably picturesque in a refined wintry wonderland sort of way, it only hints at the splendour within. But this is probably how privacy-seeking super rich clients paying 300,000 euros a week for party of up to around two dozen, including four children, prefer it.
Whereas local hotels have star ratings writ large on their frontage, it is only when up close to the Chalet N entrance that the six stars beneath its elegant insignia can be confidently identified.
All becomes truly apparent when welcomed inside by affable host Georg Gruber, a former male model who still looks the part.
First impressions of the 11 suite property — constructed in just seven months and opened at the end of 2012 — are of both style and substance. And it is refreshingly free of bling.The decor is a pleasing blend of the traditional and (understated) modern, the former represented by the use throughout of wood from Austrian fir trees.
After a two-hour transfer from Zurich (the nearest international airport), I’m keen to freshen up so am shown to my accommodation in the deceptively cavernous residence.
Mind you, I could have stumbled upon it without assistance as it has “Barry” written on a sign above the door. Mine lacks the eye-popping grandeur of the master bedroom for the head of party (bill payer), whose name will be stitched on to the bathrobes and pillowcases. Or indeed the fun potential for arrested adolescents of the fab toys in the kids’ bedroom, which is knowingly nabbed by visiting execs from the property’s owners.
But my bolt hole features the anticipated high end facilities — super comfy bed, touch control of lighting and blinds, toiletries from Hermes, additional TV screen on bathroom wall. And courtesy of the chalet’s location, magnificent mountainous views, to be enjoyed at closer proximity from the balcony, preferably with a stiff drink from the brimming minibar. However, this not being your ordinary hotel, the minibar extends to a (sadly) irresistible array of sweet treats — chocolate, nuts, crisps — all housed in Chalet N branded jars or boxes. I say sadly only because snacky gluttony does rather spoil the appetite for the menu prepared by the team of chefs.
To make the chalet a home from home for its high rolling guests, the culinary staff are on 24/7 call. You can enjoy everything from modern European cuisine with a local flourish in the main dining area to chips and popcorn while enjoying a recent movie or major sporting events in the cinema room. And boasting a chef with wide experience of catering simchas for the Viennese community, going kosher for a week would not be a problem. In that instance, a hugely fortunate rabbi would be brought in to supervise.
Austrian wine proves a revelation and, not unreasonably, the package includes all bottles priced up to 100 euros. And the most intimate dining setting is the table in the wine cellar, where connoisseurs can choose a vintage costing well into four figures to accompany their meal.
For most, skiing is the big outside attraction and the chalet arranges equipment and transport to the nearby slopes and free ski passes. Staying behind, I enjoyed sole use of the gym — where the machines are set up to accept memory sticks containing users’ personal fitness programmes — safe in the knowledge that the post-workout breakfast would be served at whatever hour I desired. Pretty much lunchtime as it transpired, because I subsequently indulged in a manly facial treatment in the spa and sauna area with oils and creams sourced from the Caribbean. Then in full relaxation mode, it was off to a quiet, darkened adjoining room, with tree-like wall adornments, to contemplate dreamily on a switch-controlled swaying bed.
Wandering back through the indoor pool area, I spied copies of Hello and OK! among the provided reading options by the seating, a sea change from the general reading material in the rooms, where titles tend to be along the lines of Yachting & Style.
Exotic Russian language periodicals offer a hint to the Chalet N patrons — as discretion is a key selling point, staff do not divulge guests’ names.
For additional entertainment, you can walk, or be driven down, to the shops and restaurants in Lech. But in secure and secluded six-star splendour, the temptation to spend non-skiing time off the property may not be that great. Incidentally, Chalet N has hitherto operated only during the winter sport season. But its bosses are keen to promote it as a summer destination, citing a pleasant climate, hiking and biking opportunities and commutability to centres such as Munich, Vienna and Zurich.
Of course, the burning question— and rather more than a 64,000 dollar one in this instance — is whether any one-week vacation (the chalet’s minimum stay) can justify such an outlandish price tag? I suppose the answer is in the clientele, to whom a few hundred thousand euros probably means less than the few grand we might grudgingly splash out on a family holiday in the sun. Behind the bullet-proof glass, it’s a case of, if you’ve got it, then at least quietly flaunt it.