Wanderings, travel, photographs and skiing…

Day 1: Courmayeur and Chalethotel Cristallo, Italy

By on December 21, 2008 in Italy

Off skiing for Christmas with Mark Warner, a company I have used a number of times and on this trip, I will be going to Courmayeur, Italy

The check-in at Gatwick was easy, and I was soon in the departure lounge where, because it was so early, nothing was open. Eventually Pret A Manger opened, but they didn’t appear to have much food available. I managed to get coffee and a croissant.

One thing that was puzzling me was I was on VIK airlines. I had never heard of them. It turns out it was Viking Airlines. Who knew? I had never heard of Viking Airlines, and they had an interesting colour scheme, a sort of blue and yellow.

Viking Airlines was a typical low-cost airline; I guess it is the Ryan Air of some Nordic country? The seats were uncomfortable as they were too close together and food had to be bought. The flight was only delayed by an hour or so. Can’t complain!

Eventually, everything worked as hoped. We flew into Geneva and were met by the Mark Warner reps. It appears we are their first guests of the season, which might prove interesting.

The transfer was by coach from Geneva Airport to Courmayeur via the Mont Blanc tunnel. The total travel time: 1 hour 30 minute

The head ski host as a broken thumb. I found this to be an encouraging sign… Particularly as it only the first week of the season!

The information given on the coach was a little lacking and inaccurate on lift passes. As we were the first guests of the season, the ski hosts seemed a little unsure as to what was happening, and how things should be run/organised. Was this the fault of the host, or poor training by Mark Warner?

One problem was that I had had no breakfast on the plane (I missed it as I was asleep – well, I was up at 4 am, and didn’t get to sleep until midnight (having been woken around 11 pm by a fire alarm)), and the reps on the coach had no food or water on the coach.

For some reason lift passes and ski hire was not dealt with on the coach – usually, this sort of thing is dealt with on the coach.  Again, was this a problem with the rep, or was it a lack of thought and training by Mark Warner? The lack of ski hire and tickets on the coach was a shame as there was an outside chance of getting some skiing in during the afternoon.

We arrived in Courmayeur to be greeted by the hotel gang.

Chalethotel Cristallo was very nice and is located just off the main pedestrianized road in Courmayeur.

You enter on the first floor (curiously the door on the ground floor does not appear to be used) into the main lobby area, with a lounge (where afternoon tea is served) and bar area off to the left.

The dining room (along with the ski lockers) is downstairs (i.e. ground floor).

Chalethotel Cristallo

Chalethotel Cristallo

Hotel staff seem friendly, and it appears they have had a lot of snow….

Local fireman clearing snow from the roof of Chalethotel Cristallo

Local fireman clearing snow from the roof of Chalethotel Cristallo

It appears there is no Wifi. Apparently, it is broken but will be back on tomorrow, and when it does work, I will have to pay for it. Considering the price of the holiday, you would think Mark Warner could throw in some free WiFi?

My room was a bit of a disappointment. There was no window, and the only outside light that comes into the room was from a glass door (the room is on the ground floor) that looked directly into the face of a cliff. The room was also incredibly hot, even after I had turned off all the heating.

When I was picking my room, I had the choice of a bath or a shower. When skiing I like a shower for speed and convenience, but a bath is handy as it means you can soak away the aches and pains. I opted for a shower. However, I can’t use it as I am too tall. It is a shower for people below 5ft 5in.

While I was waiting for the room to cool, I decided to explore the town (I was also still waiting for news on the lift passes). The town is very picturesque and very Christmassy. It was also incredibly expensive.

Courmayeur, Italy

Courmayeur, Italy

The hotel staff finally sorted out selling ski passes and skis. The ski passes come in four “flavours”, and there seemed to be some confusion as to the differences:

  1. A ski pass for Courmayeur.
  2. A ski pass for Courmayeur and some resorts further down the valley.
  3. A ski pass that covers Courmayeur and Chamonix, but not down the valley (and includes a bus transfer to Chamonix).
  4. A pass that covers everywhere….

(I may have this wrong.)

One very odd thing was we hired the skis up the mountain. There was initially a problem as all our ski passes started the next day, and it meant the resort was trying to make us pay for a lift pass to go and hire the skis or we wait for the morning and lose ski time.

Another piece of worrying news was the main cable car from the town to the ski area was not working (it should be noted the ski area is in a hanging valley above the town and you need to get the main cable car from the town to the ski area. It is possible to ski from the ski area to the town). There is a secondary cable car (the one you can ski down to), but it is a 20 minute walk from the hotel.

Having the skis at the top of the mountain (technically it is not the top, the ski storage/rental area is at the start of the hanging valley) was actually good news as it meant I wouldn’t have to carry skis and boots on a 20 minute hike through the town to the cable car. However, the overnight storage up the mountain is not locked. I was told the storage was free, but this only appears to be true for hired equipment. As I have my own boots, I had to pay €15 (£15 or $23) for the storage of the boots for the week. If you have your own skis this is another €15 (£15 or $23).

The snow up the mountain looked really good, but the mountain did look small. It looked a lot smaller than I remembered it (I skied here for a day in the late 90s).

The weather is clear and sunny.

And when I got back to the hotel my room was still like and oven…..

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Nick's continued wanderings can be followed on Twitter: @nickswanderings.
 

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