It started as a mischievous après-ski game: to see how many White Company candles we could spot from a sitting position, on vast cream sofas by a blazing fire, without moving or spilling our champagne (when you’re in a penthouse costing £26,000 a week, what else would one drink?).
From my pole position, with views into the hall, I could count 19. If I’d been allowed to hobble on my aching thighs into the second living room, the big open-plan kitchen, the pretty Alpine Swiss Stübli and up the stairs into the mezzanine snug and library, the total would have risen to 53. And that was before I’d entered the six bedrooms.
In most chalets this might seem absurd, but at Haus Alpina – the Klosters home of Chrissie Rucker, founder of The White Company – it seems perfectly natural to have candles dotted everywhere, wafting the scents of white lavender and pine over the white faux-fur cushions, the white roses and peonies, the white towels, and the white silk throws. Here, the perfect pale interiors leave you in no doubt as to who the owners are.
When Rucker and her husband Nick Wheeler, the owner of Charles Tyrwhitt shirts, bought the duplex penthouse in 2011, it had just three bedrooms – and (gasp!) coloured walls. With the help of award winning interior designer Nicky Dobree, they transformed it into what must be the most comfortable contemporary six-bedroom residence in Klosters – all, of course, decorated in the most tasteful whites and greys, with details in wood, stone and chrome.
Certainly, my locally born ski guide, Marco Niggli, was impressed when he dropped me off after a day’s skiing. “I have seen some very nice chalets in Klosters,” he said, citing the Bear, Maldeghem and Eugenia (the latter a favourite of the Duke of York) as among the best of the seven luxury chalets available to rent in the village (mostly through British chalet manager Xenia Mason, who has skied and lived here much of her life). “But this is big, no, for a penthouse? And very nice that every bathroom has a bath.” But then the penthouse was built specifically as a ski-home for the couple and their four children – and a long hot bath, Rucker says, is her daily guilty pleasure “with a big glass of wine, followed by a snuggle in bed with a good magazine”.
The couple’s master suite, at the top of the four-storey building, is made to indulge guilty pleasures: its bed, covered in super-crisp white linen and quilted silk; its egg-shaped bath, lined with bottles of Rucker’s own White Lavender body products; its white leather-covered dressing table, adorned with fresh white flowers; and its atmosphere, sweetened with music from a Bose system and moist air from a humidifier. What it doesn’t have is a sauna or a pool, but then, Rucker says, the whole family is “ski-mad and games-mad, so when we’re not outside, we’re by the fire, playing anything from the Hat Game to Britain’s Got Talent. If we want to swim, the Vereina Hotel has fantastic steam, sauna, relaxation and swim areas. Alternatively, their masseuses come to us.”
The master bathroom itself was designed to be a large and spacious ensuite to the master bedroom. The bath rightly takes centre stage. The double basins to the left sit on top of a bespoke vanity with mirrors above. The shower and wc are to the right. Double cupboards left and right form part of the dressing as you enter. It all flows seemlessy.
Downstairs, the soft neutral tones of the sitting room provide a welcome retreat at the end of a day on the piste. Cashmere throws and sheepskin cushions invite you to curl up on the sofa in front of the fire which is set with a slate chimney breast and is the main focul point of the room. Over in the corner the armchair, upholstered in a boucle wool, is a lovely place to sit and read. A large artwork by Alex Calinescue draws your eye beyond.
“Klosters has a name for being quiet and discreet”
Unlike other expensive ski resorts such as Courchevel and Val d’Isère, which attract big party-goers and high-spending Russians, Klosters has a name for being quiet and discreet – hence its attractiveness to stars and royals. “At one time it was known as ‘Hollywood on the Rocks’ because of the number of American stars who came here,” says James Palmer-Tomkinson, who counts the British royal family among the clients of his bespoke ski company P T Ski, and whose father, uncles and grandfather skied at Klosters. In the Chesa Grischuna hotel alone, guests have included Greta Garbo, Gene Kelly, Rex Harrison and Deborah Kerr. “The big stars still come,” he says, “but these days you hardly see them because they stay in private chalets, and many go off piste. If they do go out, locals understand that what happens in Klosters stays in Klosters.”
For those in search of long pistes and challenging off-piste skiing, the resort has few rivals. In the mountains above Klosters and Davos are six ski areas, with 199 miles of runs and 58 lifts; if you take the funicular and cable car to Weissfluhgipfel, it’s possible to do a single 7½-mile run to Kublis, and then take the train back, a trip included in the ski pass. Even if you’re only an intermediate skier, as I am, there are several long red slopes – and the Madrisa area has beginners’ slopes, a children’s kindergarten and, Rucker adds,
“a fantastic ski school, Mardens, which my children have attended all the way through. They’re now such good racers it’s hard for their geriatric mum to keep up.”
Rather charmingly, on its intermediate slopes the resort still has some of its old-fashioned T-bars, invented here and used by such adventurers as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, followed in 1903 by visitors on the first organised British winter-sports travel trip. Since then, it has become a favourite of Britons in search of quiet, quaint village life, from Victoria Beckham to the British Royal family, who are such regular visitors that one chair lift is called The Prince of Wales.
It is certainly low-key. Strolling through the village, we spot not a single luxury fashion boutique, but a Co-op, a jewellers and a couple of Alpine gift shops among the old-fashioned, chalet-style boutique hotels. The most unusual sights are a woman taking both a baby and a small horse for a morning walk – and a “taxi” comprising a horse and cart. Rucker, who has been skiing in the area for 12 years, says the village’s authenticity is what draws families such as hers. “What we like is that there isn’t a ‘scene’ as such; it’s the polar opposite of Verbier. It’s a pretty, charming Swiss village of people who farm in summer and ski in winter.” It is also, she adds, surrounded by “unbelievably beautiful scenery: you go from wide open slopes to skiing through the trees, which, when it’s snowing, is like Narnia”.
From the slopes, with leading Swiss skier Monica Dicht and Marco Niggli as my guides, I get to see Rucker’s Narnia landscapes: soaring snow-capped mountains bordering Austria, big open snowfields dotted with wooden huts, pretty paths that zigzag through forests, and air scented with pine. From the Parsenn ski area we can see the town of Davos, its incongruous gold, egg-shaped InterContinental hotel shimmering in the wintry silver sunlight. It is so chocolate-box pretty that it’s almost kitsch.
That can’t be said of the softly soothing interiors of Haus Alpina, in which, at the end of a long day out on the slopes, we are greeted by the ever-smiling full-time staff, Jimmy McNamara and Tracey Gill. They have dimmed the lights, lit the fires (and the candles, which Tracey admits took her at least 10 minutes), and set out tea and cake. Big bubble baths are followed by light-as-air canapés and cocktails by the fire, and then a delicious four-course dinner, served on a long table constructed from a reclaimed beam, under a chandelier comprising the interwoven antlers of several deer.
Although its interiors couldn’t be more perfect thanks to Nicky Dobree interior design, Haus Alpina has its flaws. The views are not the prettiest in Klosters (overlooking other new buildings), the property has no spa, and its bootroom and underground entrance, right beside a supermarket, lack charm. What you do get instead are the kinds of things you could never experience at a five-star hotel: privacy, staff who are solely at your beck and call, and a taste of Chrissie Rucker’s gloriously cosy, candlelit world.
Haus Alpina (haus-alpina-klosters.com) is available to rent for up to 12 people for seven nights. The price includes dedicated staff for six days, champagne reception, breakfast, tea, canapés and dinner, daily housekeeping plus pickups and drop-offs at ski lifts in the chalet’s Land Rover Defender.
Swiss pharmacies stock the best lotions and potions for tired legs, and herbal remedies for dry skin. I can’t resist going into Helios. I get a lot of lovely things from the interiors shop PineCone, such as the moose cushions in the bedrooms.
For lunch, the Berghaus Alpenrösli (alpenroesli-klosters.ch) is great fun – particularly on a white-out day – because you can get a taxi up to it, have a fondue, then toboggan back down the mountain, which the children love.
The Chesa Grischuna hotel (chesagrischuna.ch) has a lovely little old-fashioned bowling alley in the basement, so is great for an evening of supper and bowling.
The Hohwald (http://hoehwald-klosters.ch) is a romantic spot for supper. It’s in an old Alpine chalet in Monbiel, and when it’s really snowy you can book a sleigh to get out there.
The best ski guides work for Absolute Powder (absolute-powder.ch) and we’ve used them for years.
We love Andrist (http://andrist-sport.ch) for ski-hire, as they’re really friendly. Or try Gotschna-Sport for off-piste and touring equipment.
There’s an ice-skating rink just a few minutes’ walk from our house (sportzentrum-klosters.ch) which also has a wonderful spa – so good for an afternoon when you’re not on the slopes.
For lunch on the mountains, we have several favourites. AlteShwendi (alteschwendi.ch) is the best spot for coffee on a sunny day, because it has an enormous sun deck with views of gorgeous tree-lined runs. For lunch, we like Fondu Stubli-Shifer (myfonduestuebli.ch) for fondue and raclette; Schlappin-Erika (schlappin.ch), on the home run to Klosters from Madrisa, for its great local food and pretty views; WeisfluGipfel (restaurant-weissfluhgipfel.ch), the highest restaurant in the area, for its 360-degree views and filling meals; and Weisflujoch (http://wfj.ch), for the best salads and grilled meats.
The Bad Serneus Hotel (badserneus.ch) is one of the oldest hotel spas in the whole of Switzerland; it is very Victorian and old-fashioned but its waters are incredibly healing. The Vereina Hotel (hotelvereina.ch) has fantastic steam, sauna, relaxation and swim areas, too.”
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