Never mind chocolate eggs, this Easter our minds are on chocolate-box ski resorts. It’s a term that gets used a lot to describe quaint Alpine ski villages, but to truly be a chocolate box resort it has to fulfil a few criteria. This means the buildings should be wood, not concrete with cladding, and should have once been cowsheds rather than apartments. These should be set around a town square – ideally with a medieval church.
Essentially, chocolate box villages are the ones that have kept their character and charm despite mass tourism. Luckily, there are still a few of these villages peppered throughout the Alps. These are our absolute favourites.
The village of Adelboden sits on a sunny mountainside with exceptional panoramic views across a long valley. The town centre is home to a 15th Century church and is lined with chalets and shops that look deceptively like gingerbread houses. As well as easy access to more than 210 kilometres of pistes, the region also has a selection of winter hiking routes. It was the first Swiss destination to be awarded the Alpine Wellness holiday resort certificate – so it’s ideal for a relaxing break.
The lovely village of St Martin de Belleville is nestled in the vast Les Trois Vallées ski area between its larger neighbours Val Thorens, Méribel and Courchevel. The old farming village is an idyllic and unspoiled skiing commune with beautiful traditional wooden chalets and a 16th-century Baroque-style church. St Martin de Belleville is also in a prime skiing location with quick and easy access to its neighbours and the main areas of Les Trois Vallées.
This traditional village is located on a wind-protected terrace with above average sunshine hours and incredible views out to the Bernese Alps (particularly the peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau). From here you can easily access the family-friendly slopes of Kleine Scheidegg-Männlichen, as well as the World Cup runs on Lauberhorn. Wengen is absolutely car-free and can only be reached by the mountain railway. This line also calls in at Grindelwald – another chocolate-box resort.
Set in the heart of the Bernese Oberland, the attractive Swiss village of Gstaad defines a chocolate-box ski resort. The car-free village is peppered with picturesque chalets and hotels full of charm. Gstaad also has a vast array of stylish shops and gourmet restaurants; perfect for those looking for off-the-mountain activities. The ski area is as pristine and blissful as the resort itself; with modern chairlifts and 200km of tree-lined slopes for its residents to cruise around on. One stand-out feature of the village is the legendary Gstaad Palace, an almost fairytale-like castle.
With pistes at 1,500m and 3,000m above sea level, Mürren is the highest ski resort in the Bernese Oberland area. It has impeccable views of the Bernese Alps, particularly when you’re tackling the Schilthorn run – a 1,300m vertical with breathtaking terrain to match the vistas. The village itself is tiny, charming and entirely free of cars, apart from a few delivery vehicles. James Bond fans can also visit Piz Gloria restaurant, made famous by one of the films.
The largest commune in the Val Gardena area and part of the extensive Dolomiti Superski, Ortisei is a charming Italian village in South Tyrol. The architecture of the village has been largely influenced by its Tyrolean roots with pastel-coloured hotels, restaurants and bars making up most of the pretty village’s buildings. The resort also has access to a huge ski area filled with long, wide slopes; perfect for cruising. One stand-out building is the amazing Hotel Adler, the prominent five-star hotel is one of the most beautiful properties in the Dolomites.
The ‘Pearl of the Alps’, Saas-Fee is surrounded by 13 mountainous peaks soaring to 4,000m or higher. During the summer, you can still ski here (albeit on the glaciers). This is another car-free resort, although there are electric buses to shuttle you around during your stay. Despite the traditional feel of the village, with its still operating cowsheds and narrow streets, Saas-Free takes a modern approach to snow sports. Snowboarding, carving and other ‘new school’ styles are popular pastimes on its slopes.
One of Switzerland’s largest (and sunniest) resorts, Crans Montana has a lively après-ski scene which you don’t often find in typical chocolate box resorts. Despite this, it’s still got a laid-back, uncrowded feel that’s echoed by its gentle blue and red runs. The town sprawls and is separated into two distinct areas – modern Crans, with its upmarket designer shops (including Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Hermès) and older Montana with its traditional atmosphere and lively bars.