Adventure Doesn’t Mean Roughing It at This Luxury French Alps Retreat
Alpine activities and chef-prepared meals await at Chalet Pelerin.
Picture this: A dinner table abuzz with activity under the glow of string lights. On it, an artful melange of roasted eggplant and fresh figs, plates dappled with edible flowers and perfectly seared scallops, each perched atop a mound of mashed celeriac beside a green swirl of spinach velouté. Large servings of smooth, sugary créme caramel accompany the last few sips of wine. With each personally delivered course, the chef explains where the various components were harvested, and how he cooked them just for us. Candle flames dance along the edge of the terrace, and in the dusk-hued skies beyond, the lights of the tiny French village of Le Miroir make themselves visible against the Tarentaise Valley’s shadowy slopes. The silhouette of the French Alps fades into the darkening night as the cool evening breeze musses our hair, still damp from a pre-supper hot tub soak.
Or this: An ice blue river foams and bubbles over jutting boulders. “All forward!” yells the guide. I lean out of the raft and dig my paddle deep into the water, timing each stroke to match the person in front of me. We whoop and yell as our vessel bucks and shakes, tipping and turning with the riotous current. Suddenly, a large rock surfaces ahead of us and we all go flying, our bodies knocking into the belly of the raft and erupting in fits of laughter. Just as quickly, the river calms, and we leave the rapids behind to drift onward, ready to face whatever the current has in store.
Different as they may seem, both of these experiences are at the core of any visit to Eleven Chalet Pelerin. A luxury property in the Haute-Savoie region of France, the elegant retreat draws a significant distinction between celebrating the outdoors and actually roughing it. “Eleven was born from the idea that one shouldn’t have to sacrifice world-class accommodations in order to ski the best terrain and fish the most remote rivers,” explains the company’s managing director, Ian Wick. “Teams consist not only of top-caliber chefs and lodge staff, but also some of the most knowledgeable and highly trained local guides in the industry.”
In other words, if you’re into nature but prefer hot baths and plush robes to chilly streams and sleeping bags, Chalet Pelerin has you covered.
About his work, Chalet Pelerin’s guide manager Jean-Noël Gaidet says, “The goal is always to take people out of their comfort zone.” Gaidet’s family has been living in Le Miroir for more than six generations, and he’s skilled at everything from rock climbing to backcountry skiing. He coaxes guests through adventure sports with a combination of earned confidence and good-natured humor. Ask him about the day’s short hike, for example, and, with the straightest of faces, he’ll claim that the two-mile jaunt is definitely more than five. Join him on a white water rafting trip, and he’ll explain that the next set of rapids is horrifically dangerous—but his easy grin soon gives him away. The message, of course, is that there’s nothing to be afraid of here, because everything is under control.
In fact, that’s the philosophy behind all dozen or so of Eleven’s properties, a roster that includes Harbour Island’s Bahama House, Patagonia’s Rio Palena Lodge, and Crested Butte’s Scarp Ridge Lodge, among others. “Eleven’s adventures give guests the opportunity to go beyond their typical comfort zone in a safe environment,” says Wick. “Some of the most meaningful travel experiences come when we push ourselves to try something new, or challenge ourselves to delve deeper into an activity that we’re passionate about.”
That’s something I discover firsthand during an e-bike excursion, wheels wobbling as I ascend a steep dirt track. I’m new to mountain biking and an unskilled cyclist at best, and—to be honest—none too sure about the considerable drop down the slope to my right. “Am I going to be okay?” I asked the guide at some point, half joking.
“I’m not worried about you on the bike,” he says, laughing, and I let out a held breath.
The climb levels out, then descends gently through fields and forests before passing through a fairytale village set against a backdrop of snowy mountains. As the Alpine breeze streams over my sweaty face, I gratefully refill my water bottle in a crystal-clear brook and decide there’s no place I’d rather be.
There’s ample opportunity to push yourself at Chalet Pelerin, where adventure activities—coordinated by Gaidet—range from hiking, cycling, canyoneering, and rock climbing to glacier trekking, heli-skiing, ice climbing, and snowshoeing. The winter season is especially popular, as the lodge’s proximity to the Alps lends itself to all kinds of snowy backcountry experiences. But there’s something especially charming about summer in Le Miroir, when all but the town’s 50-odd year-round residents have vacated their holiday homes, leaving the narrow empty streets to zig-zag between centuries-old stone houses. Hikes wind past locals gathering hillside blueberries, and leisurely meals are often eaten al fresco.
But not everything is about getting your heart rate up. The chalet is a welcoming yet luxurious haven, the kind of place that’ll have you padding around in socks or slippers as if in your very own home—if your home was a professionally designed mountain retreat.
There are multi-tiered terraces where you can enjoy an apéritif while gazing out over the mountains, warm yourself around a fire pit, or slip into a bubbling hot tub. Inside, the decor is tasteful but decidedly unfussy: plaid curtains, comfy couches, a small bar area with bottomless bowls of nuts and olives. Then there’s the indoor pool, sauna, steam room, and hot tub, and the gear room with its rows of mountaineering boots and e-bikes, ready to outfit guests each morning.
People come here to relax, breathe in the Alpine air, and eat at least two chef-prepared meals per day, sure, but Chalet Pelerin isn’t just a hotel, it’s an experience. “Guests should come with an open mindset and an appetite for adventure,” advises Wick. “Our team is known for delivering an element of surprise, whether that takes the form of an impromptu costume party while skiing above the ocean or après served via helicopter on top of a remote mountain. Sometimes, it’s something unexpected that makes the trip truly unforgettable.”
He’s not wrong. On one such unforgettable night, we dine on fireside fondue in an Eleven-owned backcountry hut lit only by candlelight. Afterwards, stuffed and happy on creamy cheese and local wine, a karaoke machine mysteriously appears. Its arrival is met with cheers of delight, followed by a marathon of songs belted out beside flickering flames. Our bodies might be sore from hiking and glacier trekking, but there’s an air of possibility in this little corner of the Alps—and there’s always room for just one more adventure.