If Richard Branson invited you on holiday, there’s no prizes for guessing what your answer would be. Mine was much the same – a whooping hell yes – when an invitation to visit Branson’s mountain retreat, The Lodge in Verbier, arrived. Granted this invitation didn’t come from Richard himself, but the chalet is indeed one of his (many) homes, and I’m told his influence is omnipresent. But quite apart from getting the scoop on the UK’s most charismatic billionaire, what on earth is there to do in a ski resort in June?
Not just any old ski resort, Verbier is one of the glitziest, ritziest, old school destinations in the Alps, with legions of fur-clad glamazons descending on the tiny town in winter. Come June, a new Verbier emerges from the snow; offering visitors a very different experience on the slopes. With crisp mountain air, average temperatures in the late 20s (think of the tanning potential), panoramic views and soaring skies, a high-altitude holiday should, on paper, offer some interesting competition to the traditional beach break.
While I might not have had a billionaire-style private jet to travel in, getting to Verbier was painless compared with other mountain resorts and after an hour’s train journey to Martigny from Geneva airport, it’s a 25-minute transfer to Verbier. The Lodge sits on the just above the town, hardly isolated but far enough from its heart to afford some perspective – and a serious view. On arrival there was a sunny welcome from The Lodge team and – obviously – a glass of Champagne on the spectacular outdoor terrace. Greedily filling my lungs with air as fresh as new Nikes while stuffing my face with canapés, I was stumped by both the scenery and my immediate surroundings. There’s a 360-degree vista of lush mountains, offset by snowy peaks, and the bijoux wooden chalets neatly dot the hillsides. It was truly another world, the quiet interrupted only by birdsong and offers of more Champagne. That’s my kind of background noise.
The Lodge itself is pretty special too. Unlike so many mountain chalets, there’s no orange-stained pine and dodgy decor here. Instead it’s all reclaimed beams, juxtaposed with luxurious contemporary design – modern, yet warm and comfortable – with airy zones for chilling, dining, or hanging out by the bar. Upstairs to the bedrooms and it got better. But before I even got a chance to explore I knew which suite was mine: Olivia chalked on the door. It’s the sort of touch that can’t help but make you smile, and by the time I got inside, my grin was off the charts. This bedroom had it all; a mezzanine bathroom, private balcony, a ridiculous bed and all the techy toys. Despite an urge to bounce on the bed and have a ruffle, I headed outside instead.
An adventure playground for adults, summer in the Alps encompasses means plenty of high energy, adrenalin-fuelled activities. From hikes to cycling and paragliding, Verbier is a dream for active types. What’s more, The Lodge can arrange all of the above for you, as well as pretty much anything else you can think of – heli yoga, anyone? Nothing is too much trouble, with any requests catered for with aplomb. I was tempted to turn health-freak for the weekend and eat vegan in a test of my willpower and the kitchen’s imagination. But then I saw the menu. A feast of local, seasonal produce, the chefs at The Lodge have first-class experience at UK gems such as Tom Kerridge’s Michelin-starred pub, The Hand in Flowers and, boy are they not shy about showing off their talent. Eating well is always on my agenda and so I left the fussy requests to my companions (why do some women say they don’t eat bread then wolf mine?), instead getting stuck into delights such as rack of lamb with pea puree and broad beans, chocolate delice with salted caramel and mandarin sorbet, and much of the excellent wine cellar.
With visions of pounds piling on, I made up for all the munching with getting active. In just three days I hiked the Bisse, a gentle ramble that wraps around Les Ruinettes, stopping en route for a bespoke picnic, zipped down dry ski runs on scooters and took to the skies in a tandem paraglide.
I was new to this gulp-worthy activity, and despite being strapped into a harness with an experienced instructor, I was bricking it. But there was really no need to panic for – as soon as we started to motor down the hill, we were up and off. Not only was the take off a breeze, the exhilaration of cruising through the air, buoyed by currents, had me seeing the world through a child’s eyes.
Back on terra firma, it was straight into The Lodge’s in-house spa (yes, really) for a hot stone massage before a spot of wine tasting on the terrace. While Swiss wine might be a well-kept secret (find some immediately), what isn’t is the dedication of staff at The Lodge. This team has more in common with a ‘family’ (although I can’t remember the last-time my sister left some goodnight chocolates on my bed), cutting a pitch-perfect note between professional, friendly and relaxed, and being ready with a stiff drink or a helping hand before even you know you want one.
While, sadly, I didn’t meet the main man himself, at the very least I’ve lost my V-plates when it comes to Alpine summers and I’m definitely coming back for more. Mountains are the officially the new beach: you heard it here first.
NEED TO KNOW…
A night at the Lodge starts at CHF 895 (£600) based on double occupancy, with breakfast, lunch, dinner and champagne included. For more information or to book, call 0800 716 919 (toll free) or visit thelodge.virgin.com for more details. Flights to Geneva with British Airways start at £39 one way. See ba.com for more information and to book.