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Cross-border skiing is best done in an Alpine setting

Skiing between countries is one of the great luxuries of a winter holiday in Europe.
Skiing from La Thuile, Italy, towards La Rosière, France, along the San Bernardino pass. Alamy
Skiing from La Thuile, Italy, towards La Rosière, France, along the San Bernardino pass. Alamy

It’s cross-country skiing – but not as we know it. There’s a certain joy in starting the day in one country and skiing into another that even the most jaded skiers never quite tire of. European ski domains that straddle international borders offer two experiences for the price of one – fancy breakfast in France and lunch in Italy? It does wonders for your sense of adventure when you ski across a border and instantly swap languages, cultures, cuisines and, in some cases, currencies.

Just take the ski areas of Chamonix and Courmayeur in France, the Aosta Valley in Italy, and Verbier in Switzerland – and three countries can be seen in a day on a single ski pass: the Mont Blanc Unlimited. And then there’s the thrill of waking up in one country and smoothly gliding into another. Ski areas such as the Matterhorn, Portes du Soleil and the Milky Way have linked runs that make it easy to nip back and forth across the border as much or as little as you like.

And it’s not just the skiing. Luxury hotels and restaurants mean you can feast on pumpkin risotto and wild rabbit in Italy, raclette or tartiflette in France, schnitzel in Austria and cheese fondue in Switzerland. You soon see how neighbours can be so close and yet so different, with party resorts known for their buzzing nightlife sitting just next door to more intimate, family-orientated villages.

Zermatt, Switzerland – Cervinia, Italy

The jagged peak of the Matterhorn is a compelling sight that’s hard to escape on both sides of the Swiss-Italian border. The better view is from Zermatt on the Swiss side, where the scenery is spectacular and the snow plentiful. While Cervinia’s slopes lack the challenges you’ll find over the border, they’re sunny, wide and have nearly as good a snow record as their neighbour’s.

Zermatt is the prettier and more cosmopolitan of the two, with a buzzing nightlife and a mind-boggling choice of accommodation. This winter, Haute Montagne launches its 7 Heavens chalet complex, with the first three of seven ultra-luxurious chalets opening in the town centre. They all sleep up to 12 and feature indoor spas as well as highly attentive staff. A week’s rental starts at 29,514 Swiss francs (Dh109,466), excluding food and drink. You can also book these and other luxury chalets through Brambleski, Firefly Collection and Alpine Guru.

For a change from the typically Alpine-chalet style, stay in the seriously funky Backstage Hotel, which has sublime views of the Matterhorn from many of its glass-walled rooms. Doubles start at CHF199 (Dh738), room only.

Top-end dining is easy to find in Zermatt, and that includes three restaurants with Michelin stars. Try the Mediterranean-influenced menu at Capri, the gourmet restaurant at five-star Mont Cervin Palace, the grande dame of Zermatt hotels.

In Cervinia, soak up the old-world elegance of the five-star Hotel Hermitage, a Relais & Châteaux hotel that’s in the shadow of the Matterhorn – or Monte Cervino, as it’s called here. Doubles start at €509 (Dh2,050), including half board.

If you’re based in Zermatt, get up early to avoid the queues for the Klein Matterhorn cable car that leads to Cervinia’s slopes. Keep an eye on the times for the final lifts back: you won’t want to be stuck with a four-hour taxi ride back to Zermatt or have to hunt for a hotel room.

Visit zermatt.ch and cervinia.it for more information.

Portes du Soleil – France and Switzerland

With its 12 linked resorts spread across 650 kilometres of pistes, this enormous domain offers a huge range of skiing along the French-Swiss border. If you want a proper challenge, take on the moguls on the infamous “Swiss Wall” black run on the Chavanette sector on the Swiss border.

Wherever you stay in Portes du Soleil, you’ll soon cover a lot of territory as you criss-cross the border. On the French side there’s the classic French Châtel, lively Morzine and futuristic Avoriaz as well as intimate Les Gets.

Champéry is the main Swiss resort, its traditional village centre full of rustic charm. Champéry’s smartest hotel is the four-star Le White, which lives up to its name in its understated, elegant decor in every shade of cream and neutral tones. Doubles start at 229 Swiss francs (Dh850), including breakfast.

On the French side, the choice is bewildering. In Châtel, the deluxe Chaletneuf du Tenne is in a lofty position above the village with views of the Abondance Valley. It sleeps up to 14 in its four bedrooms, and the indoor pool has fabulous mountain views. A week costs from €13,500 (Dh54,500) and includes most meals and an in-resort driver service, through Firefly Collection.

Chalet Igloo in the centre of Morzine combines fantastically quirky styling with perks including a private cinema, a gym and an outdoor hot tub. Booked through Elevation Alps, it costs from €8,500 (Dh34,250) a week and sleeps up to 11.

Accommodation in ski-in, ski-out Avoriaz, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this season, is mostly in apartments through Pierre & Vacances. But for a more luxurious experience, try the four-star Hotel des Dromonts, the only hotel in the resort. Its interior is straight out of a James Bond film, with a wonderfully retro decor as well as a spa. Doubles start at €230 (Dh926), including breakfast.

For more information, visit portesdusoleil.com.

Ischgl, Austria – Samnaun, Switzerland

Think of party resorts in Austria, and St Anton immediately springs to mind, but Ischgl more than gives its Arlberg rival a run for its money. This resort in the Tirol is among the best – if not the best – for après-ski in the Alps, and its high altitude, superb lift system and reliable snow make it even more appealing. It’s part of the Silvretta ski area which includes the duty-free Swiss resort of Samnaun, and its total size of 238 kilometres will keep intermediates busy. If you’ve got four hours to spare, take the thigh-burning Smuggler’s Run Gold piste straight to Samnaun over about 35km. There’s a gentler version if you prefer to stick to Blue runs. Speaking of smugglers, factor in the duty-free limits if you plan to do a lot of shopping in Samnaun.

Ischgl’s only five-star hotel, Trofana Royal, also includes one of the town’s finest restaurants along with an excellent spa. Half board costs from €240 (Dh967) per person, per night. In Samnaun, you get Michelin-starred dining when you stay at the four-star Hotel Chasa Montana, along with an indoor pool and spa. Doubles cost from 380 Swiss francs (Dh1,140), including breakfast and dinner.

For more details, visit ischgl.com and samnaun.ch.

The Milky Way – France and Italy

Five of the six ski resorts in the Milky Way (Via Lattea) ski domain are in Italy, yet it’s the French outpost, Montgenèvre, which offers the most variety. Montgenèvre is especially good for beginners, as they can progress rapidly to exhilarating high-altitude runs. You can easily ski to Claviere across the Italian border, or you can just walk along a pleasant cross-country ski trail and swap French fondue for Piedmont pasta.

On the Italian side, Sestriere was Europe’s first purpose-built resort and played a starring role in the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics. For the most energetic nightlife in the area, check out Sauze d’Oulx (pronounced “sose douks”), which is a favourite with weekenders from Turin.

For the pick of plush accommodation, stay in Montgenèvre. The classy four-star apartments in Chalet des Dolines are just 150 metres from the cable car in the Obélisque part of the village and feature an indoor pool and spa. A week in a one-bedroom apartment through Peak Retreats costs from £441 (Dh1,975) per person, based on two sharing. Just around the corner is the equally classy Hotel le Chalet Blanc, which has a renowned restaurant as well as a spa. Seven nights in a double room cost from €791 (Dh3,195), including breakfast.

Tucked in the Clotes ski area overlooking Sauze d’Oulx, charming little Il Capricorno has only 10 rooms and is right by the piste. There’s a snowmobile or quad-bike shuttle service down to the village, but luckily there’s also a top-class restaurant serving refined Piedmont cuisine. Doubles start at €240 (Dh967), including breakfast.

For more information, visit montgenevre.com and vialattea.it.

La Rosière, France – La Thuile, Italy

These resorts in the Espace San Bernardo ski domain show what can happen when you club together. Separately, sunny La Rosière and its Aosta Valley neighbour La Thuile are decidedly on the small side, but together they make up 160 kilometres of varied pistes. Both are relaxed, traditional resorts favoured by families, and in La Thuile it’s rare to be stuck in a queue even during the school holidays. And thanks to their proximity, you can get around France’s heli-skiing ban by being dropped off on the Italian side and skiing over into France perfectly legally.

La Thuile’s only five-star hotel, Nira Montana, is 400 metres from the ski lift, and there’s a free shuttle service. Most of the cosy, stylish rooms have balconies and gorgeous mountain views, with doubles starting at €213 (Dh858) per night, including breakfast.

New this winter in La Rosière is Chalet Rosière, which specialises in yoga and well-being holidays in a luxurious setting. Although it’s a 10-minute drive from the village, there’s a dedicated driver on hand. It sleeps 12, and seven nights cost from €11,880 (Dh47,870), including most meals and airport transfers. If you’re there for one of the yoga holidays, they start at €1,290 (Dh5,200) per person for four nights.

For more information, visit espacesanbernardo.com.

Updated: November 30, 2016 04:00 AM

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