We arrived late at La Ferme du Lac Vert, in early January. Given that our previous chalet had been without power, the romanticism and affection in which we had spent the last 24, candlelit hours were fading fast. We longed for the warmth of a glowing bulb filament, the feeling in your palms as the tap water begins to run hot and the ability to check in on social media to see what the world had for supper. My main concern was being two hours late for dinner as no one likes to keep strangers waiting. Not to mention it doesn’t solidify a great first impression. As always, I was overthinking. The kitchen team was well aware of our impending late arrival, and the other guests were well-lubricated by the time we sat down, just after 10pm. “Yes, I would love a glass of wine. Thanks, and can you roll that jereboam of génépi over please, I have to make up for lost time”.
La Ferme du Lac Vert has been on our call sheet for a number of years. When I enquired into the availability of my team, notably Dr. Paul Farrow, who remains benched due to the onslaught of continued and relentless childbirth, said “Wait, what? La Ferme du Lac Vert? In Morzine?”.
I am a firm believer in the Six Degrees of Separation theory. For example, earlier this year, when we chose the photographer for the Q1 spread, we went with an individual who, upon further inspection, shot a modelling campaign featuring an acquaintance of mine who lives in Jamaica. We live on the smallest of worlds. Dr. Paul had met the owners of La Ferme du Lac Vert, Rob and Lucy Mundell, at a music festival in Blighty, where their son was playing some years earlier and apparently popped it in my inbox then.
Rob and Lucy’s chalet is an old nineteenth century Savoyard farmhouse, originally built in 1842, and lovingly restored over what I can only assume was many years. They tell me, however, that the renovation took about a year. That might sound like a lengthy build to the uninitiated, but for those of you who have ever taken on the task of buying land or building bricks and mortar, you’ll know that a year turnaround is admirable. It’s impressive for a new build of similar size, let alone restoring what we would easily list as a Grade 2 building in the UK. The speed of the renovation and furnishing might have something to do with Rob’s background as an electrical contractor and Lucy’s as a graphic designer.
La Ferme sleeps 20-24 people in a selection of beautifully-appointed, traditional double, twin and triple rooms. Of course, should the mood take you, I imagine that you could easily and adequately have a couple of hundred people strew themselves liberally about the place like the last days of Rome. The property is fitted out with 14 en-suite bedrooms, all styled differently, La Petite Ferme, the main chalet’s former mazot, and a separate apartment on the ground floor with three en-suite rooms. The chalet is complete with everything we adore in vintage alpine posters: fur throws, roaring fires, exposed wooden beams, and enough candles to light a cathedral. If you are looking for an uber-modern property, the sort that the locals protested when it was erected, then La Ferme probably isn’t for you. Sure, she has all the modern conveniences of hot tubs, DVD players, fast broadband and staff, but ultimately, it’s a living, breathing piece of history. With rather comfy cushions and fine cuisine, of course – but essentially, history.
I relish meeting new people, and despite the social stigma that many people young and old attach to properly socialising, I have always found it to be exceptionally good fun. Many years ago, on a trip to the French Alps, with a ski brand that shall forever remain nameless, I realised that the intended accommodation would be shared. Perhaps I wasn’t particularly lucid when it was booked. A baptism of fire it certainly was, and despite remembering a few of the more interesting characters, my memories are of the skiing. This was also a chalet of menial size within a modern complex, where perhaps the word ‘chalet’ should be replaced with something a little more befitting. What you really need for group engagements is a property you can get lost in and hosts you adore, La Ferme has both.
But if you aren’t into the idea of sharing, then simply call your bank manager and authorise the transfer for either the apartment, La Petite Ferme, or indeed the whole estate. Just ensure you book with plenty of time, as La Ferme has a string of corporate clients that return every year (so the kitchen and hosting team must be doing something right).
The following morning, I awake with the mental vigour of a springbok, but the physical prowess of biltong. The late nights and libations are starting to take their toll. A skiing holiday really isn’t a restful experience, and no matter how much soft furnishing and staff, you’re always going to find yourself creaking back into the middle of the week. Try a little yoga or pilates before you strap in next time; the arthritic you will thank the athletic you in years to come.
If, like me, you like to travel without skis and poles, the nearest decent ski-hire shop is Sport 2000 Ardent, 200m from the front door of La Ferme. From there, it’s a straightforward 2-minute drive or 20-minute walk to the François Baud Footbridge, which will take you the last few hundred meters to the Super Morzine Telecabine. The chalet has a transfer service, in the form of a van fleet and Lexus hybrids. As part of the Portes du Soleil ski area, Morzine offers up a calf-straining 650km of terrain with slopes to suit all levels. As someone that regularly skis with a mixed group, I find exploring the terrain on my own for a few hours helpful.
Especially when answering to the chorus of “where are we?” “Follow the signs for 32 and Pleney guys.” “Which one?” Patience is indeed a virtue when playing ski guide, but luckily I could utter four-letter words to my heart’s content in my Ruroc full-face helmet.
I decided from the get-go that, rather than spend the day playing ski-dad, I would slope my shoulders and force the ski-kids (all of whom are over the age of 25) onto someone else for the day. Organising a group of amateur skiers is a lot like open heart surgery, except you desperately want the surgeon to fail and ensure there is a ‘do not resuscitate’ order on the patient. When we sprawled out of the car on a wave of ski gear outside the ESF ski school, I think the time was about 10:30am. The first lift this was not. I made my apologies to our lovely instructors, Marie-Laure and Yanni, and proceeded to ensure the parking was taken care of, alongside the team popping into a few shops to purchase essentials they had forgotten. The ESF ski school is based opposite the Pléney cable car, so if you are looking for instructors or an overtrained babysitter, you know where to find them.
My reason for dragging along two unwitting members of the ESF ski school was, first, to take my bunch of amateurs on a tour of the slopes, under the guise of them being ‘guided’. It was a little more like sending a triage nurse into battle. Marie-Laure became very affectionately known as ski-mum, and had the team tackling runs and altitudes I could only dream of dragging them to. She was incredibly overqualified though, and whilst her group of ski-children for the day only spoke two languages between them, she spoke six.
To make sure I wouldn’t have to oversee the group’s safety, or become the tour-guide-in-chief, I doubled-down by learning to snowboard with Yanni from ESF – meaning I’d have as much skill on the slopes as the rest of the group. Yet, within a few hours, I was easily navigating the child slope on my board, with only minor casualties. I wonder how long it takes to become a proficient boarder, because god knows the footwear is more comfortable, and at least 30% of your time is spent sitting down.
After watching JC attempt to snowboard down the children’s run with Yanni, I realised that I didn’t have the time he needed, so took it upon myself to start boarding down the gentle slope solo. After three solid runs, I had burned through my water supplies, finished my snacks and was beginning to look like a wet sponge. I decided that it was all too much and took off my board and led down on the covered magic carpet up the children run. It transpires that the female French lift attendant took umbrage to my lying down, in need of a cardiac massage, and stopped the carpet mid-ascent. I quickly jumped to my feet, a little embarrassed, but it was worth it to see so many parents and children stumble.
As the day went on, we headed for Le Vaffieu, a small restaurant in between Les Gets and Morzine. I have grown accustomed to entering all establishments on a ski trip wearing my chrome Ruroc helmet in the hope that everyone assumes I am a Russian of repute. All that really happens is I am asked a barrage of questions about where one can be purchased from. If you are looking for traditional savoyarde food and wine on piste, then try the rack of lamb or the mille-feuille at Le Vaffieu. Sublime. Lunch was filled with ‘daring’ stories, of course, as ski-mum and the ski-brats told ever loftier stories about their exploits that day. It was nice to hear this from the other side for a change, having not had to coach everyone onto and off the mountain.
Once all the team were assembled on the ground, we strolled along the road to a small bar-cum-ski shop called Action Sport. The French are gifted wordsmiths, of course. After a few obligatory beers, Euro-Pop and a crêpe, Liam arrived in the La Ferme people-carrier to ferry our weary bodies back to the safety of the chalet. We all agreed that the hot tub would be the best idea – so with little fuss, we convened on the chalet’s terrace and slipped into oblivion.
There is even a buzzer to call the bar and request another round of drinks. I assume every hot tub owner has at one point realised the very real and present danger of mixing intrinsically drunk people and glass in neck-deep water. I can totally empathise: I have personally broken a few in my time, but it still doesn’t mean I want to drink champagne out of plastic. The alternative is to sip your champagne from a glass outside the hot tub whilst your feet satisfyingly freeze and forge to the wooden decking or the Persian rug.
As cocktail hour approached, we all knew the reality of what was coming: the debilitating schlep from the hot tub back to the room to change for supper.
Dinner was always an extremely convivial affair, as guests told stories of the days out on piste and offered advice on where the going was particularly good. The chef and kitchen team offered up ever more enticing canapés and cocktails as the week went on, with no shortage of variety. As courses followed one after another, and the red wine continued to flow, guests would move around the 20-plus seat table to chat to each other, occasionally popping out onto the beautiful balcony to take in some fresh alpine air. As dinner was rather salubrious, not many made it onto the inviting sofas and chairs in front of the roaring fire. A distinct lack of TVs in the main living area meant that conversation and quiet contemplation were the order of the day, which is rather refreshing in this day and age. There is, of course, a games room off the main living area for children (or anyone wishing to take in some blue light).
La Ferme du Lac Vert is clearly a special property; one with no shortage of brand fans. Beautiful architecture and artisan interior aside, the staff and service is akin to the finest boutique hotels I have experienced. The choice is whether to be greedy and book it all to yourself, or treat your stay as an opportunity to meet new alpine enthusiasts. My preference would be to book Petite Ferme and choose when to play with the pack – and then, when to invite those whose company you really relish back for a nightcap. Or seven.