Sunday, 27 March 2016

A ski and spa break at Terminal Neige Le Totem Hotel, Flaine

I didn't know much about Flaine a couple of weeks ago, but a swift Google told me it was pretty much a concrete jungle in the middle of the French Alps. Intriguing, non?

So when I was given the opportunity to stay in Flaine's brand new Le Totem hotel, I was super excited to visit a place that was clearly unlike anywhere I'd ever been before. Aaaaand just to go skiing. For obvious reasons.

Le Totem is the first of what will be multiple Terminal Neige hotels, with Chamonix and Avoriaz next on the list. Terminal Neige is the new, young branch of Maisons et Hotels Sibuet, the family-run luxury travel company. Terminal Neige is the creation of the now-grown-up Sibuet children, Nicolas and Marie.

They wanted to keep the stylishness for which Sibuet is renowned, but create a brand that was younger, cooler and more affordable. And that, dear friends, is exactly what they've done.

Having had the pleasure of staying in Le Totem, I now see why the Sibuet siblings (can we call them the Sib-sibs? I'm going to do that) chose Flaine as the location for their first Terminal Neige hotel.

The town
Flaine is a purpose-built ski town that was created in the late 60s and 70s by visionary architect Marcel Breuer. So no, it is not your classic chocolate-box-style, Alpine town.

To be perfectly honest, Flaine as a town didn't do much for me. There's not much there - we're talking a couple of bars and shops and one club - and its 70s-style grey apartment blocks (so coloured to match the stone of the mountains) aren't exactly pretty.

In fact, there are next to no hotels in the town, it's practically all apartments. There are various interesting modern art sculptures by artists including Picasso though, so that's fun. Oh, and cars aren't allowed in the centre which is also a plus.

However, what Flaine lacks as a town, it makes up for in skiing. It's a high resort and is also only about an hour and a half's drive from Geneva. But we'll get to the skiing, mes amis. Let me tell you about Le Totem first...

The hotel as a whole

Le Totem opened in December 2015. It used to be two hotels which were closing, so the Sibuets rescued them by creating one 96-room hotel, which I think was very nice.

The idea behind Terminal Neige is to bring urban style to the mountains. That may sound odd, but it totally works. I think Le Totem has been impeccably styled and every little detail has been thought-out.

As you check in, you're brought a mason jar of mulled apple juice, a sign above the in-hotel ski-rental shop reads 'eat sleep ski repeat', and staff members walk around wearing T-shirts emblazoned with 'skiers are better lovers'.
The design of the hotel is unique - it's eclectic and modern but with 70s touches to reflect the time the building was originally built. I loved that. Think retro games machines (free to use) and street-art on the walls in the stairway.
At the bottom of Flaine Forum, the views are incredible and the wall-to-wall windows sure do make the most of it, letting in lots of lovely light too.

What is particularly awesome is that you can pretty much ski in and ski out of the hotel, which cannot be underestimated.

The rooms

There are six different room levels at Le Totem, ranging from Classic with a Forum view to an exceedingly epic suite called The Loft. Prices start at 134€ a night which really isn't bad at all when you see what you're getting.

I got to have a nosy round The Loft so now you can too:
Although technically a 3-star hotel, Le Totem is definitely 4-star quality. The lovely ladies running the hotel, Marie-Christine and Caroline, explained to us that in order to qualify for the 4-star label, you have to tick certain boxes like having mini-bars in rooms.

Instead of mini-bars, Le Totem has vending machines to reinforce the urban vibe. Well, that "and it's also easier to control," admitted Caroline.

I was very lucky to be in a Deluxe room, and it was lush...
As the hotel had only been open for a few months, the carpet was still plush, soft and fluffy, as were the dressing gowns and towels, which is just what you want after a long day's skiing.

The TV had lots of channels, including British and international ones, although I figured I'd make the most of the opportunity to practice my French. So yeah, I spent a pretty cultured couple of hours watching the French equivalent of Come Dine With Me and Geordie Shore. Turns out French people aren't always as chic as we like to think.

I woke up to this view every morning:
And I'm fairly certain that would never get old.

As well as a lack of fridge or minibar, there were no tea- or coffee-making facilities. But then again, maybe it's a very British thing to have a kettle in a hotel room. Not the end of the world. Oh, and there's no room service at Le Totem but after I called down to the restaurant they were more than happy to prepare a tea for me which I then took back to my room myself. No biggie.

The shower was ace and although there was no conditioner or body lotion, a big tube of hair and body wash was provided.
The best part of my room had to be the bed. IT WAS HUGE! And oh my days, so so comfy. The bed-linen was so crisp and the pillows like clouds. Heaven.

The food
It's no secret that food is a big part of travel for me, but on a skiing holiday it seems to take an even more central role.

We arrived at lunchtime and by that point, having got up at 4.30am to make our flight from Gatwick, were absolutely starving. Thank goodness for Le Totem’s delicious lunch menu.

Sitting on a cosy sheepskin-covered chair, with a view of the mountains, a glass of wine in hand (I recommend the house white) and all the carbs coming my way, I couldn’t have been happier.

In classic, wonderful French fashion, we were brought a basket of lovely bread right away. Oh my days, we ate so much bread over the course of our stay. It was just so soft but also perfectly crusty!

I chose the pumpkin soup to start.
It was tasty, but required a little salt and pepper IMHO. I loved how it was served though. So trendy.

You know when you’re starving so demolish all the bread/starter and accidentally fill up before your main course arrived? That totally happened.

Yet somehow, I managed to annihilate my burger too. Hmm. But oh, this burger! *insert emoji with hearts for eyes here*
The meat was juicy, the cheese beautifully melted, the bun toasted to perfection and the side salad and portion of chips were very welcome complements. It was so good.

For our final lunch at Le Totem, we ate outside in the sunshine on the hotel terrace, which was absolutely lush. I mean, how could you ever get tired of this view!?

The soup was once more my starter of choice, but this time (after essentially eating carbs covered in cheese for three days… I’ll get to that), I decided a salad was in order.
It was colourful and crisp with an enticing mix of veggies and quinoa going on. However, I did end up getting a bit bored of it and couldn’t resist helping Lynne polish off her cheesy ravioli. (I’m sorry but carbs covered in cheese!)

Dinners at Le Totem were a yet more indulgent affair. (Don’t even talk to me about how much weight I managed to put on in a mere three days. It was so worth it.)

Our evenings would commence with drinks and nibbles by the fire, which is something I could get seriously used to.

Bellini, anyone?
Or how about a Sex on the Snow? (Their name, not mine.)
And to nibble on, we had crudités with dips (the houmous was in-SANE-ly good), French cheeses and charcuterie, popcorn, nuts, bread (obvs), marinated veggies and more.
I mean, it was a lot of food for a pre-dinner snack. OH WELL!

Dinners at Le Totem are buffet-style, which is very dangerous for me. However, it wasn't all carbs and cheese - there's a healthy corner full of interesting salads (quinoa, people!) and cold pieces, as well as a hot counter featuring local specialities, international cuisine and kids' dishes (or just an excuse for adults to come over all nostalgic and eat chicken nuggets.)
The idea is to channel a kind of street-food kitchen vibe, thus reinforcing the urban theme. Buffets have bad connotations but the food at Terminal Neige seemed fresh and good quality.

Oh, and we also had fondue because, I mean, French Alps innit.

So full.

But then, pudding.

PUDDING BUFFET, PEOPLE! Not good for the waistline, but seriously delicious.
Panna cotta, tarts, mug cakes, chocolate, froyo, ice cream, Nutella-covered waffles cooked right in front of you, chocolate mousse, crème brûlée, sweeties... I ate it all. No regrets.

You'd think I'd be after a light breakfast the following morning, wouldn't you? Any normal person would. I tried, really I did. But breakfast buffets are my weakness.

As you'd expect, there were lots of glorious fresh breads and pastries, pancakes, fruit salad, fruit compote, lovely thick fromage blanc, cold meats and cheeses, cereals, juice, tea, coffee and the scrummiest hot chocolate.
And with the view, it was such a wonderful way to start the day and fuel up till lunchtime.

Apparently a lot of British people who've stayed at Le Totem have complained about the lack of cooked English breakfast. This makes me sad.

The facilities

Although skiing is obviously why one comes to Flaine, Terminal Neige make the prospect of staying in the hotel very appealing. Enter, hot tub:
It was so amazing!

It looks out on to the mountains, but because of the wall to one side and the trees to the other, you don't feel too exposed. We stayed in there for hours - it's the perfect muscle-soother after a day on the slopes. I even got bikini tan lines which must surely be the sign of a good ski trip.

There's also a gym which looks out on to the mountains, and I'll admit it, as gyms go, that's not bad. I didn't do anything silly like use it, but the option's there.
And if you're more into being pampered than working up a sweat, the Pure Altitude spa is where you wanna go. I was fortunate enough to have a full-body relaxing massage and it was so so good I can't even tell you.
Mrs Sibuet created the Pure Altitude spa brand using mountain products, which I love. It was such a treat to be pampered.

The skiing

One of my fave things about skiing is that you're outside in the fresh air all day long. And moving. It's such a nice change from sitting down in an office.

We were super lucky with the weather: it was practically cloudless blue sky and bright sunshine the whole time.
Although we didn't get any fresh snow, there was still plenty thanks to Flaine being a high resort, between 1,600 and 1,800m.

There aren't loooaaads of blacks runs, but there's a decent range. I thought the skiing was great. It felt so wonderful to be whizzing down the mountains over the sparkly snow, through the trees whilst admiring the most incredible scenery.
On our first day of skiing, we had lunch at a piste-side restaurant, Le Michet. I must say, sitting outside in the sunshine, up a snowy mountain, eating good food with good company... It's one of my favourite things ever.

Vin chaud to start.
There's something about skiing - maybe it's the fresh air or the fact that you're moving so quickly and thus feel like you must be doing loads of exercise - that makes most people crave warm, stodgy carbs.

Lynne and I couldn't decide between the creamy tagliatelle and the tartiflette (an Alpine dish, essentially potato slices in the same creamy sauce with bacon and topped with cheese), so we decided to share them both.
It was a very healthy, nutritious meal. Ahem.

But oh, cheesy carbs!

And then we of course had to finish off our feast with pudding: almond crème brûlée and blackcurrant tart.
The perfect lunch to enjoy with a view before hitting the slopes once more.

All in all I absolutely loved my stay at Le Totem Terminal Neige - it's totally unique as far as I know and I love that they're doing something different. I think it's perfect for young people (and older people too maybe but it's probs less my parents' scene, ya feel me).

What do you think though? Would you stay somewhere like Le Totem or do you prefer somewhere more traditional?

I was fortunate enough to be guest at Le Totem Terminal Neige but all opinions are completely honest, I swear. Inghams is the only major UK tour operator to feature the hotel so do check them out.

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