In most cases, when visitors arrive for a ski holiday in the region, they take a left turn in Le Châble, twisting their way up the mountain to the lively hub of Verbier. Some intrepid travellers will choose an alternative landing place in the Val de Bagnes, and with that, a different and equally satisfying experience. Maev Cox explores one such destination, the village of Lourtier, and uncovers a local gem.
The ultimate playground for mountain lovers, Verbier offers some of the world’s most expensive and luxurious accommodation and, of course, a thriving nightlife. Verbier is, for many, the ‘place to be’. However, only a short drive away, visitors can experience a totally different holiday, while still enjoying everything that Verbier and the surrounding area has to offer. On the outer edge of the tranquil village of Loutier, along the winding Route de Mauvoisin, sits an historic building that is home to the Hotel & Spa Vallée. On a cold autumn morning after this year’s first early snowfall, I met with Nancy Pellissier, daughter of the hotel’s owners Jean-Marc and Patricia Pellissier, to find out a little more about this rather special generations-old operation.
“The business has been in the family since 1954 when my mother’s parents, the Michellods’, took over the existing restaurant. Several years later, they bought the building and began running the hotel too. In 1994, my parents took over, trading their house in Loutier with their retiring parents, and my family moved in.” Since then, the hotel has been a labour of love for Jean-Marc and Patricia, who have raised three children and worked tirelessly to grow and renovate their business, evolving with the times, while maintaining a strong sense of traditional hospitality.
“When we were kids involved in ski racing, my dad would wake up at 5am on weekends to prepare breakfast before the guests woke, then take us to races in different Swiss ski resorts while my mum was holding the fort all day long at the hotel. Dad would come back at night for dinner service, after a day of carrying our ski gear around, and cook and serve guests along with my mum,” Nancy tells me. “It was just normal to us, but now we see the sacrifices they made and how hard they have worked.”
Two years ago, Jean-Marc introduced a wellness centre at the base of the building. The elegant spa facility includes an outdoor hot tub with views across the valley, a sauna and hammam, and a therapy room for massages and treatments. Guests of the hotel can indulge weary muscles after a hard day of skiing or biking, but the facilities are available for drop-in guests.
It is the off-season when I visit so the hotel is closed to guests but there is a quiet hum of activity within as repairs are made, a deep clean is underway, and Patricia and her 82-year-old mother Denise are engaged in an intensive bottling and jamming process, ensuring that many of the vegetables and fruits grown in the hotel’s large garden are preserved and used in service through the winter.
Jean-Marc is in charge of the cooking, the menu promises hearty Swiss flavours such as La Potence (meat that is flambéed in cognac and served with five sauces), fondue and raclette
In the height of winter, between February and April, Nancy tells me that the dining room swarms with life. It is a popular lunch spot for heli-ski guides and their clients (the hotel has its own heli-pad), as well as local workers and I can easily picture a restaurant filled with ruddy-faced skiers warming up and filling up on Jean-Marc’s comfort food. The hotel is run by a small team of which Denise Michellod, the matriarch, is still very much a part. “She’s been working all her life and she’s got no plans to stop” Nancy tells me.
It feels like a secret offering, a little surprise in the heart of Bagnes country, but really this family-run hotel and restaurant is a faithful and much-loved institution for the many locals and tourists who frequent it. It offers guests an opportunity to experience a holiday that is truly relaxing and authentic, away from the hustle and bustle of Verbier, but still within striking distance. “We have clients who came as children when my grandparents were running the hotel,” says Nancy, “now they come back as adults with their own kids. They tell us stories about those days and it keeps the history of the hotel alive.”
From Le Châble to Bruson, Versegères to Lourtier and beyond, dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the Val de Bagnes is peppered with a choice of unique holiday destinations, each boasting their own treasures, and all worthy of exploration.