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Starting the Year in the Mountains

by Véronique and Mike

4 February 2017 • Sometimes I do have good ideas. I suggested escaping Belgium after the Xmas days to Switzerland. The plan was to visit Zürich, a city I wanted to discover further, celebrate the new year with friends in Winterthur and then finally stay for 2 nights in the mountains at Hotel Plein Ciel in Champéry. Mike agreed in a second. 

The hotel had been on my wish list for a long time. I was in Les Tourelles in Le Crotoy (France) a couple of times (of the same Belgian owners) and loved the friendly homely vibe there. To experience the same feeling but then in the mountains sounded like music in my ears. 

Room with a view

We parked our car on the reserved parking near the cable car, as the hotel, in winter, can only be reached this way. The cable car crew takes care of bringing your luggage up, so you don’t have to worry about that. Luckily because once up at the Planachaux station, high on the mountain, the only way to reach the hotel is by foot (15 to 20 minutes) or skiing (5 minutes). We were here only for two nights and walking so that’s what we did.

You know these venues, where you enter and you feel right at home. Plein Ciel is one of these places. The open fire was lit, clients were chatting, reading or snoozing, kids were running around on their socks… You get the feeling, this is a friendly place. 

The staff was very welcoming too, they even showed us to our room, and pointed out the view; we could see the Dents du Midi and Dents Blanches from our balcony! The room was cosy all together, lots of wood, a good bed and shower and NO TV (yes!). And yes I did walk barefooted in the morning on the balcony to soak up the view and the mountain air.

Around 4 PM there is a ‘gouter’. Delicious pies and other desserts, bread and homemade ‘confiture’ is put ready for the hungry skiers and walkers. 

We ordered a hot chocolate and were the happiest people in the world, absorbing the views (and Mike photographing them of course) and reading comic strips (there is enough reading materiel to fill entire days, there is even a pocket book on every nightstand). 

The hotel is situated in two old ski stations at 1800m. You can still see the old small cable cars. Actually the cable cars used to arrive in the room we were staying in.

In the oldest building of the two, there are still several objects that remind of the functioning of the ski station. 

The new cable cars are just a tiny bit bigger now

That room was one of the most zen places I have ever been in, with large bay windows showcase the mountain world outside. They sometimes organize yoga classes in that room. I can see why. As the clientele gathered in the big living area I was happy to sit in the other one and enjoy the silence and the view.

It really gives a feeling of being totally away from the busy world. In wintertime the hotel can only be reached by the cable car, so in the evening you are stuck on the mountain, which just sounded (and was) marvellous to me.

We booked half board, so we enjoyed the scrumptious meals, the charming female chef de cuisine prepared with lots of love. On our last evening there was even fondue, you can’t go to Switzerland without enjoying a good fondue, right? 

The next day, the manager of the hotel suggested different walks from the hotel.

It snowed a bit at night so there was a nice white carpet waiting for us. It was a beautiful day, the sun up high and bright, being surrounded by mountains. Most of the times there was a clear walking trail and sometimes it was a tiny bit more adventurous and that was fine too. After a delicious stop for hot chocolate and Ovomaltine (Mike’s obsession in Switzerland), we reached our destination; Lapisa. A cute wooden barrack in the mountains, some clients sunbathing the sun, waiting for their lunch. Mike went in to announce our arrival… inside the wooden stove was lit, a kid shouted “maman il y a des clients” (Mum, there are clients). Just wonderful. 

For lunch we had cheese! Not just a simple cheese platter, no, a plate full of homemade cheese, yes you read it correctly; homemade. They make their own cheeses. Our neighbours were having fondue, which looked delicious too. 

The neighbourhood people don't go to coffee bars, the just meet here!

Back at the hotel, we found the perfect place to chill, the large roof terrace! Sun was shining, the loungers were comfy and there were blankets to stay warm. Delicious. Even more when the hot chocolate was served.

As with the Les Tourelles (a hotel in the Baie de Somme), Plein Ciel is a hotel project that started with a group of enthusiasts, foreign to the hotel business, but with a common dream of creating a hotel with a warm & family atmosphere. The same group did it all over again when they discovered this old cable car terminal. Mission more than accomplished I would say. 

Text: Véronique

Photos: Mike & Véronique

Info: www.pleinciel.com