This appeared in The Robb Report...
Honeymoon alert: Limone - Valley of Wonders
Not for nothing is this extraordinary destination in the heart of the Italian Alps known as The Valley of Wonders – they really never cease! The wonders! Today, this incredibly beautiful valley whose history goes back to Roman times, attracts skiing enthusiasts from across the world. With 80 kilometres of slopes and 15 ski lifts, Limone Piedmont is rapidly acquiring a reputation as the premier skiing mountain resort, with beautifully appointed chalets dotting the alpine scenery. What makes this area even more alluring is the ancient history behind the lush valley. The Romans created a trade route through the rugged range, making it possible to reach the slopes of Col di Tenda taking the Via Augustea. In the Middle Ages, it became a key stopover for caravans of traders from Savoy. From the end of the nineteenth century, Limone was recognised as an attractive tourist destination.Years later, with a convenient railway connection to the French Riviera, and the introduction of Italy’s first ski lift here, Limone Piedmont took its place as a top ski resort that sees international celebs enjoying the perfect slopes. In fact, so ideal are skiing conditions here that Limone was selected as the perfect venue in the Alpine region to host the Italian Championships. In 2006, Limone also hosted a competition during the Turin Winter Olympics.
Nestling cosily in the heart of this picturesque region, is a very special chalet called ‘Wonderfall’, which boasts of seven luxury themed suites inspired by the unique design traditions of America’s Wild West ( think Montana, Wyoming….). And here’s where the connection to America kicks in… but ssssh! It’s one of the valley’s best kept secrets. Kate , part owner of Wonderfall Chalet , is the cousin of Princess Grace of Monaco. Kate who is also blond, beautiful and elegant ( it runs in the family!), built Wonderfall Chalet twenty years ago when she fell in love with the area. Today, Kate and her partner Didier, divide their time between Wonderfall and ‘Stars and Bars’ their very popular restaurant near the Monaco harbor. But it is their brainchild, the stunning Four Seasons Wonderfall Chalet, which is their absolute pride and joy. And why not? The beautifully appointed Four Seasons Chalet is spread over 1400 sq meters, and is rented as a whole unit. Given that skiing has become the new Polo for India’s young and adventurous, a resort like this one makes perfect if pricy sense! It is undoubtedly an inspired and inspiring honeymoon destination, but it also ideal for those in search of a perfect break during a hectic European jaunt. Now that sociable honeymooners often travel in packs and prefer to take their bff’s with them, what better than to book a sprawling chalet that offers just about everything ( from a resident chef who customizes menus and offers superlative cuisine, to fabulously well appointed themed suites) to make it a memorable, heavy duty bonding holiday – even if skiing and adventure sports are not your main thing.
The best way to get to Wonderfall is by helicopter ( the chalet has its own helipad). Not only is this the most exhilarating 20 minute chopper ride (1500 euros for 5 passengers) you are ever likely to experience, but at 1300 metres above sea level, and the 360 degree vistas that are nothing short of breath taking, trust me, it is worth the steep price. To your right you can enjoy the most spectacular views of the French Riviera, with the glittering Cote d’Azur kissing the beaches, and just over the next snow clad peak lies Italy! Sandwiched in between these two contrasting visuals is the jewel like Principality of Monaco. A unique and fascinating combo which makes it possible to start your day lazing by the sun drenched pool in Monte Carlo, then jumping into a HeliAir chopper and heading for some energizing skiing down those amazing slopes with 20 feet of fresh, powdery snow, followed by going for an après-ski drink around a roaring fire, enjoying canapés and an aperitif while relaxing in the large family lounge at Wonderfall Chalet, and then heading back to the Casino in Monte Carlo to try your luck at the tables. Oh, not to forget a nightcap at the buzzed American Bar at Hotel de Paris next door. If you still have the energy for some more serious partying, there is Buddha Bar down the road, or the world famous Jimmyz across the Opera House. This is just for starters!
My own recommendation is to start with a weeks’s stay at Wonderfall Chalet. During summer, when the snows melt, the valley is transformed into a sylvan paradise, with a gurgling waterfall ( Cascate del Piz) that drops down right next to the chalet. There are forest trails to explore and horse riding with expert Alpine guides. Nature walks in and around the chalet attract die hard romantics, who spend hours wandering around the woods that circle Wonderfall Chalet. Since the chalet is less than a two hour drive away from Monte Carlo, it is easy to nip down for an evening on the town and get back for an after dinner cognac at the chalet, which, incidentally, boasts of an exceptional cellar and a well stocked humidor. The resident chef prepares menus of your choice and uses the freshest local produce. At lunch, I sampled smoked wild boar stuffed with melting cheese , while others at the table heartily tucked into their sirloin steaks! The staff of eight at the chalet work seamlessly to make sure your stay is both enjoyable and comfortable . In case your party includes young children, activities like a kiddie party under Red Indian tepees, are organized for them. While adults can take Yoga lessons, enjoy Spa treatments, or just relax in the outdoor Jacuzzis and sauna near the private pond. Massages come at 70 euros. But Yoga and the Spa are included in the price. Aha – the price. It is indeed pretty hefty. Hold your breath – the rate per night for the chalet is a staggering 10,000 euros (25k for three nights).Benjamin Boutemmy, the ever smiling chalet manager, along with his team, ensure you are never bored! During the salubrious summer months, one can go rafting, cliff climbing and canoeing, apart from taking riding lessons at 30 euros per hour.
The best way to get the most out of the Alpine trip is to include a decadent weekend at the historic Hotel Hermitage in Monte Carlo, either before or after Limone. The Honeymoon Package at L’Hermitage is particularly charming, with lots of lyrical and romantic flourishes thrown in. None of this is modestly priced, of course. A junior suite with a jacuzzi on a terrace that overlooks the Port of Monaco, is the ideal way to break into the laidback Mediterranean lifestyle that defines Monaco. Not only can you enjoy great views of fantastic yachts of the staggeringly rich and the fabulously famous bobbing around in the harbour, but you can do so while sipping Cristal Roederer champagne and nibbling Laduree macaroons while immersed in the outdoor Jacuzzi. The prices for this indulgence start at 1274 euros a night. Don’t gulp or blink! But think of the romantic potential it offers love birds celebrating l’amour in as magical a setting! The Hermitage Hotel (280 rooms, 26 suites, 24 junior suites) offers free access to the swish Monte Carlo Beach Club and the Thermes Marins Spa (which boasts of the best health food menu ever at the attached Hirondelle restaurant). Once you are done with lavish beauty treatments at the Salon Bleu, you can soak in the pleasures of a traditional hamam, before heading out for a one hour photo shoot with a professional photographer ( 360 euros for the session with the CD of images).To help you get into the mood for the lovey dovey pictures, buckets of perfectly chilled bubbly are always on stand by! There’s no better way to feel like a celebrity couple!
This is the life, honeymooners sigh, as they head to the Casino yet again , for a final fling at breaking the bank! And just in case you have forgotten to pack your tux or evening gown, worry not – the best couture houses are but a few paces away. And while you are in the mood to splurge, why not pop in to the Cartier boutique downstairs to take a look at their latest, limited edition ‘Crash’ watch? Unless, of course, neither time nor cash is of any consequence at this stage…in which case, surrender to excess at every level… after all, that’s what honeymoons and holidays are meant for.