December 6, 2021
The Swiss outpost offers a 6,000‑strong wine list, truffle fondues and top ski academy tuition.
The chic Swiss ski resort of Verbier went as quiet during the pandemic as everywhere else did. Well, almost. When après-ski was banned, the town’s new brewery started selling its Bière de Verbier off the premises — and unloaded 300 to 500 cans a day, for a resting population of about 9,000 people. You can take the party out of the town, it seems, but the town will still find a way to party.
Now the skiers are back and the bars are open, including a newcomer, located in a large building on the main drag. This is the second outpost of 67 Pall Mall, the London wine-lovers’ club. The original is a haven: a former bank that’s now a double-height dining room and upstairs lounge, with beautiful food and a wine list that would be a hefty book if it weren’t, instead, an iPad. There are more than 6,000 wines from about 40 countries, including 800 wines by the glass. The cleverest part of 67PM isn’t the decor or even the wine list, it is succeeding in sidestepping the stuffiness that could so easily infiltrate a St James’s club that has bottles worth thousands on its list, albeit at very kind mark-ups.
I was curious to see how this idiosyncratic but very English institution would transform itself into a mainstay for the après-ski crowd — upstairs is members only, but downstairs you can hang out, eat or drink without a membership. Things are evidently off to a good start — that new brewery that had such lockdown success is on site, the original intention being to make local beer available to the club’s visitors.
And I was also keen to learn more about Swiss wine. “We aren’t really famous for our wine,” Gilles Besse told me, when I stopped in at his winery, Jean-René Germanier, en route between Geneva and Verbier. Not because the wines aren’t good, he said, but because the Swiss drink most of them. The drive from Geneva starts scenic, skirting the edge of the lake, and ends in a steep series of hair-raising hairpin bends with glorious views of snowy mountains. There are lots of wineries along the way; the slender, glacier-green river that burbles alongside the road is actually the Rhône, bearing no resemblance to the wide stripe of dark water it becomes amid the wineries between Lyons and Avignon.
Once in Verbier everything is made easy. Although the large wooden chalets sprawl up the mountainside (some are available to hire, although you need to book a long way in advance), the town’s centre is compact. It’s a minute’s walk from Ski Service, the hire shop, to 67 Pall Mall and less than five minutes’ ski-boot tip-tapping to the Mont Gelé ski lift. My hotel, Experimental Chalet, was less than ten minutes’ walk in the other direction, but every hotel has a free shuttle service, and the club offers a concierge service and storage for ski gear. I hung out on the ground floor sipping good coffee and waited for my instructor.
67PM may be all about the wine, but the Verbier outpost also has a large members-only gym, dramatically lit by blinding white photos of the slopes, with yoga and personal training available, and a partnership with the prestigious Warren Smith Ski Academy, although nonmembers can book with the academy too. Its instructors get booked six months ahead, but Smith himself took a few of us up (three hours for two from £229; warrensmith-skiacademy.com). I am a moderate skier, and I wasn’t looking forward to standing around getting chilly at the top of a piste, being lectured on how to get down it.
That isn’t how Smith operates, though. He’s a lovely man — a top-level skier who has taught the former England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio and skied with the Duchess of York and Prince Harry — but he was an ordinary kid from Hemel Hempstead who only discovered skiing when a dry-ski slope was built over the local skatepark. He and his mates, all BMX bikers, furious at the loss of their patch, vandalised its replacement. “We were caught by the local bobby, who knew us all because we were always in trouble, and he marched us round to the owners and asked them what they wanted to do.”
They put him to work in the back, which gave him the chance to use the facilities. And so, thanks to fair-minded management of a juvenile crime, he got a career — and I got a day’s excellent instruction. The snow was perfect, the clouds parted like curtains to reveal dramatic monochrome mountains stretching all the way to Mont Blanc, and I happily waved the more advanced skiers off to their black runs and off-piste skiing, while I practised turning on a sixpence — in my case, a big sixpence.
Then came an activity in which I have much more expertise. I had forgotten the gluttonous joy of good, hot food after a day out in the cold, but this is Switzerland, where there may be more melted cheese than there is powdered snow. In the wood-lined interior of Le Rouge, large pots on burners appeared. Fondue came plain or with truffle or pepper, and there was an extensive wine list too (mains from £26; lerouge-verbier.com).
We had skied down to Le Rouge but could walk home, which meant lunch became après-ski, with music coming from upstairs and trays of shots floating past us. Next day’s après-ski joint, Chez Dany, a terrific wood-lined restaurant with fabulous views in the mountain village of Clambin, prides itself on being loin de la foule (far from the crowds): in winter it’s ski out or a 15-minute mountainside walk (mains from £26; chezdany.ch). And even so there was never an obvious time to leave.
67 Pall Mall is the civilised calm among all this craziness. Upstairs, past artfully arranged tomes bookended by fine wine bottles, there’s a marble-topped bar decorated with a trio of giant bottles: a magnum of Delamain cognac made especially for the club, a jeroboam of tawny port and a double magnum of 1981 Blandy’s madeira. The lighting is warm, the music beguiling. At one point a saxophone player took up residence by the bar, his notes cleverly piped through the sound system so he didn’t deafen anyone. Wing-backed chairs lounge to one side, dining tables are scattered to the other. Beyond, a capacious balcony encircles the building, a reminder that summer comes to Verbier too.
As anywhere, the more expensive the wine you order, the lower the mark-up proportion gets. So a bottle of Krug Clos du Mesnil 2006 — champagne from a single, small vineyard made by an enormously prestigious house — will set you back £1,230 in Hedonism, a London wine shop. In Verbier we could have drunk it in the club for £940. But while this is a resort where even the ski-lift towers are Prada-branded, there’s no need to spend that kind of money. Wines by the glass start at £6. And Lucy, the lovely head sommelier, is as happy serving petite arvine, a local white variety, or a chardonnay from Israel, as top burgundy or bordeaux.
The food is beautiful. Plump focaccia from the on-site wood-fired oven arrives with spicy hummus, and the pizza base — topped with truffle and sérac, a local cheese — is homemade. Or there’s fine dining, largely using local ingredients, because the Swiss don’t just make their own wine, they rear or grow or fish their own everything.
Walking, slightly unsteadily, to my hotel, I was reminded again how much Verbier likes to party. So many different styles of music wafted past me, it was like turning the dial on an old-fashioned radio; restaurants such as La Nonna, with its homemade pasta, excellent Italian and Swiss wine list and bucket-sized cocktails, were buzzing (mains from £30). Those who want live bands can make like Prince Harry and head to Farinet, while at weekends my hotel shares space with the famed Farm Club nightclub. The newest place to eat is Le 22, a “speakeasy” where Richard Branson’s former chef Adam Bateman is cooking up a storm (five courses £68; crock.ch). But book — rumour has it that Lewis Hamilton was turned away for lack of space.
Experimental Chalet was opened by the barmen behind the Experimental Cocktail Club. There’s a cosy first-floor cocktail bar with an open fire and a cluster of enthusiastic bearded men waiting to serve you a Penicilina, which features tequila and mezcal, or a Next Spresso — amaro, vodka, vermouth. Or I could have taken the minibar’s premixed negroni out to the mountain-view hot tub on my balcony. Having bagged one of the 39-room hotel’s two suites, I was tempted to spend my entire trip lolling in hot bubbling water. But that would hardly have been in the Verbier spirit. This is a place where you ski hard, drink well, then next day aim for improvement in both areas. It’s a resort with ambition, style — and now a wine club that reflects both.
Nina Caplan was a guest of Experimental Chalet and 67 Pall Mall, where annual membership costs £2,000 (plus £1,500 joining fee), including access to London and Singapore (opening February 14). Mains from £20. B&B doubles at Experimental Chalet from £222. Fly to Geneva.
12 FEBRUARY 2022 By Nina Caplan
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