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The Giant Hype Around the Chalet

Chalets are a luxurious way to travel back in time and still not give up any comfort. Not only since the pandemic but even earlier, traditional wooden houses in the mountains, where you can leave the hustle and bustle of the world behind, have been booming.

January 27, 2023

As soon as autumn arrives, they are suddenly everywhere: Images that awaken our longing for a retreat in nature. On social media, you see fireplaces crackling with logs, hot tubs overlooking snowy mountain peaks, and sheepskins on rustic chairs; in Scandinavia, we'd call it hygge. But there is another magic formula that immediately awakens a feeling of homeliness: vacationing in a chalet. Nowhere else do luxury and nostalgia come together as well as in these wooden cabins, which are both rustic and modern.

Most luxury chalets have whirlpool and sauna, some even have a pool. © provided

Originally, the word chalet comes from the French-speaking part of Switzerland. It has its roots in Latin and means "protected place" - however, in the past, these were not for vacationers, but actually a shelter for farmers and cattle in the Alpine region. However, they were not used in winter as we know it today: The cows were on the mountain pasture all summer, and the alpine hut served as a meager shelter. In autumn, the herdsmen led the cows back to the valley, the chalet was locked with heavy wooden shutters; it remained in hibernation until the next spring.

Romanticization of simplicity

It was not until the 19th century, when the European aristocracy and bourgeoisie discovered their love for the Alps, that chalets took on a second life. Those who could afford it retreated to the mountains for a few weeks. What could be more romantic than a traditional wooden chalet in a beautiful landscape? Hardly anything - comfort like today, however, did not exist back then, the chalets had no hot water, not to mention a bathroom, at best there was a pit toilet outside.


Chalets must be minimalist and traditional at the same time © PRIESTEREGG Premium ECO Resort

However, chalets were not limited to the mountains. At that time, they adorned the gardens of aristocratic residences; villas were also built in the chalet style, an architectural trend of historicism that emphasized board carvings on roofs and balconies as well as a protruding gable. There was also talk of the "Swiss style", which swept all of Europe; chalet architecture was found as far away as Potsdam. The simple life of the mountain farmers was romanticized - and re-staged for city dwellers.

Rustic charm

"Chalet Ormello"

The Swiss "Chalet Ormello" relies on a lot of wood © unidentified

In the meantime, sought-after chalets have little to do with simple alpine huts. They are an elegant update of ski huts, with a rustic ambience without having to smell the sweat of someone else's hiking or ski boots. While many huts give the impression of Ballermann Stadel, chalets are oases of tranquility - they are in contrast to conventional vacation homes usually in a spectacular landscape, distant views are part of the standard equipment. The rustic charm is evident in the use of wood: Swiss pine on the walls or on the furniture provides a pleasantly soothing scent, plus there's a fireplace for cold winter evenings. Breakfast is best taken on the covered sun terrace, followed by a visit to the private gym or whirlpool; in some cases there is even an infinity pool. The butler serves champagne, a private chef takes care of the physical well-being. Luxury chalets have the amenities of five-star hotels while maximizing privacy. Still, chalets are as different as the travelers who stay in them: Some deliberately do without everything in order to have as authentic a feeling of nature as possible; self-catering chalets in particular are also booming as extended retreats and alpine home offices where no one disturbs you.

In the chalet you want to reflect on the essentials: Couples finally have quality time to themselves again during a romantic weekend, families don't have to worry about their kids taking up a lot of space and running around, and more and more people invite the older generation to come with them to celebrate sticking together - in the chalet, you not only have distance from other people, you also feel like a self-sufficient unit, you stay in your own bubble. Even before the pandemic, it was apparent that privacy was the ultimate luxury, and not just for Hollywood stars; Covid merely reinforced that trend. And for some, it was an interesting experience to be able to combine vacation and work in an alpine hut.

"Chalet Ormello"

The luxurious "Chalet Ormello" has room for 15 people. © provided

Chalets are an ideal hideaway to read or go skiing and snowboarding, because a slope is usually not far away. Tobogganing or ice skating are fun for the whole family, and long walks in the winter landscape are good for your health.

Chalets are available in all price ranges. For lonely ones, you have to be clear whether living in total darkness at the edge of the forest isn't scary. Chalet villages, which are just growing out of the ground in larger numbers, are more comfortable, but sometimes look like an Alpine Disneyland. Small chalets make more sense; existing huts that have been gently rebuilt to relate to the region, use traditional fabrics and carvings, and focus on local flair, rather than chunky huts that don't fit into the landscape at all.

Authentic mood

Basically, it makes sense to clarify a few questions before booking: Am I a self-catering type or do I not want to have to take care of anything? How much exclusive solitude do I need - do neighbors bother me or am I happy not to be completely secluded? Is a small cottage enough for me because I spend a lot of time outdoors anyway? Or should it be a wellness vacation with a sauna area? In Switzerland, you can still find a lot of historic buildings that have been lovingly renovated. That makes a difference to new houses, which just pretend to be old and look very artificial. In the meantime, however, awareness has grown anyway - many luxury providers use old wood that is recycled to create an authentic atmosphere.

Back to the origin - Eco resorts like the "Priesteregg" convey the ambience of an original alpine village. ©PRIESTEREGG Premium ECO Resort

Anyone who has consciously experienced the 1980s may still remember the British pop group "Wham! The ultimate Christmas feeling was provided by the video for a song that still plays on continuous loop in winter: "Last Christmas. A group of friends with bags that were far too small for their flamboyant clothing, shoulder pads that were far too wide and fabulous blow-dried hairstyles rode a ski lift into the snowy mountains. The cottage where they celebrated Christmas still stands today in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, not far from Zermatt. From the outside, the cottage looks surprisingly unadorned - and it's not as freestanding as the video suggests, but in the midst of other huts. And another myth has long since been uncovered: the "Wham!" chalet can easily be reached on foot from Saas-Fee; you don't need a cable car. Nevertheless, it is astonishing that the most famous chalet in the world has never been rented out or marketed to tourists. Instead, it remains in our minds forever as a place of longing.

This article appeared in the Falstaff TRAVEL issue Winter 2022/23.

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