by Matt Hampton and travel writer from The Daily Telegraph, January 24, 2017
Luxury comes so weighted with expectation it makes me nervous; not least in the Alps, where it can mean so many things. And can go so badly (and expensively) wrong. Animal skins and wood-panelled walls, or crisp white linen and floor-to-ceiling windows? Local Reblochon and Beaufort cheeses all the way, or salmon roe on a smoky sea of foam?
Or, to use the new benchmark, English or Russian ?
I passed the threshold of this season’s new Taj-I Mah hotel, then, with some trepidation.
Surprisingly, this is the first five-star property in the entire Paradiski area, which is one of the largest winter playgrounds on earth, combining the high-altitude French resorts of Les Arcs and La Plagne .
The sister hotel of the equally high-end Koh-I Nor in Val Thorens, the Taj-I Mah opened in December 2016 at the base of Arc 2000.
And the owners have played it safe while setting out their luxury stall. Its 48 rooms are tastefully modern with some retro a-go-go flourishes – tactile wall coverings, shagpile carpets and faux-fur throws in neutral shades of beige. It’s a bit too safe for my liking, but the standard rooms are undeniably comfortable – they just could have done with a little more French flair.
The suites on the fifth floor are the real showstopper. A mezzanine bedroom means the living space is double the height of a standard room, with full-length windows revealing extraordinary views of the ski area – quite the thing to wake up to in the morning.
Chef Eric Samson oversees the restaurants. Le Diamant Noir sounds like somewhere Joan Collins might have frequented in the 1970s, but the four-course set menu I sampled – including a superb pumpkin soup and delicate grilled sea bass – was worthy of Samson’s Michelin star credentials. There’s plenty of fish on offer, and lighter choices and a generous cheese board too – it’s worth booking half board rather than paying €55 nightly.
Downstairs is the casual L'Atelier d'Eric, open for lunch and dinner, where a posh burger or more traditional plat du jour cost from around €15 – quite modest given the surroundings.
Can the spa facilities match up to five-star expectations?
There is a spa too, but it is a little undercooked for a five-star; just a pool, sauna, steam room, massage and a (not very) hot tub.
The in-house ski shop, however, is a triumph of convenience. Not only could I saunter down in my slippers, but the equipment is also as new as the hotel, with not a scuffed binding or bent pole in sight.
They stop short of laying skis out for you of a morning – as I have seen at least one Courchevel hotelier do – but as with the rest of the operation, the service is charming and efficient. All of the staff I spoke to in my broken French replied in very good English (I can’t vouch for their Russian, although the smattering of potential oligarchs in residence seemed happy enough).
It is the surroundings that count most, of course and the Taj makes a good job of bringing the outdoors in, with expansive use of glass.
Lingering in the airy lobby, making use of the Wi-Fi, I still felt connected to the mountains. Hopefully Charlotte Perriand, the illustrious French designer who came up with the aesthetic for Les Arcs in the 1960s, would agree. The one-time collaborator with Le Corbusier had an extraordinarily long career, and stamped her democratic design ideals on the original Arc 1800, with its steeply sloping roofs and generous balconies.
Arc 2000 is more known for its huge modernistic apartment blocks than luxury. Does this development signal transformation into a high-end hideaway?
Next door to the Taj-I Mah there are private apartments managed by the hotel; directly across is the swish Savoy restaurant, and a little further up the mountain is Les Chalets de l'Arc, certainly one of the best spots to stop for coffee or lunch. Another luxury property – La Halle des Cascades – is in the pipeline for winter 2018.
But a luxury ghetto perched on top of the Paradiski? Not likely in the short term. The car-free village is still too quiet and there isn’t enough après to suit high-rolling types. For lively clubs, look elsewhere. For convenience, a fairly watertight snow guarantee, and simply miles and miles of good slopes, it fits the bill.
Ski Solutions has seven nights half board at the Taj-I Mah from £1,515 per person based on two sharing, including scheduled flights from London and transfers.
This article was written by Matt Hampton and travel writer from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.