A new era for luxury ski holidays? Meet the company making sustainability easier

22nd Feb 19 | Lifestyle

Abi Jackson heads to the swish slopes of Zermatt, to discover how Lagom is taking steps to make luxury ski more sustainable.

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The Matterhorn is said to be the most photographed mountain in the world. How you’d keep count on a claim like that is anyone’s guess, but if my phone’s picture reel is anything to go by at the end of an afternoon on the Zermatt slopes, then it’s surely true.

Great weather’s never a guarantee when you book a ski break, which makes the glorious sunshine during my three-day visit to the iconic Swiss resort an even greater blessing. The snow dazzles with dancing light and the Matterhorn – a glacier-edged pyramid that juts across the Switzerland-Italy border – stands stark against a pristine blue sky.

Wherever my skis take me, that 4,478-metre peak is always centre stage, commanding another awe-stricken pause. Thankfully, Ben, my instructor for the day from European Snowsport, is not only patient with my snail-paced turns, but happy to double up on photographer duties (which means multiple stops, just to be sure we’ve captured all the best angles).

If you’re not familiar with this part of the Alps, you’d almost certainly still recognise the Matterhorn as the craggy triangular peak on Toblerones, and it’s one of a number of things that make Zermatt special.

There’s the pistes, of course – 360km of mainly fun reds and sweeping blues, making it great for intermediates, although some challenging blacks and hefty off-piste potential mean the region attracts advanced skiers too.

Then there’s the reliable charm of the place and its enduring hint of exclusivity; Zermatt sits at the pricier end of the ski-resort scale, and is also a bit of a schlep to get to. Fly into Geneva and you’ll need two trains, taking around four hours total. But it’s a fun, scenic journey along the lake, before gradually winding upwards – playing ‘spot the mountain goat’ as you go – across ravines and through rock-carved tunnels.

And once there, the rewards are plenty; a picture-perfect Alpine village, ultra-clean air (cars are only allowed as far as Täsch, 5km away, so horse-drawn carts and Lego-esque electric taxis ferry visitors to and fro), and it’s a foodie’s paradise.

Aerial View on Zermatt Valley and Matterhorn Peak at Dawn, Switzerland
Tucked in the valleys near the Swiss-Italian border, Zermatt is full of chocolate box charm (Thinkstock/PA)

Dubbed the ‘Swiss capital of gourmet cuisine’, Zermatt boasts five Michelin stars (the latest two were added for 2019, for Alpine Gourmet Prato Borni and The Omnia) and more than 100 restaurants, 50 of which are dotted across the mountains.

The region is notably proud of its food scene, which serves up classic traditional fare, alongside more modern, innovative creations. We go traditional with truffle-infused fondue at Say Cheese in the centre of town (an absolute must for cheese lovers, but be warned, you’ll need to roll right into bed afterwards) and Zum See, a constantly bustling spot nestled among a cluster of huts at the foot of the mountain. For friendly fine dining or a date night, Cervo Puro doesn’t disappoint – but if you’re keen to keep things cutting edge, save a spot for Aroleid Kollektive.

Just opened in December – and perfectly placed for a late lunch right off the slopes, with world-class chef Marián Podola and Roberto Catra at the helm – the place is already making waves, with its exciting but beautifully simple twists on traditional ingredients (Roberto’s formative years cooking classical Japanese cuisine in Tokyo shine through). Ordering a load of sharing platters is the way to go (the beetroot carpaccio and the swiss chard capuns took our votes as faves).

It’s no surprise to learn that many people visit Zermatt purely for the gastronomy, never setting foot in a ski-hire shop. They tend to be loyal guests too, coming back for more time and time again. It’s easy to see why – after all, this is my third time.

My first encounter, a decade ago, was the quintessential Zermatt experience; ultra luxury. Top-end hospitality, sprawling Hollywood A list-worthy chalets and endless champagne. The second time couldn’t have been more different, sleeping on the floor of the bare and basic chalet apartment of a friend doing a ski season – and third time around, I’m lucky enough to be sampling something completely new.

Lagom – the Scandinavian phrase-turned-lifestyle-trend, meaning ‘just enough’, or, ‘not too little, not too much’ – seemed a perfect fit for the latest venture from the team behind Bramble Ski and Haute Montagne (aka ‘super yachts in the snow’), who’ve been tailoring upmarket ski holidays in some of Europe’s plushest resorts since the mid-Noughties.

With the current fast-growing focus on the importance of sustainability, Bramble has been taking steps towards making its model more ethical and planet-friendly – but, as co-founder Barry Cox explains, the time felt right to do something a little different, putting sustainability front and centre.

Barry admits that true sustainability within the luxury market – where all whims are catered for and expectations are high – can be tricky. “Lagom has given us a platform to explore this,” he says, “and show how small choices can have positive results – and hopefully then inspire more small steps.”

Inspiring small, but measurably positive choices, is right at the heart of the Lagom concept. The business launched last year with a small portfolio of chalet apartments in Zermatt and Verbier (there are plans to expand across the Alps in due course) and, Barry notes, “three key things form its DNA”.

One is the quality assurance of their properties (Lagom holidays are still, essentially, a luxury holiday). A second factor is the focus on technical innovation and simplicity (unlike Bramble and Haute Montagne, Lagom operates entirely through online booking), and the third – and most important – is sustainability. All this is embodied in Lagom’s unique slider system built into the booking process, where guests can literally watch the price and carbon footprint score of their holiday go up and down, as they build their bespoke package.

Lagom's quality-assured chalets and apartments still promise luxury, but on a pared back scale (Yves Garneau/Lagom/PA)
Lagom’s quality-assured chalets and apartments still promise luxury, but on a pared back scale (Yves Garneau/Lagom/PA)

After choosing your accommodation and dates, you go through the system and can set whether you want the fluffy robes, how often you want your bedlinen changed, whether you want housekeeping daily or just end of week. Choose less, and not only does your carbon score, displayed at the side of the screen, shoot up, but the price of your holiday drops.

Right now, you can potentially save up to CHF 4,800 a week (approx £3,690) and knock off around 410kg Co2 emissions. Barry says they hope to extend the carbon score calculator even further in the future, taking into account the carbon emissions of your journey to reach Zermatt too (for instance, opt for the train over a private transfer and your score will improve).

The algorithm’s been a number of years in the making, with a specialist carbon-calculating company tasked with figuring out the numbers. For Barry, who admits that knowing where to start with embracing sustainability can be tricky and overwhelming, it’s as much a passion project as a mark of positive evolution within the industry.

Switzerland “naturally has a bit of a head-start on sustainability anyway”, he notes. Nose-to-tail eating and using organic, local produce isn’t merely a response to trends in this part of the world, it’s just always been the norm. Plus, the country makes great use of its water sources for renewable energy (around 56% of its domestic electricity production comes from hydropower, according to the Swiss Federal Office of Energy).

Before heading home, I ditch the skis and strap on some snow-shoes for a mountain hike instead. Once again, the sun’s out, shining a spotlight on that mighty Matterhorn.

The world of luxury travel may constantly be upping the stakes to wow and please, but Mother Nature and Earth’s own displays will always steal the show. And there’s little more inspiring than that.

How to get there

Lagom currently offers a range of properties in Zermatt, sleeping from two to 10 people. Prices range from CHF 2,110-18,420 (approx. £1,615-£14,097) per week for the entire property. To book, and tailor your holiday via Lagom’s sustainability slider, visit levlagom.com.

For ski hire, Glacier Sport can provide all your kit needs. Adult premium skis and boot set (including poles) costs from CHF 275 (approx. £210) for six days. Visit glacier-intersport.ch.

Private ski instruction with European Snowsport costs from CHF 360 (approx. £275) for a half-day during peak weeks. Visit europeansnowsport.com.

easyJet (easyjet.com) operates regular flights from London Gatwick to Geneva. For more information about Zermatt and planning a visit, visit zermatt.ch/en.

© Press Association 2019

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