Creating an alpine retreat

Words by:
Caroline Bingham
Featured in:
February 2013

Even with our recent heavy snowfalls, a childhood in Lincolnshire does not seem to be the most auspicious start for a budding skier and chalet hostess.

For Helen Raemers, however, her early life in Market Rasen and Gainsborough with her parents and three siblings was the beginning of a wanderlust and passion for skiing and hospitality.

“It was my sister who really first got the skiing bug,” explained Helen, whose maiden name is Watson, “but when my husband and I had a mid-thirties life crisis, it was the mountains and a chalet business which caught our imaginations.”

Helen and her husband, Chris Raemers are the owners of The Alpine Club, St Martin, a catered chalet business which they established after career paths which took Helen into hospitality and catering and Chris into architecture. Several years in London led to their life changing decision to sell up, travel for twelve months and see where fate took them.

Helen said: “We travelled around the world, especially enjoying South America and Africa, but when we finally started to look to our long-term future we made a checklist and it was our ski holidays which ticked the most boxes.”

The couple’s next move was to accept a twelve-month contract running a chalet in Val d’Isère – with Chris as the host and Helen as the chef. This type of work perfectly complements Helen’s background in training, development and customer service in pub management and catering. It was not long before the couple were looking around to identify a suitable alpine property for Chris to renovate and which would be their own catered chalet venture.

“We stumbled across St Martin de Belleville by accident, when we were skiing Les Trois Vallées in 2002,” said Helen. “Although the lifts and slopes link into the more widely known resorts such as Méribel, Courchevel and Val Thorens, and the world class ski area of the Tarentaise Valley, this beautiful, Savoyard village was comparatively undeveloped.”

A local ski instructor had a house which needed renovating and Chris was engaged to plan its transformation. This 120-year old-farmhouse opened in 2004 as Chalet Abode, the first of the two properties they now operate in St Martin.

“To begin with we spent winters in St Martin and in the summer we returned to London, so that Chris could return to his previous architecture practice, but since 2008, when we bought Chalet Abode, we have been living here all year round,” said Helen.

The Alpine Club has now opened its second property, a stunning new build which Chris has designed specifically as ski chalet. Chamois Lodge is located in Villarabout, a four minute drive from St Martin.

“Rather than this being a private mountain home which is then rented by ski companies, Chamois Lodge has been created as a ski lodge,” explained Chris. “As a result all the bedrooms are equal sizes, the breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains are optimised and the living room sits at the top of the chalet, with exposed beams and fantastic double height space.”

The design of the interior has been overseen by Helen: “I wanted Chamois Lodge to look stunning, designer and chic and it is contemporary while also paying homage to the surrounding mountains and ancient buildings nearby.”

There are relaxing brown hues and taupes which reflect the tones of the weathered wood and grey of the old stone of nearby houses. Chamois Lodge is being marketed for seven-day family group bookings, or rooms can be booked on an adults only, individual basis.

Guests can expect a genuinely luxurious stay with beautiful living spaces, fabulous bedding, and excellent staff, ready to create delicious meals and look after their guests’ every whim.

The day starts with breakfast and afternoon tea is served when guests come off the slopes. In the evening a six-course meal, featuring international cuisine and including wine, is served.

“Our service is entirely tailored so we are here to respond to the requests of our clients,” said Helen. “It can be a challenge if the lifts are closed but there is an outside hot tub to enjoy, WiFi throughout the chalet and our dedicated in-resort chauffeur service is available.”

For Helen and Chris the most wonderful thing about their life now is that they are no longer ships who pass each other in the night. They still work exceptionally hard but they relish creating beautiful environments, either for Chris’s architectural practice clients or for Helen’s boutique chalet guests.

Whatever the time of year, they never fail to notice the magnificence of the mountains and the village they have made their home. “Ultimately I have gone back to living in a rural small village,” added Helen. “It is the type of environment I came from and where I grew up and this is what attracted us to St Martin, rather than the large resorts.”

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