Ski season is in full swing, and there’s nothing like nestling around a dining table in your own apartment on the slopes, sipping at your own magnum of Brunello di Montlcino in privacy with your nearest and dearest, exchanging tales of the day’s adventures. However, until recently, the casual Alpine skier without the good fortune to own a home in St Moritz or Zermatt, would risk suffering for their hobby. In contrast to North America, ski apartments in Europe were patchy at best, cramped and devoid of service – and still expensive – at worst.

Then, French hospitality group Pierre & Vacances began constructing its own, purpose-built, resort and apartment complexes, with all the panache of the best ski-in, ski-out properties in North America. Arc 1950, L’Amara in Avoriaz, and Les Terraces d’Helios above Flaine, all in the French Alps, are delightful, contemporary developments, with five-star hotel-style service, spas, bars, pools and – most importantly of all – properly designed ski-in, ski-out facilities. More are in the pipeline, meaning you don’t have to buy a $10m apartment in the Engadine to enjoy high standards in your “own place” on the slopes. Darius Sanai speaks to Martine Balouka-Valette, Chief Executive Officer of Tourism at Pierre & Vacances, about the Alps and other holiday trends.

Martine Balouka-Valette Luxury Leaders

Martine Balouka-Valette

LUX: When we first saw one of your properties (in the recently-developed resort of Arc 1950 in France) we couldn’t help but be reminded of the holistic architecture of top North American resorts like Breckenridge and Whistler. Is that your inspiration – do you bring some North American standards to Europe?
Martine Balouka-Valette: No, I don’t think I would say that. We are inspired by our own architecture! For example, we are planning to develop a new destination, Aime 2000 in the resort of La Plagne, with the architects Wilmotte & Associates [whose projects include new elements of the Elysée Palace, Louvre Museum and Musée d’Orsay in Paris]. It will be of a very high standard, our own style, and it will open in 2019.

Read next: On board Africa’s most luxurious train

LUX: A couple of decades ago, wealthy British people, in particular, would think nothing of piling into shared ski accommodation which was of a far lower standard than their residences at home. Is there now a trend of consumers moving more towards the luxury end of ski accommodation?
Martine Balouka-Valette: Yes. They don’t want to have less than what they have at home. It means that now we are going more and more premium. Price is not an issue – at all. They are looking for services. And we are cementing that, because we need to meet their expectations. It’s key for us. When you are a family you now expect a certain type of product. When you are young and you want to sing and dance and ski and you want to have very good time, it’s slightly different. Families expect us to take care of the children in order to allow the parents to spend time in the spa and skiing. They are comfortable and feel secure that we can take care of their kids. We have developed various products in order for people to enjoy their vacations their own individual time.

L'Amara ski resort

L’Amara, Avoriaz

LUX: What about Asia? Is that something that is important for you?
Martine Balouka-Valette: Yes, we have signed an agreement with HNA Tourism Group (Hainan Airlines) that own 10% of Pierre et Vacances Center Parcs in total, to develop the Center Parcs concept in China. We have an agreement that the outline is to build four projects in the next 3 years. And we also plan to develop a Chinese mountain resort because they are very fond of our facilities at Avoriaz in France. I think with the 2022 Winter Olympics (in Beijing) in mind they want to create a new destination on the mountain that can be completed with new apartments that they have in the mountain, to convert it into a ski resort destination.

L'Amara, Avoriaz

Inside one of the luxury residences of L’Amara

LUX: You mentioned Chinese skiers enjoying Avoriaz – is that is a big potential market? The Chinese in Europe, skiing?
Martine Balouka-Valette: Yes. They love our resorts in France; for example in summer they enjoy coming to Center Parcs to enjoy the Loire castles. They enjoy the mountains, and in Paris we have Adagio (apart-hotels) with more than 5,000 apartments, they are very fond of this type of destination. So the three brands (Pierre & Vacances, Center Parcs, Adagio) meet the expectations of the Chinese clientele; we are pretty sure it is an upcoming market for us. I think it can be a very important business but we have to be careful that we balance between the domestic market and the Chinese market because otherwise the other clientele will disappear because when you have a dominant clientele, it’s not appealing.

Read next: Eric Favre, MD of The Alpina Gstaad on the simplicity of true luxury

LUX: With all the disruptors in the industry, are you optimistic about the future of the type of tourism you specialise in?
Martine Balouka-Valette: I am the CEO of the group so I cannot tell you that there is no future in our business! (…) Our locations are very good. They have space. I think our main competitor will increasingly be Air B and B or One Fine StayOne Fine Stay. This type of business is becoming a competitor for us, apart from the hotel business. But of course there is a future because as a brand what we offer is secure and safe. We have the services there, and we do not cheat our clientele. We are not proposing services that we cannot provide. So there is a real future for this type of business – more and more so. And [regarding upmarket wintersports accommodation] we are the leader. And our goal is to remain the leader in this category. That is why we continue to upgrade our accommodation because that is where the market is.

Reading time: 5 min
Donna Huanca installation
Super-collector Anita Zabludowicz founded the Zabludowicz Collection in the early 1990s with her husband, Poju, to support the works of emerging contemporary artists across the globe.With over 5,000 works by 500 artists, the Zabludowicz Collection moved to a permanent home in a former Methodist church in Camden, London, when husband and wife ran out of space on their walls at home; it holds regular exhibitions and live shows. She also creates initiatives for artists without commercial gallery representation, and funds art education programs. In the latest of our Luxury Leaders series Zabludowicz, a regular star in the Art Review Power 100 list of the most powerful people in the art world, speaks to Kitty Harris about nurturing artists, whether art has to be beautiful, and what her desert island artwork would be.
Zabludowicz collection

Public day at Zabludowicz collection. Image by David Bebber

LUX: What gave you the idea to start collecting?
Anita Zabludowicz: As a collector you don’t know that you’re actually going to become a collector. In the 90s my husband, Poju, and I went to see a Contemporary Art show called ‘High and Low’ in New York. We had never really seen the works of Claes Oldenburg, and Jeff Koons mixed with Pablo Picasso and Roy Lichtenstein. We thought, “that was really amazing, maybe we can do that.” Poju said to me “okay, but you need to go and study, do your homework and learn.” In the late 90s there was a sudden movement towards contemporary art, a new kind of revolution. We met Nick Serota then, while he was building the Tate and he introduced us to Thomas Dane, the architect of our collection. We started collecting Richard Prince photography, the Dusseldorf school like Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Thomas Struth and Thomas Ruff.

LUX: For your own enjoyment and to put up in your house?
Anita Zabludowicz: Yes, exactly until there was too much of it. That’s when you know you’re a collector, when you can’t fit everything on your walls!

Read next: Journeying through Southern Africa on Rovos Rail

LUX: What made you make that leap from a private collection to a public one?
Anita Zabludowicz: I felt very guilty having young artist’s installations in storage and a responsibility to show the works. At that time no one was showing works like these because it was too risky for museums. I saw a gap in the art world and these young artists, who really are geniuses, needed a platform to be seen.

Anita Zabludowicz art collector

Anita Zabludowicz

LUX: Why did you start the residency program in Finland?
Anita Zabludowicz: So that our artists in residence are able to progress their practice as much as possible. We have usually worked with the artist before they do a residency and we tailor it to whatever they wish to do.

LUX: Is that very important to you, to nurture artists?
Anita Zabludowicz: That is the most important thing, so that they continue to grow. And so that when we are with them, they are getting something out of us.

Read next: Fawaz Gruosi on black diamonds and innovation

LUX: What’s coming up next year that you can tell us about now?
Anita Zabludowicz: ‘Invites’ is on now with a very interesting, young, Dutch painter, Willem Weismann. And we also have Donna Huanca which is really something mind blowing. She has used sound and infra-red so that you are actually interacting with the exhibition. Early next year we have ‘Testing Ground’ where we do a master class with four or five major artists, someone like John Stezaker , teaching younger artists. They do a lecture, they teach them, they critique them. Then we bring in the MA classes from the Royal College of art and John Cass (the colleges change each year) who work together to curate a show of the collection. It’s really refreshing and amazing because they are not marred by the market. Our photography show is at the end of March and it’s about the invisibility of the picture. It is going to be quite unique and different. Haroon Mirza will be our solo show in September. He works with digital and analogue and is a real meta modern artist, working with collaging information.

Haroon Mirza

The system blue by Haroon Mirza

LUX: Have you noticed any, or are you nurturing any trends?
Anita Zabludowicz: We don’t nurture trends but we are fascinated by new movements in the world that came from all different directions. For instance, last year, if you can call it a trend, we did a more digital, technological show with Jon Rafman who made a virtual reality film. It was probably the first time this country had seen virtual reality so we had queues around the block.

LUX: Does art have to be beautiful?
Anita Zabludowicz: Beautiful art is fantastic and gorgeous and it is so decorative. But for us, it’s about what’s behind that work of art. There is so much depth, thought and history and that’s what makes your mind expand and think. That’s what art is all about.

Donna Huanca installation

Donna Huanca

Read next: Salvatore Ferragamo on the art of fine wine

LUX: You’re more interested in an artist’s cultural value, not their market value. How do you think the art market affects an artist?
Anita Zabludowicz: The art market is a very strange phenomenon where artists are kind of forced to mass produce. It’s supply and demand and they are adhering to the demand. Then everything just loses its sense of reality. I don’t like to get too much involved when that is happening. It’s too hard. It’s too difficult. It’s too sad.

LUX: There is a new law and you are only allowed to have one work of art – what would you keep?
Anita Zabludowicz: Oh my God! It would be a work by Anj Smith, she’s not that well known but she is the most talented painter I’ve ever come across. I suppose every woman in some way desires jewellery but the most desirable thing to me is a painting of hers.

Reading time: 5 min
Mr. Pig pop up by nobu's ex-head chef

Ex-Nobu head chef, Scott Hallsworth, provides Londoners with a rare insight into some of his favourite foods at a wonderfully wintery pop-up that will have your taste-buds tingling and your eyes all aglow this festive season.

Mr. Pig pop up by nobu's ex-head chef

Mr. Pig’s cosy Christmas interiors

Kurobuta, the recent brainchild of Scott Hallsworth, and now a permanent fixture in Marble Arch and on the Kings Road since it outgrew it’s original pop-up due to overwhelming popularity, takes its inspiration from the Izakayas of Japan, where tapas-style plates are served to accompany drinks in a casual setting. This December, Hallsworth has gone back to his roots and installed a painfully cool pop-up below the site on the King’s Road, to showcase his love for unusually-combined ingredients – derived from both Japan and beyond.

super-chef scott hallsworth

Scott Hallsworth

Hip, relaxed and with just a hint of East-London edginess, diners sit on metal chairs at communal wooden tables, with chopsticks in recycled tins ready to be tackled, with Hallsworth himself making the dishes to order in the open kitchen a few feet away. This is stripped-back rock ‘n’ roll exemplary gastronomy at its best.

Settle in, get cosy and dive straight into the cocktail list. A sake-based tipple is compulsory, but for those otherwise inclined a ‘Pink Rabbit’ consisting of Patron, Campari and Strawberry Jam, that arrives in a champagne glass with a puff of candy floss sets things off with a bang. Mr. Pig’s real draw however is, of course, the food. The specially-chosen 10-dish-only menu is designed to be enjoyed ‘tapas style’. One could (and should), easily make their way through the entire list. Hallsworth’s favourite – Short Rib Rendang with Coconut and Crab Sambal is a joy, the Eringi Mushrooms baked with Sake, Butter, Garlic and served with Beurre Blanc are mouth-wateringly good, and the Grilled Pork Belly and Pickled Mussel Ssäm with Chili Jam and Roasted Rice is crunchy, juicy and packed with flavour. The best dish? The Crispy Oysters with Nam Jim and Umami Mayo, without doubt. These light, citrusy bites of flavour are enough to make any foodie feel that Christmas has come early.

Hallsworth has done it again. With its low-lighting, cosy atmosphere, relaxed ambience, festive tipples and a perfectly-crafted menu, Mr. Pig is the place to indulge in some festive cheer this December. Open Thursday to Saturday for dinner only, be sure to not miss out.

Reading time: 2 min
Rovos Rail in the Karoo settlement of Matjiesfontein
Rovos Rail in the Karoo settlement of Matjiesfontein

The Rovos vintage train at Matjiesfontein. Image by James Houston

Journeying through desert, diamond fields and wine lands, South Africa’s luxurious vintage train line takes Digital Editor, Millie Walton from the country’s capital of Pretoria to Cape Town

“Has anyone travelled with us before?” A few hands shoot up. “More than twice?” A few down. “More than three times?” One hand remaining. “How many times have you travelled with us, sir?” “Eight,” replies a balding man who looks like he spends his time smoking cigars in a white tuxe (this was affirmed later on). We all gasp. Eight times on the most luxurious train in the world. Rohan Vos, the founder of Rovos Rail, smiles, “It should be you up here doing the welcome talk.”

Vos, a tall, distinguished looking gentleman with a strong South African accent, purchased his first coach in 1985: a 1938 Class 19D locomotive from Lowenthal’s Scrap Metal in Johannesburg renamed BIANCA after his daughter. His intention was to restore the carriages and hitch them to a South African Railways train as a family caravan, but the tariff for hauling the train was extortionate unless he sold tickets and so, quite naturally, the Pride of Africa was born.

Read next: Fawaz Gruosi on luxury’s need for experimentation

Rovos rail dining car

It’s time to board. Our wonderful, young hostess Lizzy gives us the grand tour of our lavish suite and asks us how we’d like our mini-fridge to be stocked. All complimentary, of course. Then its to the observation car for high tea: champagne, cake, sandwiches and biltong as the train rolls through the goldfields of the Witwatersrand. At 7.30pm the gong rings for a five course dinner in the old-fashioned dining cart. Most of this journey is spent heavily sated with food and alcohol. I’m not quite sure how one would survive the 15 day ramble through South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania. The excess is all part of the nostalgia, harkening back to a time without weight watchers and juices cleanse, when wealth was illustrated by the plumpness of your breasts. When you’re travelling past townships and bare-footed children running along the train tracks though, it does all seem a bit (forgive the pun) tasteless especially when you’re sitting back unbuckling your trousers too stuffed to finish the last few bites of lobster tail. However, tourism like this is crucial to supporting the South African economy; Rovos alone provides many job opportunities and tries where possible to use locally sourced produce. You’re by no means changing the world, but at least when your champagne is being topped up, you can rest in the knowledge that you are making some kind of contribution.

Royal suite on the rovos train

The day bed in the Royal Suite. Image by Rovos Rail

Read next: Cointreau and Liberty London’s reforestation project

During the night the train rattles through eerily barren landscapes crossing the border between the maize lands of western Transvaal and the Orange Free State, arriving into Kimberley shortly after breakfast. Once the wealthiest city in the world and still home to the De Beers headquarters, Kimberley is surprisingly unvisited by tourists and as such, has remained delightfully trapped in the distant past. We stand for a while in awe on the suspended viewing platform that juts out over the Big Hole, 580ft deep and a mile wide, filled with turquoise water before wandering round the diamond museum to marvel at some of the gems found embedded in the kimberlite.

Rovos Rail, Pretoria to Cape Town

Golden fields through the train’s window. Image by James Houston

There’s something wonderfully cinematic and romantic about lying on your day bed watching the landscape change from the green marshlands of the diamond fields into the harsh, semi-desert of the Karoo. Through the night we bound across Beaufort West, the “Capital of the Karoo”, famous as the home of Christiaan Barnard, who performed the world’s first successful heart transplant. The night sky is startlingly clear scattered with thousands of burning white stars. On the hills, the tops of what look like wind mills dance with coloured LEDs.

Read next: Investment secrets from international entrepreneur, Javad Maranda

The train pulls up somewhere in the middle of nowhere shortly after day break for those who wish to walk the next 5 kilometres to Matjiesfontein,a tiny settlement founded by a Scottish railwayman, James Douglas Logan. The short stretch of tarmac with a colonial style hotel, an old fashioned post office and sun worn, pastel coloured petrol pumps leads into dust and desert. It’s a lonely kind of place, preserved just as it would have been when Logan planted his first handful of seeds. The museum is a labyrinth of underground caves piled high with ancient furniture, type writers, medical equipment, dolls and trinkets. It’s hard to imagine that this quiet place was where 10,000 soldiers were based during the Boer War.

Table Mountain Cape Town

Table Mountrain looms majestic at dusk. Image by Millie Walton

After miles more of desolation, the train enters the Hex River tunnels, emerging blinking into the lush fertility of the Hex River Valley. This is South Africa’s wine lands where white dutch country style houses stand orderly amongst the vines. The train heaves to a stop alongside golden fields of corn and cows grazing. We sip cocktails and wait. There’s a rumour that the train lines have been stolen, we’re going to be delayed here for some hours. How delightful! In fact, when we do get rolling again the sun is just setting. Through the pink and orange hue, and streaming smoke of a wild fire Table Mountain appears.

Discover more itineraries by Rovos Rail:

Reading time: 4 min