First Snows: Slightly unexpectedly we woke up this morning to this! Given the temperatures were in the mid twenties two days ago, and I have no idea where our winter jackets are after a long hot summer, We Are Not Prepared! I feel like someone out of Game of Thrones, but genuinely, Winter Is Coming!
Our Name in Print: We've had another feature piece come out on the chalet, this time in the glossy French Property News. And it's lovely that they used so many of the brilliant pictures the crew from Urbanara took. We're now looking forward to a great summer season - although, it SNOWED yesterday in Avoriaz! Ahem - IT'S THE END OF MAY?!?
It's All About The Eating: All our holidays, no matter where, tend to involve 3 significant meals punctuating the day, with some small gaps in between, during which there tends to be much discussion about what or where the next meal will be. On our honeymoon we spent more money on food each day than we did on our hotel (it was Italy). One of the things we love most about Morzine, and the surrounding mountains and valleys, is that the food is consistently excellent pretty much wherever you go. Added to which there's usually a serious view to go along with it. We've been out at the chalet this week for a few spring days to sort out a few things now that the snows have melted and the season has ended. There has been exterior cladding oiling, grass seeding, flower planting, and tree felling - more of all these things anon. In between the chalet maintenance, there has been food, of course. And on this trip, it feels like we've eaten particularly well.
Hotel du Parc des Eaux Vives: Starting with this incredible restaurant. We landed 4 hours late at Geneva Airport (We took 42 EasyJet flights last year, and not one was late - so, really we were overdue for some bad luck travel wise) after a maintenance issue, and rushed over for last lunch orders to this place. It was our 10 year anniversary, so we wanted to head somewhere special to celebrate. It is about 15 minutes drive from the airport, and is a fantastic pit stop along the way up the mountain. It was due to torrentially thunder and rain, so we were extremely lucky to have actual bursts of sunshine and warmth, and be able to sit out on their wonderful terrace. The view is pretty much one of the best ever, surely. Down from the terrace, across the park (where you can also hire a picnic from the restaurant and sit on the grass), and down to the lake and across to the far mountains. We would go back for the view alone, except that the food was also completely amazing. We had the set menu, which I would recommend as there were things we'd never have chosen off the menu, and turned out to be the best dishes by far (haddock with a polenta cream sauce, and shaved asparagus). All in all a hearty recommendation for a special occasion, and we will definitely return, and negotiate over who is to be the designated driver for the rest of the way after an afternoon on the extremely nice rose.
La Muratore: We drove down to Thonon to buy some wood cladding oil, and made a day of it by driving on to Evian to do some exploring. The day we went it was tipping it down with rain. The sort of rain where someone's left the tap on in the sky on far too long. Utterly grim. And no umbrella. We had a quick explore in the pedestrianised centre of Evian, where of course nothing was open (it was lunchtime) and felt like not a soul was around. Of course because everyone is at lunch for a proper break. We dived into La Muratore, which is right in the centre, right at the end of their lunch service. It was a little on the pricey side - but as we discovered, worth absolutely every single penny. I had the scallop risotto, which wasn't really a risotto after all, but rather 4 GIANT scallops on their own individual beds of saffron risotto with chorizo and vegetable garnish. I'm absolutely certain I haven't had better scallops anywhere. It was also enormous. Darren had steak tartar, which was so incredibly seasoned and garnished that it didn't taste like raw beef, but something else entirely. Both absolutely delicious. We shared the lemon pudding, which was also one of the best things we've ever had. We will definitely return here too.
Restaurant Le Jules Verne: A beautifully bluebird sunny day led to a proper tourist day out down the valley - via the Devil's Bridge Gorge, and down to the medieval town of Yvoire and to the beach. We ate lunch at the Jules Verne restaurant, at the dock in Yvoire. Pretty much all the restaurants in Yvoire have the same (or a very similar) menu, and all are extremely similarly priced, no matter where it is, on the lake or in the town. So it's really about where you want to sit, rather than what you want to eat or for how much. We had the lake fish fillets with chips, with a lemon butter sauce. Totally delicious, if slightly expensive, but the setting and the view, as well as the sunshine, made the whole thing entirely worthwhile. Added to which, Yvoire is really worth a visit anyway, it was SO pretty.
According the the Guardian: this week Morzine has been ranked the best ski resort in Europe in terms of value for money. We already knew this, or else we wouldn't love it as much, somehow. But how great that the rest of the world is now catching on. The factors apparently considered were piste length (er hello 650km…), snow reliability (thank you weirdy microclimate ℅ Lake Geneva), slope crowdedness - which if we're honest on busy weeks don't feel fun in certain areas, but when we've been with pals they tell us this is *nothing* compared to other resorts. Whatever that means. We've been evangelising about the restaurants on and off piste for years (and they just get better and better each year), and I love that this is a big criteria here too. They're rated 9 out of 10 for quality - which feels rather endorsing! Then this is all added up and divided by the lift pass cost for the final tally.
The full list is here, and Morzine is indeed number 1!
Out of Nowhere PR Bonus: So you'd think we might know when someone is going to mention you in a (pretty much) national newspaper, and include your website details. Turns out not so much. An eagle eyed friend of my parents spotted this lovely mention in last night's Evening Standard, or else we'd have missed it! Luckily, got the news in time, and could pick up a few newspapers to have a look at the real thing, as online clippings always feel a little less fun and real. Thank you Joshi Herrmann, for the inclusion! And he's right - the downside of this investment is the short season, but happily we're already pretty much booked up for the rest of this season (bar 1 week). Sadly for us, that means we can't go out again...
Last Weekend: We had a rather exciting moment in the life of our project this week. Our chalet was picked up as part of a wider story on Morzine property investments in the Sunday Times (apologies for the paywall link). The interview came about a few weeks ago, through a connection at Morzine Immobilier. Due to the nature of my day job, it was odd to be the interviewee, not the person sitting next to the interviewee making encouraging and supportive thumbs up signs. It also meant that professional experience told me to be apprehensive about the content of the piece and our positioning within it, until actually seeing the piece - which in turn led to some very vivid anxiety dreams the night before regarding how they'd illustrate it with embarrassing photos of us or something - cringe! Obviously that didn't happen (nor would it ever).
The Sunday Times Effect: We were actually in Morzine when the piece came out - so could only view it online, rather in real life in the actual paper. It had snowed the night before, and we got up to a chilly frozen view (and a mild hangover), and read through the piece in the chalet lounge. We then spent the day away from the computer (thankfully) on the slopes - which meant that I didn't spend all day pressing 'refresh' on our analytics page to see what the site traffic was like, like a woman possessed. When we left in the morning we'd had 250 uniques that morning, and 750 page views. When we got back that night the figure was 1000 uniques and over 3000 page views to the site. In one day! Since Sunday we've had quite a few enquiries for next season off the back of the piece, and a few people emailing just to say hello or to ask questions about the build, as well as some existing clients emailing to say they'd seen it. I've also had to set up a 'Press' section on the website - seeing as there actually is some, which is also rather exciting. We also have a fantastic quote - 'a chic little chalet' The Sunday Times. HURRAH!
Acknowledgements: I suppose it's strictly necessary to acknowledge that although we're obviously amazing and talented and, you know, built this place from the ground up with our bare hands (practically), we did have *some* help along the way. Some. Not loads.
Ok, totally loads.
This is a roll call, much like the rolling credits at the end of a film. A cast list of supporting actors of sorts. And in every movie - the good ones anyway - there are goodies and baddies. And there were certainly both sorts of characters during this process. I don't want to make this awkward or start a total bitch fest - even though it's potentially cathartic to acknowledge the really tough parts and what is was that made them so tough. So I have chosen to focus on only the Goodies here. Those other various nightmares are now fading into distant memory - the 'one day we'll look back at this and laugh' moments, that felt deeply unfunny at the time, and there's no need to go over old ground. Maybe later...
So this is a cast credit list and acknowledgment of people, without whose help we genuinely couldn't have finished this huge project (and infinite patience). I'm just hoping it's not a low budget haunted house film we've made here...
Main Cast (in order of appearance):
Morzine Immobilier: We bought the chalet through this brilliant, professional estate agency. It was a great buying experience for us from start to finish - yes, we don't have anything to compare it too, but it was distinctly stress free all things considered. And they were fantastically helpful and generous with advice and good local contacts and suppliers along the way too. Above and beyond the call of duty springs to mind here...
Darren's uncle Mark and cousins Benjamin and Nicholas: For this reason. But also this reason. They (with Ollie as well) drove through the night for a weekend in a *basic* chalet, which was FREEZING and essentially little more than camping in an enormous tent. Their hard work and long hours meant that we had running water to the middle level - meaning we didn't have to dash outside in our PJs to use the toilet, brush teeth and do the washing up all on the bottom level (in those days there wasn't an inside staircase). They also built the table we ate off for 5 happy months. There was memorable duck a l'orange with experimental potato dauphinoise during this trip, but also homemade caramel lava puddings during this trip, and many other brilliant meals eaten off that table in between. I was actually sad to see it go...
Janis and his building team at Alpine Renovation: Clearly. They've done the most *incredible* job renovating this chalet and turning it into the best possible version of itself. I genuinely don't think anyone else could/ would have produced such a fantastic result. It would have only ever been less well executed. The process was (relatively) painless. The finish is flawless. There literally isn't a single thing we would change - apart from potentially a few different decisions that we would make, knowing what we know now. And nothing to do with the perfect execution. This team are the hardest working, most professional team around, and I would defy anyone to have a better experience in Morzine, or even in the UK.
Pals Jamie (and Alice): For a key part of why we can get the internet in the chalet now - the trench Jamie built with Darren, and the pipework laid down, means that our heating works (controlled wirelessly), we have music (via Sonos) and TV/ films (Apple TV), as well as the more basic web connectivity.
Neighbours Charlie, Tim and Tom: Who have appeared on here more than a few times in the past - the bottom line is though, we genuinely could not have done this without their help/ spare bedroom/ barn (for storage)/ patience/ advice/ wine (not for Tom)/ food (mainly when we realised too late that all shops were shut and no chance of finding any dinner in town out of season. This happened far too often.)/ and general good humour and sound-boarding.
Neighbours Jane and Steve: AKA Grand Cru Ski: For amazing food/ a social life/ advice/ help/ shared panicking/ a sense of camaraderie. And a FANTASTIC sofa. Did I mention the amazing food?
Neighbour Lisa, AKA Challenge Activ: For patiently and generously storing our appliances for a few weeks in her garage. We are extremely grateful. Also for showing us the light on home Raclette making! And excellent hugs...
Neighbours Nick and Judith: Who own the beautiful chalet right next door. Thank you so much for letting us use it. And for letting us gatecrash a neighbourly BBQ.
Darren's parents, Karen and Robert: For allowing us to take up all their garage with all the chalet furniture, ahead of van pick ups. Weeks of storage. Couldn't have done that in our flat in London. Also for allowing the chalet dining table and bunk bed to be built in that same garage. Very disruptive. Also for taking delivery of so many innumerable vital packages. Also for dog sitting over those weekends. But mainly for driving us to Luton Airport every Friday morning (and for a good few months) at 5am. Very much beyond the call of duty.
My parents, Michael and Jackie: For DYI extravanganza-ing during Christmas holiday, as well as bunk bed assembly. And extensive vital tool kit. As well as the many many offers of actual help in the run up to the finish line - which we didn't accept mainly due to bloody mindedness and singularity (probably).
Darren's brother, Ollie: More of the DIY extravaganza-ing during Christmas/ NY holiday - so much hard work. That enormous never ending To Do List dwindled due to systematic tick offs every morning and night. Thank you. Also the sounding board thing here applies in a big BIG way. All the way through this process - including at design and layout planning stage. Also these chairs wouldn't exist without him sourcing them when we couldn't find them anywhere. Think of that when sitting and enjoying that view with a glass of red. That's one tiny snapshot helpful detail amongst an unnumerable list of many many others.
Jack Hunt: Jack has appeared on here before as he built our wonderful dining table, and he also built the brilliant bunk bed in the mural room. The bunk bed has already had testimony that it's the most comfortable bed of all time, which is a heck of a testament for a bunk bed - usually the bottom rung in bed choices. In addition to these clearly MASSIVE and vital contributions, Jack has also been a year long sounding board and source of vital and fantastic advice across this build, as well as giving us great advice on the lighting, tiling and many many other key aspects. Sincere and grateful thanks.
My sister and brother in law: for regular, calibrating Sunday pub lunches and movie nights (as and when we could make them). As well as taking in and signing for some of those frequent deliveries. Also for dog walking, lots of dog walking. And lots of dog sitting during the many late nights working. As well as spreading the word and doing their own supportive PR campaign for us - thank you.
Claire and her crack team at Urbanara: For the incredible photos for our website, and for being patient during a pretty chaotic and stressful weekend. We are very grateful, and delighted to see our chalet popping up all over their site.
Our friends: For allowing us to have one topic of conversation only for a full year, and for being patient with last minute cancelled plans, which I know has happened a lot. Sorry, and thank you. Onto new topics now...
Unlike at the end of a film, this isn't the credit roll call that signals the end though - it signals the middle…?
Newsflash: Apparently Avoriaz is the 'snowiest resort in Europe' right now. It has the highest levels of upper and lower slope snow than any other resort. Check this link out for details: http://morzinesourcemagazine.com/avoriaz-is-snowiest-resort-in-europe-right-now/ . But also - look at the snow levels compared to higher resorts of Meribel and Chamonix! And there's still more forecast too...
Thank you Lisa, from Challenge Activ, for the link pointer.
Behind the Scenes: I posted up the official chalet photos just before Christmas, and updated our (proper? sorry Chic Happens Blog - you're proper too, I promise) website. They are beautiful shots, and we are completely delighted with them. They show off the chalet we built exactly as the chalet we had in our heads all along. It is quite amazing to see that vision literally realised all of a sudden. And the photos have really done their job, as we have all but 2 weeks now rented out this season, and already a few bookings taken for next season. The photos are flawless (if we say so ourselves) - but it took a huge amount of work to get them that way. So I thought I would write about that process, in case it all looked too easy...(Spoiler: it really wasn't)
The Idea: Almost two years ago, I had lunch with my oldest friend Claire. I've known Claire since we went to school together in India, when we were 6 years old. She has been living away from the UK for a few years - firstly in Shanghai, and now in Berlin. She's founded a homeware company, URBANARA, 3 years ago, and since then her business has been flying. We were having a long overdue catch up and I mentioned that we'd just (perhaps slightly randomly) put in an offer on a chalet in the French Alps and were planning a big renovation on it. We both joked about how potentially ideal the finished chalet might be for a shoot for their products, and then moved on to other news. It then took Darren and I such a long time to get the deal done on the chalet purchase, and then get going on the renovation, that it wasn't really mentioned again. Fast-forward 18 months, and URBANARA continue to go from strength to strength and we were coming to the end of our little (big!) project. And it seemed that this crazy link up idea might not be as crazy as all that, and could actually be beneficial for both of us (as well as being enormous fun). We got a date in the diary, added in a couple of weeks leeway for safety after the projected build finish date and book flights for her shoot/ style team for mid December.
The Crisis: It turned out that the two week safety barrier was entirely and fundamentally necessary. Various hiccups with the lighting and some supplier issues put some key parts of the build further and further behind. The Friday that the team arrived was actually one of the most horrendously stressful days in the whole process. The kitchen was being finished, lighting was still being fitted and the whole chalet still looked like a total building site. Well, it still was a building site. There were tools everywhere, dust, stuff as far as the eye could see. And the URBANARA team was arriving at 6pm that night to start shooting the following morning, and also needed to stay overnight in suitable accommodation. This was supposed to be our first overnight stay there in 6 months. This was proper 'to the wire' stuff. I reflected on this deadline and total panic stations day a few days later, and probably, funnily enough, even if they'd arrived a few days later - I reckon it still might have been cutting it as fine as it was. Funny things, deadlines...
The Solution: We got in a team of cleaners for a few hours that day - all very last minute, and thank GOD for them. The building team cracked on like actual machines and then started the clean up. We built beds, made beds up, built sofas, coffee table. Mopped floors. Scrubbed bathrooms. Cleaned windows. Mopped more floors. Scrubbed other bathrooms - scrubbed the same bathrooms again - those black bathroom tiles, it turns out, were a NIGHTMARE to clean. It took many many many goes on them to get to the end of the black dust residue. Likewise the dust on the wooden floors - so many moppings. So many. Likewise the window cleaning - who knew that new windows don't just come up shiny and sparkly immediately due to being brand new? They actually take many many goes.
Turning Point: That day was the turning point day - in the morning the chalet was the same building site we'd been visiting for weeks, with several things advanced, but definitely NOT a home or somewhere to conceive of staying overnight, let alone having 5 people arrive to stay over and work in it for the weekend. The URBANARA team arrived at the latter end of the clean up - we were not quite there yet, so I whisked them off into town for red wine and tapas while the clean up finished, and when we returned 2 hours later, it had a living room, bedrooms, bathrooms with lights in them (actually that's not quite true - the first night of that weekend was showers and teeth cleaning by candlelight, the bathroom lights came on Day Two), a working coffee machine (thank GOD), unpacked crockery, a working wood burning stove. There was still a fair amount of dust everywhere though, no dining table, no working hob or ovens though...no kitchen sink, no WiFi, several lights still not working, plug sockets to install, no bathroom lighting, no bunk bed built. Only one UK plug socket worked, which meant strict turn taking to charge iPhones etc.
The Pay Off: But, I remember sitting up at about 1am that night, actually sitting on our lovely new sofas for the first ever time, trying to desperately finish off crocheting the cushions I'd been working on for months so that they could be in shot, and feeling the most exhausted I'd ever felt. Even when I've been on a gruelling 2 week long author national signing tour, and working seriously long hour days and all over weekends, evenings as well as days - that exhaustion is *nothing* like this was. Not anywhere in the same ballpark. There hadn't been a single minute that wasn't incredibly stressful and full on for both of us for a good few weeks up until that point, and that final punishing, overwhelming day. Both chalet wise, but also work wise. But it was an incredible feeling sitting in that space for the very first time in the new set up. Looking around to see the vision inside your head actually alive. Putting everything we'd had shipped in, everything we'd chosen, everything we'd planned to go together, actually coming together in real life. It was truly an extraordinary moment. Getting into bed that night felt surreal and a bit dreamlike (probably the cumulative exhaustion), and we couldn't quite grasp it as 'success' just yet.
And Then: The plan was to shoot our interiors shots on the Saturday until the natural light was gone, and then concentrate on URBANARA's shot list for Sunday and Monday. And then…well, that is a story for another post…(closes laptop in manner of Princess Bride book, with less bushy eyebrows than Peter Falk)
A Small Hiatus: It's been rather challenging to finish up the chalet build, host Christmas and New Year and blog about it too. Additionally (no excuses or owt) there's also been a virulent and boring 2 week long flu after New Year, and then the computer refused to turn on. Hard to blog without one of those. Still trying to get the pics off the old hard drive to start a Before and Afters transformation series of posts on here a la Kevin MacLeod. In the meantime - now that the chalet renovation is finished (cue joyful leaping in air), I thought it might be good to set out what this blog is going to be now that the renovation is over. While I was laid up with flu I planned out a few posts that I've been frustratingly not to be able to write due to above reasons. As it turns out, there are a fair few elements still to cover about the final weeks' build. There are also a few exciting new developments to share here, as well as the news that we've already started to scout around for the next renovation project in France. Suckers for punishment maybe? Potentially so…we clearly have short memories for stress and newly formed frown lines.