From the Swiss Alps to Lake Tahoe, these exquisite winter estates are luxurious from surroundings to floor plan.
By Jenna Realmuto
For thousands of years, in a season that can seem frightfully unforgiving, winter adventurers have embraced the powdery snow that blankets rooftops, trees and frigid terrain by donning skis and gliding weightlessly through the trees and sleet.
But where to travel to find the ultimate winter wonderland? Resorts can sometimes be kitschy and overrun with tourists, but one should never settle for run-of-the-mill. From the Swiss Alps to the Italian Dolomites to the Sierra Madre, here are the most awe-inspiring destinations—and the most luxurious chalets—to hit the slopes.
Of all the Alpine vistas, none are more thrilling than the Italian Dolomites. The groove-shaped peaks present stunning hues that whimsically dance with the sun’s arc. One drinks in the atmosphere instead of simply being awestruck. If you land here towards the end of ski season, the flowers begin to peep out of the snow, and a stop in a rustic hillside taverna fills your lungs with the aroma of fresh gnocchi and hearty sauces. Perhaps crown your meal with a cumin grappa. The Dolomites tug at the heartstrings like a Puccini aria, and the memory never completely fades. Very few with the means to return fail to do so—it’s impossible to ignore the beckoning of Cortina d’Ampezzo, the cherished heart of the Southern Alps. A longtime jetset location for the European aristocracy, the town centre enchants with a castle-like bell tower reigning against a backdrop of grandiose mountain peaks. Throughout its history, Cortina has housed and aroused artists and intellectuals—Hemingway once lived a year here—so perhaps the serenity will inspire the next masterpiece. Whether one is feeling creative or is itching to strap on the skis, Cortina d’Ampezzo is the perfect landing.
Chalet Stella Alpina
Overlooking the charming promenade of Cortina’s main avenue sits Chalet Stella Alpina. The exterior exudes the very essence of traditional stucco-and-timber architecture, but inside is a fusion of modern furnishings and old-world coziness. It seems a different world—a world that rejects the status quo. Start your day by taking a dip in the heated indoor pool, and after a day of skiing, melt the icicles from your bones in the state-of-the-art sauna and spa. Tucked in the very heart of the renowned Via Menardi area, a cultural, economic and social hub, your après-ski activities seem limitless. Its cutting-edge wellness amenities and proximity to the picturesque slopes make Chalet Stella Alpina the peak of modern luxury, a place to enjoy the excitement of winter sports and bask in a hamlet of relaxation.
To breathe the same air as the angels, you must go to Tahoe,” wrote Mark Twain of the crisp, pine-scented atmosphere of Lake Tahoe. Straddling the border of California and Nevada, the desert nudges from the east as the trendy Bay Area muscles in from the west. The crystal clear waters, ringed by towering pines and snow-capped peaks, mirror the majesty of the Sierra Madre on its pristine, cobalt surface. (If one were to drop a stone off a boat, it would remain visible until it reached a depth of 70 feet or more.) Trimmed with fragrant pines and blanketed with fluffy snowfall, Lake Tahoe knits the adventurous elements of winter into one picturesque destination. With multiple ski parks (flaunting both Olympic-level potential and bunny-slope bluffs), the panoramic beauty of Lake Tahoe is polished by sunshine four out of five days a year—one reason many of the nation’s finest winter athletes have made Tahoe their home. Once you’ve warmed up from your foray on the snow-capped slopes, you will find that casinos, signature boutiques and gourmet dining abound.
For months, designers rejected the notion that a huge, frameless glass door could be done, but the construction manager didn’t take “no” for an answer. Fourteen months later, a 2,000-pound laminated entryway was seamlessly fitted into the almost entirely glass structure that appears to emerge from the Sierra Madre mountainside. Every inch, every element, every accoutrement of the ultra-modern architecture by Mark Dziewulski was deliberate. The project spanned a decade, enlisted the help of more than a dozen consultants and designers and was tailored to the exacting desires of the then-owners. Sitting in any of its rooms, one gets the illusion of standing on a cloud, floating between the snowcapped mountains and the shimmering depths of Lake Tahoe. Trimless windows make up the external walls of each principal room, allowing for spine-tingling views of the water, and the looming centerpiece levitates as a glass staircase that winds its way up through six stories. The purity of detail of this chalet is a perfect match for the quietly upscale North Shore. From the bottom floor, one steps down an amphitheatrelike lawn and carefully hewn stone steps to the steel pier, where yachting is popular all year round.
The alpine village of Zermatt, Switzerland is the quintessential postcard resort with a truly special crochet of sights, sounds and thrills. Cars not allowed, the sound of horse-drawn sleighs is ubiquitous with the occasional jingle of bells. As the approach by mountain train rounds the final bend, the cinematic Matterhorn majestically positions itself as the everpresent backdrop of your stay. Peppering the hillside are centuries-old hay barns and cozy log-fashioned bistros. One is beckoned by fireplaces and hearty fare to pop in one or two on the downhill traverse—unless you wish to venture down the sunny eightmile trail to the Italian village of Cervinia. Challenging the Matterhorn for attention at these higher elevations is the proud and massive Monte Rosa on which mountain goats pick their precarious way through crevices. Zermatt’s cozy main street sparkles with gentile raclette restaurants with some night spots percolating until the wee hours. Once visited, no other alpine destination can fully measure up. The understated Swiss townsfolk quietly welcome all to share in the love of their charming mountain treasure.
Heinz Julen Loft
Directly from the twinkling village streets, one boards a lift to ascend to the stunning Heinz Julen loft. Originally built as his private home (or, as some report, “party pad”), the world-famous Julen wielded his architectural panache to make this structure an opulent enigma. The open plan, with all its space and light, is reminiscent of an artist’s Manhattan-style loft but is instead encased within wooden chalet in the Alps. The double-height living area overlooks the village with floor-to-ceiling windows, complete with an inset fireplace and wrap-around electric curtains if you prefer a bit of privacy. (But who doesn’t want to enjoy a cup of fresh coffee while gazing over the snow-capped range of Mischabel Mountains?) Indeed, the experience of a stay at this loft is the ultimate in self-indulgence with a freestanding, indoor jacuzzi, a master bedroom with rotating floor and a suspended, illuminated dining table that can be raised or lowered to your liking.