A local ski legend and a former banker are on a mission to change the face of the famous French resort of Tignes – for the better. With the 22/23 season almost upon us, the duo gave Travel Editor Frank Baldwin a taste of the level of service skiers and snowboarders can now enjoy.
In 1952, the original village of Tignes was lost forever when homes and businesses were covered by the new Lac du Chevril, created by a dam built to provide hydroelectric power, which skiers and snowboarders now pass on their way up to the ski area at 2,100m.
Not surprisingly, Tignes residents at the time were unhappy with the plans as they were being forced out of their family homes, and a group of villagers formed a resistance-type movement.
The members sabotaged machinery and carried out other nefarious activities under the cover of darkness, but these attempts to disrupt and stop the work were ultimately unsuccessful and the old village was lost forever.
Now, 70 years later, the current villages of Tignes – Le Lac, Val Claret, and Les Brevieres – are undergoing another major transformation, but this time the people behind it, one of whom is a local hero, hope that the changes will be more welcome.
This latest masterplan has been drawn up by former banker Nicolas Chatillon and former world champion freeride skier Guerlain Chicherit, who moved to Tignes from Paris with his mother when he was just two days old.
The two became friends when Nicolas was involved in the finance and sponsorship of Guerlain’s activities which include being the world champion freeride skier four times between 1999 and 2007, becoming the first person to do a backflip in a car, and an attempt to beat the world record for a car jump – his exploits have been viewed millions of times online.
Despite neither having a background in hospitality, they decided to form a partnership based on Nicolas’s business acumen, and Guerlain’s famous name and aptitude for taking risks.
They launched a property development company called Les Etincelles and, in the last four years, they have already acquired 70% of the hotels in Tignes, as well as other properties, including luxury chalets, restaurants, and the former bowling alley which they have turned into The Strike, a nightclub and live music venue.
Nicolas explained: “We started in Tignes because of Guerlain’s connections, but we also have properties in Val d’Isère and Belle Plagne. We want to expand into at least nine resorts in France, and then maybe other countries. We will only consider resorts that guarantee at least 23 weeks of snow during the ski season.”
Despite both being French, the duo wants their customer experience to be more like the personal service offered by family-run Austrian hotels. Nicolas said: “We believe skiers and snowboarders in the future will not necessarily be on the pistes all day and so are looking for other experiences.”
Guerlain, who has a ski zone in Tignes named after him, added: “What we should offer and how it should be done is based on my own experiences – both good and bad – while travelling around the world during my freeride competition days and when I have been taking part in special events.”
One of their aims is to provide Tignes with its first 5* hotel and an example of the level of service and atmosphere they have already begun to offer can be found at the VoulezVous hotel, one of the latest additions to Les Etincelles Collection located in Tignes le Lac.
The hotel is welcoming and attractive with pieces of contemporary art and interesting curios on display. Mouth-watering meals from an impressive menu of Italian and French gastronomy are served in the Il Savoia restaurant and you can enjoy drinks and live music in the Icebreaker bar.
There are also spa treatments on offer, whirlpool bath, sauna, hammam, gym, and an infinity swimming pool with views out on to the snowy mountains.
And don’t forget the karaoke rooms where, in the privacy of your own booth which seats up to about six people on comfy sofas, you can choose your favourite sing-a-longs from thousands of songs listed on an electronic notepad. The hire and storage service in the ‘ski lounge’ is exceptional.
The VoulezVous provides a taste of things to come in terms of the high level of service Nicolas and Guerlain are committed to providing skiers and snowboarders. They are creating a unique experience that has already started to change the face of Tignes. And who knows, one day they might take over the world.
• For more information on the VoulezVous Hotel go to voulezvous-hotel.com.
• For details of Les Etincelles accommodation go to etincelles.com.
• For details of the chalets available through the Carte Blanche Range go to carte-blanche.com.