Flaine has always been an acquired taste. You either love the Bauhaus buildings or you hate the functional architecture. Personally I’ve always had a sneaky fondness for it – more because of the quality of the skiing than the raw concrete apartment blocks that even with an icing of snow remain inescapably bleak and brutalist. Still, there are those who also consider London’s South Bank to represent the epitome of post-war 20th-century architectural achievement.
Indeed, two of Flaine’s buildings and its chapel, designed by Hungarian architect Marcel Breuer, are listed in the French National Inventory of Historic Monuments and the resort itself has been awarded the Heritage of 20th century classification by the country’s Ministry of Culture.
Flaine is your typical purpose-built station de ski of the late 60s, similar in basic concept to the first of the high-altitude villages at La Plagne (1968), Les Arcs (1968), and Les Menuires (1967). Like the others, it is (mainly) ski-in ski-out, with convenience taking precedence over ambience.
But all that has changed with the addition of a new hotel, Terminal Neige Totem. The hotel is part of the highly successful Sibuet stable – a collection of beautifully decorated French five-stars with wonderful restaurants and lavish Pure Altitude spas. The group has been growing since it started 30 years ago and now has properties in Megeve, Val Thorens, Avoriaz and in southern France.
This time around, owners Jocelyne and Jean-Louis Sibuet have handed over the reins to their children, Marie (28) and Nicolas (32), who have created a stylish hotel that at first glance actively embraces the resort’s urban mountain style.
From the outside it looks like all the other buildings of the main Forum sector of the village – everything in ‘natural’ concrete with details in ochre-hued limestone aimed to blend with the local rock, and brown window frames to match the trees. This comes as no real surprise since Le Totem has been the premier hotel here since 1971.
The Sibuet family gutted the interior, along with the adjoining building, and shoved Flaine’s level of accommodation rather sharply into the 21st century. A few details they did retain. As well as designing the buildings, Breuer created five iconic fireplaces for the resort – and two of them are centrepieces in the hotel.
The open-plan ground floor has a bar area set alongside one of the fireplaces, merging into a colourful dining area, onwards to the reception (so informal, you wouldn’t really notice it was there), coffee bar, and a smart-looking ski hire shop behind darkened glass. On one side of the building are floor-to-ceiling windows with views over the mountains and pistes.
Bauhaus furniture is said to be ‘frequently simple and light without decorative additive, just following the needs of the consumer’. The interior design religiously follows this mantra with long grey (surprisingly comfortable) sofas in the bar area, and bespoke Bauhaus-style coffee tables and chairs.
Functional-looking bar stools, armchairs, club chairs, dining chairs and tables come in a mix of plastic, leather, glass, steel and chromium – accented with turquoise, yellow ochre and red suede fabrics. Industrial pipework and bare concrete pillars feature heavily, and the floors are a mix of slate tiles and grey carpet.
The Bauhaus look is further adhered when it comes to the lighting and the artwork on the walls. Vending machines in the corridors rather than mini bars in the bedrooms are in keeping with the urban spirit.
All of this is softened and ruralised with cowhide-covered cupboards, sheepskin rugs, natural slices of tree appearing as shelves and desks, and thick woollen curtains with ikat (a sort of blurred geometric pattern) fabric in contrasting colours.
The second Marcel Breuer fireplace is focal point of The Loft master suite, a spacious and cleverly designed area with grey velvet sofa and chairs, a cowhide bar, and a small dining area. It sleeps six in three bedrooms that have soft curtains, cushions and throws in shades of pigeon grey, rusty red, and powder blue.
The hotel’s 96 bedrooms come in various shapes and sizes, yet all follow the signature style. Each one has a bold black-and-white mural mirroring the Jean Dubuffet sculpture outside the window.
In the dining room, breakfast and dinner are help-yourself buffets with delicious fresh ingredients. The waffle lolly desert was particularly popular. Being ski-in ski-out, the hotel is easy to return to for lunch when the restaurant features a (substantial) snack menu that can be eaten indoors or outside on the terrace.
So is this another of the Sibuets’ five-star creations? No, it’s a three-star hotel with prices to match. This is a completely new departure for the family, but it is set to continue into Chamonix for 2017 and Avoriaz for 2018.
The Terminal Neige concept is every bit as tasteful as the five-stars, but pared down with a simpler and more youthful style of bedroom, a smaller spa area and no swimming-pool. There isn’t the usual abundance of Pure Altitude goodies in the bathrooms, and there’s just one restaurant (Les Fermes de Marie in Megeve has four). The service is friendly and informal.
And what about the skiing? As far as I can tell, this is one of the only properties where you really can put on your skis right outside the door. Most other accommodation involves at least a few steps before clicking into your bindings. As Flaine is a car-free resort, you can ski almost everywhere in and around the village.
Once outside the hotel, it’s time for a quick nod to the Picasso sculpture and a slide down the nursery slope, as well as to the main Grandes Platières gondola and several other lifts that access the Grand Massif ski area. The 265km of linked skiing includes the lower villages of Samoens, Morillon, and Les Carroz…but you can read all about Flaine’s skiing here.
The bar at Terminal Neige Totem will no doubt become the apres-ski hub of the resort, together with its delicious Sex on the Snow cocktail of rum, pineapple and cream of strawberry presented in a glass jar – highlight of the drinks menu. Apart from the neighbouring Le White Pub, there’s not a lot of choice when it comes to Flaine’s nightlife. But then that’s the beauty of this family-friendly resort.
And if you want to stay in comfortable and cleverly inventive surroundings, with the ultimate in skiing convenience, then you really should consider the Terminal Neige Totem for next winter.
The Terminal Neige Totem has 96 rooms: 50 classic doubles and 33 club doubles, 8 deluxe rooms, 4 suites, and The Loft apartment, so there is plenty of choice.
You can stay here for seven nights half board from £1,019pp in winter 2016-2017. The price includes return flights from Gatwick to Geneva and resort transfers. For more information visit Inghams.
If, like me, you don’t live in London and have to catch an early flight from Gatwick to Geneva, staying overnight at the Bloc Hotel should get you in the mood for the urban design of Terminal Neige. This is the second time I’ve stayed here this season and I’m never disappointed. For a start it is actually inside the airport’s South Terminal (allow 15 minutes by shuttle to the North Terminal). The style is simple yet extremely comfortable – think Japanese pod meets boutique hotel. The hotel doesn’t have a restaurant, but there is a café just outside the door. Rooms have wifi, flat screen TV and shower room/loo. The best thing of all is the price: from £45 per room per night.