Hotel Nevaï, Verbier
Why, when you build a new house, do you have to place the plug sockets halfway up the wall? So as not to discriminate against disabled people, obviously. It’s a piece of over-thought, under-considered Local Government-sponsored discrimination that manages, in the style of a pubescently-retarded Chinese gymnast, to simultaneously leap forward and reach high in the air only to twist beguilingly in mid-flight and land on its feet facing the wrong direction.
Inextricably laudable and patronising, it implies that disabled people should have the same electricity-access rights as the rest of us. Well, doh! But, at the same time – as it forces its way into your and my homes – it implies that the disabled lack the balls to tell you and me that if we don’t consider their needs properly next time we invite them round for dinner, they’re not turning up. It’s an attempt to take away their voice, further disabling them and, if it were me, I’d object to the clumping parodying of us as weak, mute and lacking any sense of humour. I’d be up in arms about it.
That’s the problem. Discrimination is everywhere, in thought, word and deed and up the mountains. The default discrimination of the ski-resorts isn’t against the disabled a sheer ice face with a 400 hundred foot drop-off favours no-one – but against the metropolitan gay. Quite what they did for their downhill thrills before Coco Club and the Nevaï Hotel opened in Verbier, I’ve no idea. Were they forced to throw their mittens over their eyes mid-schuss, exclaiming, It’s just too too terrible, every time another fluorescent C&A anorak with ski boots went past?
The Nevaï Hotel, which for those that know central Verbier is upstairs from the Farm Club, has done what no number of local government ordinances could ever achieve and brought rounded edges, reflecting surfaces and martinis to the mountains. As a girlfriend of mine commented, now gay people can ski.
Theres cement, recessed lighting, maybe even underfloor heating. No gigantic, low slung wooden beams to bump heads on after a day of bumping bum bones. No more dust-gathering nooks. No more glwein. Best of all, no more pretendy rustic village aesthetic in a town where the clientele is St.Trop in mufflers and the price per square metre for a new build is the same as prime London.
Now, not to get too carried away, it’s not Zaha Hadid scorched earth and sweeping reconstruction, it’s still the centre of Verbier. It’s Alpine on the outside, with a modern interior, like someones chosen to have their plastic surgery from the inside out. The sweeping golden lobby desk beckoning you in with a ripple of labial reconstruction (to painfully stretch the elasticity of my metaphor far too far). The lobby has been opened out as far as the end walls, see and be seen, and the seating area lowered so, while you wait, you can sit in a conversation pit without even a single dusty cushion bearing the picture of Heidi the Goatherder.
In the bar, there are oversized flat round shades which wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow in Clerkenwell in 1999 and I think I can recall a shimmery curtain behind the bar but I might have been having more unwelcome flashbacks to a bad trip to the Sanderson Hotel c.2001. Sofas are low and without backs or sides, designed to encourage sprawling conversations with neighbours but not so comfortable that these people can’t make their excuses and leave when you turn out, as I did, to be a bore and insist on swapping telephone numbers so we can all meet up when we get back to the UK. I went through to the restaurant to meet my old friends, starched white table cloths and proper adult cutlery.
There are 33 bedrooms in the Nevaï and the style is about spa-like simplicity rather than comfort after a hard days skiing. It’s a mood created by decluttering; plain walls and gentle uplighters, wide walkways, soft and varied textures. Lots of hard laterals running the lengths of walls emphasise the uncluttered opened-out spaces and long borders behind the bed give a feeling of unified symmetry, further soothing the aching psyche. Bedding is Egyptian cotton, screens are flat, cosmetics are Elemis. iPods can be docked and DVDs watched on flat screens if you’d rather turn your face from the view of the mountain you just slid all the way down.
The best room in the house is the Large Penthouse. Again, the space has been opened out wall to wall, so when you walk in the door you see through the sitting room to the terrace and the mountain beyond, and the only wood on show is the manicured floorboards and the stuff burning on the double-sided fireplace which separates the sitting room from the bedroom. It is not entertaining-big, maybe come-up-and-see-our-pad big. Colours are seductive and rich rather than Swiss heavy. If you’re thinking about staying here, you’re probably also thinking about staying at Richard Bransons Lodge, which has a kind of 21st Century Wyoming feel about it, using a modern palette of colours but exposing the heavy wooden pillars, lining the walls with wood and leaving great big pieces of toe-stubbing wooden furniture around the place. When you see how hard they tried to pop their head outside their Swiss vernacular only to be sprung back inside the cuckoo-clock, you realise how refreshing the Nevaï is. Perhaps the Nevaï’s real competition will come from the rumored opening of the new W in 2009 (assuming we haven’t all reverted to a barter system by then).
The selling point of the Penthouse, beyond the space inside, is the space outside: if you’re in Verbier, you’re here to suck in the Alpine air and a terrace runs the length of the Penthouse and includes a Jacuzzi.
But that selling point may also be its downfall. Five floors below, is the Farm Club. The soundproofing was reinforced when the Nevaï opened last season but, unfortunately, no amount of soundproofing can silence two Italians when they decide to leave the Farm and stand under your balcony making excited plans for the next morning. A friend stayed in the Penthouse recently on a boys weekend. He’s no party slouch but said there’s a limit to how many Italian boys you want to hear making excited squealing noises from your 1000 a night bed at 3am, especially if they don’t, at least, have the decency to be in it with you.