Lapping In Luxury

In 1920, Morzine was largely taken up by farmland and the odd mine extracting slate. But Francois Baud saw a new future for the peaceful little village placed so conveniently close to Geneva. In 1925 he threw open the doors to the Grand Hotel, where the continent’s glitterati could luxuriate after a hard day of winter sports.

It may not seem much by today’s standards, but the illustrious guests of The Grand, including the King of Belgium, were drawn in by the promise of hot and cold water as well as electricity in every room. The huge hotel was split up into a relatively small amount of extensive and luxurious suites. It even had its own ski jump, frequented by the Austrian ski instructors brought in by Baud.

The fi rst ski lift in Morzine, the Pleney, wasn’t built until 1934. Until then prospective skiers would hike up as far as they wished to go before negotiating the unpisted route back down. The limited capacity of the skis they were using meant people stayed much lower down and covered less distance. On return to the hotel, guests could skate on the hotel’s ice rink, located where the tennis courts are today. After dinner Edith Pihaff or Jacques Brel might treat them to a performance.

The Grand Hotel sparked a fl urry of building and a range of hotels including Le Sporting and La Chaumière were inaugurated over the next decade. World War II put a stop to tourism for a long time but building began again in the 50s and over the next few decades, Morzine exploded into the resort town it is today.

One of Morzine’s unique and enchanting qualities is that the roots of the town’s farming heritage are still intershot through the more recent modernisations. Many of the town’s shop fronts display the name of one or other of the big land owning families. The Morzinois still largely populate the town and, I imagine, breathe a collective sigh of relief for a temporary return to the tranquillity of the mountains at the end of April. Many of the fi rst hotels remain within the families who set them up and run alongside the boutique chalet companies who are more recent interlopers in the resort. On powder days and white outs, we give thanks to you Mr Francois Baud, visionaire extraordinaire.


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