Enter Switzerland from Italy by way of the Saint Bernard Pass and then turn right just before Orsières. Continue through the small town of Reppaz. The roads are very narrow, so do take care not to be distracted by the spectacular views.
At the end of the winding mountain road you finally arrive at Commeire, a 17th century village in the Valais region. I park the car at the entrance of the village and walk up the steep lane. A sign says: “Please respect the silence between 22.00-07.00”. Montagne Alternative has become the benchmark in the world of sustainable mountain hotels.
What resembles an old traditional hamlet in the Swiss Alps is in reality an ultramodern hotel comprising 30 guest rooms with modern interior design, facilities for seminars,a sublime spa-yoga centre and a restaurant offering manyvegetarian options on its menu.
It was while skiing off piste in 2004 that Belgian cousins Ludovic Orts and Benoît Greindl discovered the remote settlement and decided this was the place to create their dream. They felt that this little farming village cut away up here in the mountains, at an altitude of 1450 metres andwith a population of only 12 inhabitants, was the perfect place to build a new business. Far away from stress and stock markets. Not at all like an ordinary hotel. More like an ecosystem.
– “We are more than sustainable, we regenerate work and we are a holistic organization that wants to work against villages with cold beds, says Benoît who, along with a few fellow investors, is the owner.
Materials from the region have been used in the building and having respect for the nature, the villagers and the surrounding environment as a whole has been a foremost priority while undertaking the construction.
“We employ local builders - artisans who have the knowledge of and a feeling for the region’s traditions. Together we come up with new designs but what we create is still true to the spirit and philosophy of this mountain area and hopefully will be lasting and appreciated by future generations”, explains Benoît.
All the existing chalets were dismantled and then rebuilt, though now with the installation of the latest insulation, and with renewable energy systems. All of the original chalets have exactly the same dimensions, wood and stoneas they had before the renovation. Large new windows have been added and the interior living space has been modernised. Solar thermal provides the energy and many of the rooms have fireplaces.
Between ten at night and seven o’clock in the morning guests are requested to abide by the code of silence out ofrespect to the inhabitants of the village. You sleep like a baby, the fresh air treats you so well.
I stay in the Barn and the first thing I do is light the fire. Imake pot of tea, relax and take in the wonderful panorama. It is, of course, as perfect as a “Swiss postcard”. You can see all the way to Mont Veran in Italy and the snow-capped mountains of the Mont Blanc massif. The smell of wood and the sounds of the mountain streams - the meltwater of the thawing winter snows - are like therapy: I just sit still and contemplate. What marvellous tranquillity.
You have the option of self-catering, a personal chef or “room service” from the restaurant. Up here there are noski lifts, tourist boutiques or nightclubs. Instead you find many out-door activities and pastimes to exercise or ease the body and mind - the choice is yours.
“Our guests include CEOs of multinational companiesfrom many parts of the world and this is an ideal out-of-the-way place for them to meet their counterparts and hold seminars. We have guests who share our ethos of striving for a good sustainable future and are curious to see how we operate. They enjoy being amongst likeminded guests and they feel that we offer something very genuine. And for some people it is just an adventure to come up here and visit us. Everyone comments about the positive energy they feel when they stay here and how their senses and emotions tingle just that little bit more”,says Benoît. Last year Montagne Alternative received the Label American B Corporation, an award that honorscompanies which are dedicated to running their businesses in environmentally sustainable manner.