After a hard day on the slopes, I am now lying in the heated outdoor pool of the Mont Cervin Palace Hotel in Zermatt, gazing at the Matterhorn. Earlier in the day, my husband and I had enjoyed the perfect day’s skiing, soaking up the dramatic scenery and crossing into Italy for a pasta lunch.
Any moment now, the bubbles in the spa pool will start frothing and soothe my aching muscles. I am struggling to imagine how things could get any better. I lie back on the ledge and close my eyes.
But then somebody steps on my toe. And another tweaks my ear. I open my eyes. Is there some clumsy oaf wallowing in the pool beside me? It’s worse. My children have somehow escaped and are now all over me. I look around desperately. Where are the staff? Where are their minders?
Actually, this is no fault of the nice Powder Byrne people, who have arranged the trip. In fact, so far they have organised everything.
Every day, they take my two girls, Bea and Olivia, aged seven and six, to the Yeti club, where they are learning to ski; and they take Leo, aged three, kicking and screaming because he wants to ski with everybody else, to the creche.
They arrange a daily guide for me and another for my more daring husband. In fact, this is the perfect family holiday for people who don’t want to ski with their family.
And the organisation doesn’t end there. At six o’clock, the children will be carted off to dinner, where they will be looked after as they throw food at each other, and then they will be taken to watch films or play games until bedtime. For the next hour-and-a half, however, I am on my own with the little ones.
‘He’s gone to the sauna,’ says one. ‘So? What’s stopping you following him?’
‘You’re not allowed in if you are under 16.’
Good for Daddy. For me, however, there is no escape. I take the children to the pool, which has a water slide, and Leo demonstrates his belly flop from the raised ledge.
It is a singular feat considering there are only about ten inches of water in the pool. Things soon descend into chaos, but at least I know that at 6pm one of the lovely attendants will come along and give me some downtime. Perfect.
This is very different from our last family skiing holiday. It was hell. We went to a small resort in the Pyrenees with some friends. Childcare there was minimal.
The two girls (then aged four and five) were booked into ski school in the morning. Leo (then aged one) was booked into a creche, also in the morning. ‘We’ll all help with the children,’ said my friends.
Yeah, right. By day two, I was stuck with three children and a toboggan while the rest of the party whizzed around the slopes. I even had a tough job luring my friends to lunch with me as they wanted to keep as far away from my brood as humanly possible.
I sat there fuming, wondering why I’d even bothered to buy a lift pass and swore I’d never go skiing with the kids in tow again.
But then I found a solution. Powder Byrne was set up by Rory Byrne and advertises itself as a provider of luxury family holidays. The idea is that they not only take care of you, they take care of your children as well.
It took us a full day to get to the Swiss resort of Zermatt from our home in France, but the last leg of the journey up the mountain on a train was magical. I tend to turn green on winding mountain roads, so sitting on a train and enjoying the view, while my children pointed at the snow-covered peaks, was a very good start.
No sooner had we got off the train in Zermatt than two charming young men had approached us. ‘Hello, I’m Ed,’ said one. ‘Welcome to Zermatt. Can I take your bags?’
‘My bags? I thought you were here to take my children,’ I was tempted to respond. After eight hours on a train, I’d seen enough of my little ‘angels’.
The other young man introduced himself as Mike and said he was there to take the children to the ski shop. It was as if he had read my mind.
I don’t know about you, but I find the worst thing about family skiing holidays is getting the little ones kitted out. All those boots, skis, and gloves: the thought of it makes me weak. Everyone argues about who should have the pink helmet (including our son) and shouts about how uncomfortable the boots are.
But with Mike in charge there was none of that. After just half an hour, we were ready to hit the slopes – even the niggly little things like ski passes had been sorted in advance.
‘Tomorrow morning Sarah and Sophie are expecting Leo at the Powder Byrne creche. You can drop him off any time after 8.15am,’ Ed told us. ‘The girls will be skiing with the Yeti Club and we’ll collect them from the hotel at 8.30am if you could just have them ready please. And if you want to go with the Powder Byrne guide, you should be ready at 8.45am.’
‘And when do I need to collect the children?’ I asked, terrified Ed might say any time before midday.
‘Leo will be ready at 4.30pm and we’ll drop the girls back at the hotel around 4pm. Then we’ll collect them all for dinner at 6pm.’ Was this man too good to be true?
The first evening, the children were fed at 6pm while we enjoyed a drink at the hotel bar. Olivia made a friend, also called Olivia, and was thrilled to hear they were in the same ski group. Ed watched them while we had dinner.
By the time we’d finished they were tucked up in bed, ready for a good night’s sleep before their first day on the slopes.
But at 3am, as I lay in bed, hazy from the altitude and champagne, I was visited by a troupe of aliens. In fact they weren’t aliens; they were my children, all dressed and ready to go. ‘It’s already morning time,’ Bea announced. ‘Let’s go.’
I got them to go back to bed by telling them the last one to wake up would get a present. This bribe kept them in bed until 6.30am, but then they poured back into my room and pulled the curtains.
Yes, it was early. Yes, I was groggy. But what a view: the Matterhorn bathed in early morning sunlight.
The Mont Cervin Palace hotel has many things going for it, but the most memorable must be the view – our room had a huge terrace where you could sit and gaze at the mountains over a cup of tea.
The skiing in Zermatt is fairly easy, too. The valley has a glacier so there is always skiing to be had. Cars aren’t allowed in the village either, making it a very attractive family destination.
On our third day, Ed announced it was ‘family day’ and that we were all going skiing together. Leo was devastated. By now he had fallen in love with his minders at the creche, Sarah and Sophie, and saw us as poor substitutes.
He had a point. He was one of only two boys there and so had the undivided attention of two pretty young girls all day. His father was keen to go along, too.
But much as I enjoyed being away from the children, I wouldn’t for the world have missed seeing Leo on skis for the first time. He was very cute, and the girls displayed techniques that will stay with them for life.
When it came time to leave, Ed and Mike walked us back down the road to the train station pushing our luggage. ‘Come back and see us next year,’ they said. You bet.
Travel Facts Powder Byrne (020 8246 5300; powderbyrne.com) offers seven nights half-board at the five-star Mont Cervin Palace in Zermatt from £2,034. Available between April 6 and 13 and includes return flights, transfers and Powder Byrne bespoke service.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group. She writes a beauty blog www.beautyorbeast.uk.
Her third novel, The Arnolfini Marriage, based on a romance that evolves around a van Eyck masterpiece came out in 2016. As well as contributing regularly for newspapers and magazines, writing short stories and studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, Helena is also working on a thriller called Welcome to Smullö that will be published in spring 2020.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and came out in paperback in April 2018.
Helena was educated at Durham University and lived in the Languedoc region of France for eight years, where the family still have a home. She lives between there and London with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019