Not many people get to spend a night at the number one rated ski chalet in the whole of the French Alps.
Ferme à Jules is invariably fully booked, with winter sports aficionados clamouring to reserve their place at Morzine’s alpine paradise some 12 months in advance.
This should come as little surprise to anyone who’s had the pleasure of visiting the place. From the moment I walked through the front door, I was greeted with the kind of service you can only find on television adverts. Wine, smiles and cheese boards were the order of the day. I’d barely had time to drop my suitcase before I was sitting in front of a three-course meal.
But it’s not all fun and fine dining. Beyond Ferme à Jules’ stunning exterior - an ornate oak chalet complete with ten bedrooms, a log-burning fireplace and a hot tub on the balcony - a rigorous sustainability policy underpins the glamour of this illustrious abode.
“What makes us unique is that we have a luxury high-end service, but we're doing it sustainably,” says Al Judge, founder of AliKats, the mountain holiday experts behind the chalet.
“When guests stay with us, we love them to go away at the end of the holiday with the feeling that they've been treated well, they've tasted delicious food and they've had minimal impact on their environment.”
Can ski holidays be green?
Much like the level of service provided at Ferme à Jules, AliKat’s commitment to sustainability is second to none.
A rigorous green philosophy informs the day-to-day running of the chalet - from the permaculture garden where all of the resort’s fruit and vegetables are grown, to the fleet of electric vehicles used to deliver guests to and from the pistes.
“My wife and I are both co-founders of a charity in Morzine called Montagne Verte,” says Judge.
“One of our key initiatives has been to bring lots of businesses together to offer an Alpine Express Pass, which basically offers ten per cent or more off ski passes, accommodation, restaurants and equipment hire if you travel here by train.”
Skiing has long been under scrutiny for its relationship with the environment. From artificial snow cannons to gas-guzzling chairlifts, the carbon-intensive sport is at odds with the natural world that enables it.
Since the 1960s, annual snowfall in the French Alps has been decreasing at a rate of five days every ten years. Climate change is behind this shift, resulting in warmer, wetter winters with less and less snow on the slopes.
Travelling in mid-February - a time when pistes should be brimming with freshly fallen powder - I was met with limited snow cover and hot, balmy days. I would have been comfortable in just a t-shirt as we tackled Morzine’s slopes.
This is a familiar story all across the Alps, where ski towns are resorting to more and more drastic measures to revert the damage done by years of emissions. In Les Arcs, chairlifts are being decked with solar panels. Over in La Plagne, a biomass heater now supplies 90 per cent of the resort’s energy from organic matter.
Morzine is no exception. The resort is set to pedestrianise its town centre in an effort to reduce car usage, while a new snow park high in the mountains is rewilding some of Europe’s most endangered birds of prey.
For Judge, these initiatives provide green alternatives to some of skiing’s biggest challenges. But while their intentions are noble, they fail to tackle the real issue at the heart of the ski industry’s sustainability crisis.
“Around 75 per cent of the carbon footprint of a ski holiday from a British person to a French ski resort comes from their transportation,” he says. “Through the Alpine Express Pass, we’re trying to target the most carbon-intensive moment of a ski holiday.
“If people can come by train, it would hugely reduce the carbon footprint of tourism in the Alps.”
Zero waste doesn’t mean zero flavour
At the heart of this environmental movement lies the AliKats Climate Action Plan - a framework designed to help the chalet service reach net zero by summer 2022. Judge hopes to counteract the notion that skiing has to be bad for the environment by expanding the company’s fleet of electric vehicles, powering all chalets from renewable energy and creating realistic waste targets.
“We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we are aiming high because the planet is in crisis and an immediate response is needed to protect the environment for future generations to come,” he says.
“As much as we can, we want to ensure our food practices work in harmony with nature and take care of the environment and our fellow creatures. This way we can sustain food production for generations to come.”
A short walk from Judge’s house is the AliKats permaculture garden, where all of the food waste from the chalet ends up. Anything left over - from scraps of meat to bits of bread - is placed in the compost heap and converted into organic matter. It is then compressed, squeezed and fermented to create fertiliser for next season’s crops.
“We’re just getting started on this journey, but we have already made good progress by starting to raise chickens, setting up an annual vegetable garden and planting the fruit and nut trees that will form the centre of our future food forest,” says Judge.
“The food waste from our chalets feeds our chickens and provides nutrients for the soil in which we grow our food, which in turn feeds us and our guests – it’s a wonderfully efficient cycle.”
This attention to detail is present throughout the entire business - from the sustainable heat pumps used to keep the chalets toasty, to the electric coffee roastery providing beans throughout the resort.
Everything is carefully curated to help guests enjoy and conserve the holiday destination they are visiting.
A luxury chalet that feels like home
Originally built in 1808, the beautifully converted farmhouse provides the perfect place to return home after a long day on the slopes. The chalet sleeps up to 26 people in ten spacious en suite rooms, making dinner times lively affairs to be enjoyed among newfound friends.
As the three-course meal is served, guests pass the time chatting about the exploits of the day. The best ski runs. The biggest falls. The condition of the pistes. Wine glasses are refilled as if by magic, and the conversation continues to flow well beyond bedtime.
The AliKats team are always on hand, providing information about the resort, a kind word or a smile. They’ll even drop your ski pass off at the bottom of the slope for you if - like me - you happen to leave it behind.
Nothing is too big or small to demand their attention. As I sat beside the roaring fireplace one evening, a cheese board was offered to me by one of the chalet’s hosts.
“Thank you, but I’m vegan,” I smiled, offering my hand in apology.
She smiled back.
“It’s all vegan.”
I should have known. At Ferme à Jules, everything has been considered. As one guest put it, “when you come here, you can leave your brain at the door”. I was reluctant to pick mine up again on the way out.
How much does it cost to stay at Ferme à Jules?
A week’s stay at the chalet during the 2022/23 ski season will cost €757 pp (for two people sharing a double bedroom with an en-suite bathroom) or €15,141 total for exclusive use of the chalet for up to 20 people.
Watch the video above to find out more about Morzine’s luxury ski chalet.