19th April 2022 | Jane Peel, Tignes, France
Go to Val d’Isère for the 5-star experience, head to Tignes for the skiing. It’s what we often hear about these two lift-linked French resorts. But things are changing, and one property company is at the forefront of efforts to turn the ugly sister of Tignes into Cinderella. It’s expanding into other resorts too. NEW
Here at PlanetSKI, we love skiing in high-altitude Tignes.
It is not, though, in our humble opinion, the most architecturally beautiful of ski resorts.
Until recently it’s not even had too many high-quality hotels for those who prefer to be pampered on their holidays.
As we arrived in town for the first time in more than two years, it was clear that a transformation is under way.
The newest hotel is the VoulezVous which opened in December 2021.
It’s currently a 4-star hotel but has already been granted 5-star status for the 2022-23 winter season.
It’s owned by the property company, Les Etincelles (The Sparks in English), which seems to be in the process of a mass takeover of Tignes.
Les Etincelles is an independent company backed by a small number of Swiss and English investors who have put huge sums of money in.
In less than 5 years, it has acquired 10 hotels in Tignes – 70% of the total – and is buying up more.
Some of its properties have already upgraded, others are undergoing redevelopment.
The Levanna on the snow front in Tignes Le Lac was a 3-star hotel. The interior has been re-done and it’s now a 4-star.
A few properties will be torn down and rebuilt.
The Arbina, is one of them.
It will eventually be a 5-star hotel.
The Gentiana will completely reconstructed with wood from the Jura mountains.
The properties that are being rebuilt from scratch are due to open for the 2024-25 season.
Low-carbon, technical materials will be used to meet sustainability objectives.
The people behind the company think they know what skiers and snowboarders want.
“Upscaling is a trend. People want to spend more… It’s changing and very fast.
“The mass market is finished.”
The words of the CEO, Nicholas Chatillon, a Paris banker who threw in his career and linked up with 4 x Freeride World Champion and Tignes native, Guerlain Chicherit, to launch Les Etincelles.
Their aim is to offer a premium service.
“We are taking care of our customers – like they do in Austria but not always in France,” Nicholas tells us.
That includes offering flexible check-in times, a 24/7 concierge and a ski rental lounge with a “butler” to fit your boots and skis.
Another bonus is that guests on half-board can eat at any of the company’s restaurants across the resort for a bit of variety.
The VoulezVous, where we stayed, is being branded as an entertainment hotel.
“The concept is an alternative to the Folie Douce, an entertainment hotel but more exclusive than some in the market,” Nicholas Chatillon says.
Next winter, it’s promising its guests a private party with exclusive sets in the hotel bar area from internationally renowned British, American and French singers.
“I’m not allowed to say who, but they are very famous. The names will be announced in September.”
These musicians are being hired by Les Etincelles to perform concerts once a week throughout the season at the nightclub, Le Strike.
Le Strike, at the home of the former bowling alley, is yet another of Les Etincelles’ acquisitions.
The company also owns residences such as the Village Montana.
The Carte Blanche Collection by Les Etincelles currently has 15 chalets in Tignes.
They include the exclusive Quezac in Tignes Les Brevieres.
It was built and designed by Guerlain Chicherit before Les Etincelles was born.
Voted the best new ski chalet at the 2014 World Ski Awards, it’s certainly got its own unique style.
Its facilities include a pool, hammam and sauna and it is full of Guerlain’s many trophies from his skiing and rally driving careers.
The chalet sleeps 16 people and comes fully staffed with butler, chef, housekeeper and driver.
If you’re wondering, it’ll cost you around €70,000 to rent it for New Year week or €25,000 for the first and last week of the season.
Nicholas Chatillon, Guerlain Chicherit and their team at Les Etincelles are moving at pace to turn their vision of Tignes into a reality.
But it is by no means the only resort in their sights.
Les Etincelles already has some property in Val d’Isère and La Plagne and is looking at opening up in a handful of other high-altitude resorts in France.
“We have selected 9 out of the 120 in the French Alps which are the only ones that can guarantee snow for 23 weeks of the season,” Nicholas says.
“They are Tignes, Val d’Isère, La Rosiere, Les Arcs, La Plagne, Courchevel, Val Thorens, Alpe d’Huez and Les2Alpes.
“We are not looking at property in any other resort.”
That, he says, is because climate change means skiing in many of the lower resorts is “finished”.
And what about further afield?
Well, for now, there are a few ski areas in Switzerland already on Les Etincelles’ radar.
And…. “We may take the concept to the US,” says Nicholas.
First, Tignes. Next, the world?
Jane stayed at the VoulezVous Hotel by Les Etincelles in Tignes Le Lac. It closes for the season on 30th April. Prices until then are from €200 per night for two people sharing a double room on a B&B basis.
2022-2023 season prices: From €225 per night for the opening week of the season (December 9th to December 16th). From €333 per night for the low season (January 7th to February 4th and then March 4th to the end of the season).
All prices are for two people in a double room with B&B.