Club Med St. Moritz: A winning combination

clubmed.8I love Club Med. The love affair started way back in the ‘70s when my friend Irene and I, both late 20-somethings, set off to the Club in Martinique. Fabulous. The next year we tried the Club in Cancun, Mexico. Even better.   Good times were had… even a tad on the wild side, but we were young.

Since living in Europe, I’ve been to several clubs in the Alps for skiing, most recently St. Moritz, Switzerland. Husband VR no longer wants to ski, so I joined my friend Gerlinde from Stuttgart and her son and daughter-in-law, all downhill skiers who have been coming to Club Med St. Moritz for several years.

Although much has changed with Club Med since its earliest days back in the 1950s when it was known as haven for swinging singles, much is the same.St. Moritz.fone 187

It’s the perfect all inclusive vacation – food, beverages (including wine and cocktails), lodging, use of sports facilities and lessons, evening entertainment – all for one price. Rental of ski equipment, however, is extra.

“You can be here for a whole week and not spend any extra,” said Patrick Franck Oberaspach, the chef du village (manager) of the St. Moritz Club. My only

Patrick and Basile
Patrick and Basile

additional expenses, not including ski and boot rental, were a few cups of coffee in the town, and some special bandages for a blister caused by my ski boots.

Clubs are now family oriented, with many clubs, including St. Moritz, having a Mini Club for children. The kids are entertained, taken to the slopes, given ski lessons. They, and their parents, love it.

And, Clubs are no longer just for the younger set. I was overjoyed to find so many older GMs (at Club Med, originally a French enterprise, guests are Gentils Membres or nice members). I may be old, but there were plenty even older than I. Most, like me, were Club Med repeats.

Patrick noted that during the week I spent there, 60 percent of the 540 guests were repeats. Colette, a woman from Nancy, said she has been coming to Club Med St. Moritz for 40 years. “I switched to cross country 10 years ago. Downhill skiing was too fast. Now I snowshoe,” she said.

Club Med offers rental equipment and instruction in all of the above. Since my new knee performed so well on the slopes last season, I signed up for downhill. Gerlinde, an excellent skier, and I chose group level 4. The Club divides skiers into 6 categories, with 6 being the top for those hard core, off-piste daredevils, i.e. her son Tobias.

For non-skiers, there are plenty of high altitude trails in the snowy mts.
For non-skiers, there are plenty of high altitude trails in the snowy mts.

We started out with a group of about 10 others, all good skiers and mostly much younger. Our monitor, ski instructor and guide, led us down the perfectly groomed slopes at a fast pace. No breaks for hot chocolate, photos or admiring the scenery. I kept up, but was more than ready for the lunch break at the Club’s mountain restaurant.

After lunch, the monitor mentioned that a couple from the group (older like me) was switching to a slower group 4. Lest I expend all my energy on the first day, I followed. A wise move as the new group 4, all good skiers but most in my age range, did ski a bit slower. A few days later Gerlinde also joined the slower group of senior citizens.

After lunch rest at the Club's mt. restaurant.
After lunch rest at the Club’s mt. restaurant.

But, we were hardly a group of turtles on the blue, baby slopes. We kept on the move, whizzing down red slopes and even an occasional black run. Our fellow skiers were all very fit. Joggers. Serious cyclists. Cross country as well as downhill skiers.

All had been to Club Med St. Moritz many times. It’s the slopes, as well as the Club, which draws them back. “It’s a very empty ski area which is fantastic in the Alps,” said Patrick. “You usually queue half of the ski day, but not here.” He’s right. No lift lines during my visit. Others praised the meticulous grooming of the slopes.   A cross country skier, who has been coming back for 20 years, called St. Moritz “the best in Europe” for that sport. “The Swiss keep the trails in beautiful condition.”

No crowds on St. Moritz slopes
No crowds on St. Moritz slopes

Gerlinde loves the area for skiing.   “No beginners on the slopes. Few snow boarders. No young, crazy skiers.”

Our ski group was German speaking. However, the club has multi-lingual monitors. In addition to German, there were French, Italian and English language ski groups.

People contact is another Club plus. In addition to skiing with others, you may sit with them at meals, socialize after skiing, join them at après-ski entertainment. Club Med staff, Gentils Organisateurs (GOs) or nice organizers, mingle with guests, dine and party with them.

Gerlinde, who came alone to St Moritz for her first few visits, said, “Even if you come alone you will find friends.”

Snow polo on St. Moritz's frozen lake.
Snow polo on St. Moritz’s frozen lake.

Back when Irene and I went to Martinique, we quickly found friends and more. Irene signed up for sailing. I went for scuba. We joined a Yoga group. We played volley ball. I participated in a French conversation group. We met interesting people from distant lands. We had fun, so much that we extended our stay for an extra three days.

Club Med is no longer a French company having recently been purchased by a Chinese conglomerate. Patrick does not expect big changes. He pointed out that Club Med has been partners with the Chinese firm for some 10 years. “They guarantee that we can continue as before,” he said.

Admiring the scenery on the trail at Muottas Muragl.
Admiring the scenery on the trail at Muottas Muragl.

There are now 70 Club Med villages around the world, including three in China. Future plans call for opening three new resorts each year as well as closing some that are no longer profitable.

Patrick, 42, began his Club career as a ski teacher many years ago on the St. Moritz slopes. “I gave ski lessons to kids who now come with their kids,” he said.

clubmed.1As chef du village, one would expect he’d be busy, but I had to wonder if he ever slept. One frigid morning we bused to an adjacent ski area. Patrick was on hand dispensing hot chocolate — with a shot of schnapps if desired. He greeted guests as they filed into the dining room at dinner each evening. He was the MC and sometimes an actor as well in the after-dinner shows, a Club Med tradition.

After dinner fun.
After dinner fun.

What keeps him with Club Med? He has always enjoyed mixing with the clientele. “The Club Med staff don’t stay apart. You discover lots that you would not normally discover. You have lots of interesting conversations. It’s quite enriching to work in this environment.”clubmed.6

And delicious. Be it a summer or winter Club Med, the food is fantastic, and yet clubmed.9another reason the Club has so many fans. St. Moritz cuisine was amazing. It deserves its own blog post. Stay tuned.

My all-inclusive ski week at Club Med St.Moritz cost 1,141 euro. Ski and boot rental extra. Gerlinde and I shared a room.

More on Club Med: More on St. Moritz:

Today’s Taste features that spicy North African dish, Tagine. Click on photo at upper right to see recipe.

If not already a Tales and Travel follower, sign up (upper right) so you will not miss future posts. Your address is kept private and never shared.

More horse racing on the lake. The "carriage" behind the horse is on skis.
More horse racing on the lake. The “carriage” behind the horse is on skis.

Like my blog? Tell your friends.  Leave a Reply below. Feedback is welcome.

Follow Tales and Travel on Facebook:

Follow me on twitter: @larkleah



Swiss Slopes Welcome Journalists

blog.ledeThey came, they skied, they raced, they partied – 210 journalists from 31 countries on the Swiss slopes above the charming town of Champéry. The ski terrain is part of the incredible Portes du Soleil ski region with interconnecting slopes in both Switzerland and

The 61st meeting of the Ski Club of International Journalists (SCIJ) had a serious side, too. Jean Claude Biver, president of the upscale Swiss watch manufacturer, Hublot, gave a fascinating presentation on the “Swiss model” and the history of watch making in the country. A panel of experts discussed climate change and the threat to mountains. Another panel talked about “swissness.”blog.27

But, it’s skiing that is foremost during these meetings, once each year in a different country. I’ve been a member for many years and, in addition to joining meets on European slopes, I’ve had the fortune to ski in Japan, the U.S., Argentina, Turkey and Morocco.

Races are de rigueur, both giant slalom and cross country. This was my first time back in the starting gates with my new knee. My times were slow, but I

American teammate Risa Wyatt et moi.
American teammate Risa Wyatt et moi.

competed. This was also my first time skiing in about four years. The bionic knee is a wonder, performing well beyond my expectations.

Even though SCIJ races are for fun, many take them seriously. It’s hard not to get pre-race jitters before the competitions. Races aside, skiing at Portes du Soleil, which claims to be the largest ski area in the world, is fabulous with slopes for all

I joined friends for a trek over the mountains to Avoriaz and beyond in France. We had snow the first few days of our stay, so the off-piste skiers were in heaven, most skiing on freeride skis.   The more adventurous, equipped with  avalanche beacons and shovel, followed a guide to ski back country.

British table at Nations Night
British table at Nations Night

Nations Night is a favorite on the après-ski agenda. Members bring delicacies (food and beverages, usually alcoholic) from their countries to share with others. There were just three Americans this time, myself, Risa Wyatt and Peter Schroeder, both from N. California. We had a Kentucky table. (Peter hails from Louisville and I got my journalism start at the Louisville Courier-Journal many, many years ago.)  We offered mint juleps, ham and corn bread. There was no blog.1reasonable way to get Kentucky ham to Switzerland, so we settled on a Swiss smoked variety which was delicious. I baked and lugged five heavy batches of corn bread in a backpack, in addition to a weighty suitcase, on the train from France. A major mistake!  Corn bread, I learned, is best eaten the day it is baked, not three days later. Although it had been enveloped in plastic wrap and then foil, it was hard, dry, dreadful. It all ended up in the garbage. (But — it was yummy the day it was baked, warm from the oven smeared with butter. See recipe in column at right.)

The week ended with a “White Party,” when all were asked to wear white. Bulgarian doctors and nurses joined sheiks and others clad in snow white for a fun and festive evening. blog.12

I went on to join a small group for a post trip to slopes in Crans Montana, another top Swiss ski resort. In addition to skiing in the sunshine, we enjoyed a tasting of wines from the Valais, Switzerland’s largest wine producing area. We also had the opportunity to savor diffferent Swiss wines at Champéry. Excellent, but unfortunately since limited quantites are produced, the thirsty Swiss drink most and little is exported.

Thank you, SCIJ Switzerland, for a super meeting!blog.26 SCIJ USA is looking for new members. If you know an American journalist who skis, tell him/her to check out the web site, , and/or contact me.

More about Champéry at

More about Portes du Soleil,

Share your thoughts…comments are welcome.  See “Leave a Reply” below. And, sign up, top right,  to see future posts.  More Myanmar coming soon, Blissful Days at Nagapali Beach.

 More SCIJ  photos follow:

Tatiana from Russia at a wine tasting in Crans Montana.
Tatiana from Russia at a wine tasting in Crans Montana.


Some toured the Morand Distillery where tasting was tops.
Some toured the Morand Distillery where tasting was tops.


Koos from Holland, the man behind the traditional pea soup served after cross country  race.
Koos from Holland, the man behind the traditional pea soup served after cross country race.


Czech beer after the cross country race was a hit.
Czech beer after the cross country race was a hit.
Peter from Denmark
Peter from Denmark
Me, Peter and Risa at Crans Montana,
Me, Peter and Risa at Crans Montana,
A cozy place for a warm up and rest.
A cozy place for a warm up and rest.
And the winners are...
And the winners are…
A hearty Swiss soup followed the GS race.
A hearty Swiss soup followed the GS race.
Uros from Slovenia and friend.
Uros from Slovenia and friend.
Some danced until the wee hours.
Some danced until the wee hours.


Cliona and Isabel from Ireland with Gill from Great Britain.
Cliona and Isabel from Ireland with Gill from Great Britain.

Turkey: from Istanbul to the ski slopes

Masses of people. Pouring through the squares. Walking four and five abreast on the sidewalks. Strolling almost body to body on the popular, wide pedestrian street, Istiklal Avenue, on a Saturday evening.

Istanbul 2012, home to 17 million and booming. I’d been to the city twice before, but long ago. The changes, the vibrant pulse of round the clock activity, choking traffic, five-star hotels and designer shops –all overwhelming.

My recent visit was with the Ski Club of International Journalists (SCIJ, We were en route to our annual meeting, this year held on the slopes towering above the city of Erzurum in far eastern Turkey. Some 200 skiing journalists from 30 countries met to ski, race, party, and learn about this dynamic country from distinguished speakers.

Some of the facts:

• Fifty percent of the Turkish population of 75 million is under 30.

• There are more than 25 universities in Istanbul.

. • One million people visited Turkey last year – the country ranks 7th in the world in number of visitors.

• Turkey has been a model for the Arab Spring, a secular democracy with a Muslim population.

• In 1980, the country’s exports totaled $3 billion. Last year that figure was $130 billion.

• Turkey is the sixth largest economy in Europe, 16th largest in the world.

The  media are thriving with some 1,000 daily newspapers, 100 television channels and two billion Internet users.

• But, all is not rosy. Freedom of the press is a hot issue.  Between 50 and 100 journalists are said to be in jail for being critical of the government.

• 69 percent of the population wants Turkey to join the EU.

As one of our speakers said, “Turkey is the new kid in town.”

I arrived in Istanbul a day early and spent an afternoon at the Grand Bazaar, a shopper’s Mecca with hundreds of shops and stands offering gleaming gold jewelry, silver jewels, carpets, scarves, ceramics and more.  Before setting off to the mountains, the group  visited Istanbul’s star attractions: Hagia Sophia  Museum, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace.  A Bosphorus  cruise is a must

On the Bosphorus.

for an Istanbul visit.  We were blessed with warm sunshine for our boat trip on this 30-kilometer stretch of water which connects the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea and separates Europe from Asia.

We savored excellent cuisine. Turkish  Meze, small plates served as appetizers, are different and delicious, often seasoned cold vegetables, such as eggplant, zucchini, peppers… as well as stuffed grape leaves, cheese and a yogurt-garlic sauce for dipping.   Kebabs of beef or lamb are a frequent main course.  Baklava is a favorite dessert.

Not only a fabulous dinner, but over-the-top entertainment,  was a highlight when we dined beneath the streets of Istanbul in an ancient cistern which was constructed in the 5th century and is now used as a venue for special events.  A well-known Turkish clarinet player and his band played non-stop for more than an hour and a half – an incredible performance.  Then came the country’s famous belly dancer, Asena, whose sexy slithering  and amazing body movements were mind boggling.

For me, the best of Istanbul was the hamman or Turkish bath,  a soothing multi-step ritual which leaves you feeling ultra clean and relaxed.   For the bath, we visited the historic Hurrem Sultan that dates back to the 16th century but was restored in the 1950s.  There are separate sections for men and women.

The surroundings are opulent – all white marble under a  domed ceiling pierced with tiny windows to let in light.  Each bather is assigned an attendant who first pours warm water over your naked body.  The water is scooped from a basin under bronze faucets into embossed bowls –very classy.    This goes on for some time, then you are led to a large room where bodies lie on towels in a circle under the grandiose ceiling.  The attendants whirl a large cloth bag though the air, then, starting at the top of the bag, squeeze it until soap suds come out the  open end at the bottom— mountains of white foam.  The bodies soon look like mummies buried under mounds of cotton candy.  The attendant  gently massages the suds into the body from head to toe.  It’s glorious.  This is followed by an entire body scrub down with a rough mitt to  remove dead skin.  Then, more pouring of water, all ending with relaxation in a chaise lounge and a glass of rose hip tea.  I liked it so much, I went for a repeat performance at our hotel in the mountains.  There the surroundings were not quite as posh, but the experience was equally as  heavenly.

For most of our group, the best part of the trip was no doubt the skiing – and theobligatory races (giant slalom and cross country). But, as I have a knee which is worn out  (replacement surgery scheduled for May), I spent almost no time on the slopes.  I had relaxing days at the hotel, and, in addition to the hamman, took advantage of the swimming pool.

Nation’s Night is a SCIJ tradition.  Participants bring delicacies from their countries to share with the others.  Airline restrictions make this more and more challenging, nonetheless the variety of food and drink offered is a tribute to the determination and innovation of these skiing journalists.  Foie Gras from France.  Raclette from Switzerland.  Pasta from Italy… and Thanksgiving turkey  for a meeting in Turkey from the US.

The turkey was the idea of the U.S. team captain, Risa Wyatt.  Customs regulations prevented bringing turkey from the U.S., but the hotel did a commendable job of roasting two large birds.  I made and brought cranberry chutney to serve with it.  The beverage:  Wild Turkey.   It was a sensation.

We even had one bird leftover which we served at the end of the cross-country race, along with the legendary Dutch pea soup,  the latter a popular tradition prepared every year, with much difficulty, on site by our colleagues from Holland.

Unfortunately the trip ended on a sad note for my  Irish friend and roommate Isabel who broke her arm on a bad fall the last afternoon.  She had to have surgery in the hospital in Erzurum. The Turkish organizers of our meet, the hospital staff and Turkish Airlines treated her like royalty.  But,  now that she’s back home in Belgium, she has learned that mistakes were made during the operation and it must be redone.

She’s depressed and says she won’t ski again.  Skiing has been my passion, and  I am worried that a new knee may not permit me to get back on the slopes.  I told Isabel we must both give it a try – maybe sticking to the gentle slopes.  Next year SCIJ will celebrate its 60th anniversary in the Italian Dolomites – something not to miss.

For more on Turkey, see  For more on the Ski Club of International Journalists, see    See  “Poached Chicken Breasts with Arugula Pesto Sauce” for  a chicken recipe with a bit of green for St. Patrick’s Day.    Watch the slide show to follow.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.