Nestled next to the French mountains on the Swiss border, one British family’s dream alpine retreat has faced difficulties due to the pandemic.
The once-bustling tourist resort of Chapelle des Bois is now eerily quiet and for James and Amilie Hall, who left the UK 18 months ago to launch their eco-hotel and restaurant, these are challenging times.
Covid-19 has sparked two national lockdowns in France, the second of which was only recently lifted. But restaurants and most ski resorts remain closed.
Christmas for the couple and their two young children will be very different from what they expected.
“The piste can be accessed directly from the hotel’s garden but whereas usually we would see a continuing stream of skiers passing by, now we are lucky to see anyone,” said James, the owner of Les Clochettes du Risoux.
“We have just finished renovating the restaurant and were ready to launch but due to the lockdown rules we are still not able to open. Christmas for us will be very different than normal. After all the work we have put in, it is sad to see the restaurant lying empty.”
The Halls hope to welcome guests from December 27 but the challenges posed by the pandemic to their eco-hotel have been immense, particularly after they spent £1 million ($1.35m) on the renovation.
“We pride ourselves on being eco-friendly but due to all the Covid rules we have been forced to use some plastic, which goes against everything we have been working towards,” said James, a chef originally from Yorkshire, northern England.
“Even though we can reopen, the restaurant will remain closed and we face the daunting task of serving three-course meals to guests in their rooms over two floors.”
Despite the difficulties of lockdown, the family used the spare time productively, doubling the size of the hotel, which will reopen as a 20-room lodge.
“When we are open we work over 100 hours a week and lockdown has given us precious time to spend as a family,” he said.
“We’ve had the chance to finish the refurbishment and now we just have to look forward to being able to invite guests back.
“Luckily for us, both lockdowns have been off-peak, but we have been offering takeaways so we have at least some income. We are a cross-country ski resort so there are no lifts which has been a bonus for us, so we are able to reopen.”
Other resorts have been less fortunate; France has forbidden those with lifts from reopening.
In neighbouring Chatel, skiing is banned but over the border in Switzerland the same piste in the Dents du Midi region is in use, because the Swiss have allowed their ski lifts to open.
The Christmas holidays usually generate a fifth of the winter season turnover for the French resorts.
Switzerland is also facing the bite from the latest virulent Covid-19 strain. On Monday, it imposed an entry ban on travellers from the UK and ordered a 10-day retroactive quarantine for anyone who arrived since December 14, affecting about 10,000 people.
Britons account for a fifth of Switzerland’s tourists.