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A Club Med Cervinia chef carves a tuna for hungry guests. Don’t go there expecting to diet. All the food you can eat, wine at lunch and dinner and drinks in between, are included in the price of a Club Med package vacation.
A Club Med Cervinia chef carves a tuna for hungry guests. Don’t go there expecting to diet. All the food you can eat, wine at lunch and dinner and drinks in between, are included in the price of a Club Med package vacation. (Leah Larkin / Special to S&S)
A Club Med Cervinia chef carves a tuna for hungry guests. Don’t go there expecting to diet. All the food you can eat, wine at lunch and dinner and drinks in between, are included in the price of a Club Med package vacation.
A Club Med Cervinia chef carves a tuna for hungry guests. Don’t go there expecting to diet. All the food you can eat, wine at lunch and dinner and drinks in between, are included in the price of a Club Med package vacation. (Leah Larkin / Special to S&S)
Skiers gather in front of Club Med Cervinia to board Club vans to the nearby slopes.
Skiers gather in front of Club Med Cervinia to board Club vans to the nearby slopes. (Leah Larkin / Special to S&S)
Skiers gather in front of Club Med Cervinia to board Club vans to the nearby slopes.
Skiers gather in front of Club Med Cervinia to board Club vans to the nearby slopes. (Leah Larkin / Special to S&S)
Last season a Club Med show featured the staff’s version of “West Side Story.”
Last season a Club Med show featured the staff’s version of “West Side Story.” (Leah Larkin / Special to S&S)
The village of Cervinia, Italy, is not as upmarket as neighboring Zermatt, Switzerland, but it has its charms.
The village of Cervinia, Italy, is not as upmarket as neighboring Zermatt, Switzerland, but it has its charms. (Leah Larkin / Special to S&S)

The food is awesome. Room after room of buffet tables laden with gorgeous delicacies: antipasti, salads, fish, chicken, wild boar, beef, a medley of vegetables, a section of pasta, and lavish, rich desserts.

Dinner was like that every night last December when several American ski clubs in Europe attended a pre-Christmas weeklong trip to the all-inclusive ski resort Club Med Cervinia, in the Italian Alps.

“The highlight is the food,” Chris Baker from Heidelberg said of his Club Med experience.

And he was not alone. One evening at Club Med I went around our table of 10 and asked what was the best part of the ski day. Almost all replied “the food.”

All the food you can eat, as well as wine at lunch and dinner and drinks in between, is included in the price of a Club Med package vacation. Clubs in ski resorts also include lift tickets and all-day ski lessons. There is no charge for use of the club’s indoor pool, sauna and fitness room at Cervinia. The mini-club for children offers all-day programs, including ski lessons, at no extra charge.

Deborah Harcher traveled to Cervinia from Stuttgart with her husband and three children, ages 8, 4 and 1. The older two participated in the mini-club every day, while she had a Club Med baby- sitter for the 1-year-old.

“They loved it,” Harcher said of the mini-club. “Kids sometimes have a hard time fitting into groups like that, but they had a wonderful time. Whenever they had a choice of having dinner with us or with the mini-club, they chose the mini-club.”

She said she recommended the arrangement to families with children. “It’s so much easier,” she said. “On other trips you have to arrange everything yourself.”

In addition to the Americans present last December, there were folks representing 13 other nationalities. Although Club Med is a French organization, it’s international in scope with 100 resorts, both winter and summer, in 40 countries.

In its early days, Club Med, which started out as a spartan tent village in 1950, had a reputation as a paradise for swinging singles. These days it caters to everyone, although some clubs do not have mini-clubs and are more suited to adults without children.

All the clubs are big on bringing people together. In fact, Baker said his second favorite aspect to the club is “companionship” because it is easy to meet new people.

“You can be in the most beautiful hotel in the most beautiful place in the world, yet have no one to talk to. You are alone and sad,” said Erika Graziati, an Italian staff member at Cervinia.

“Club Med is different. We are the difference, the [staff members]. We like relating to people. We find time to talk to people.”

One staff member, the club clown, brought smiles to faces with his antics. Several times he was dressed as a priest and went around blessing the skiers, sprinkling “holy water” on them and pronouncing “ora pro nobis” (“pray for us”), before they boarded vans to the slopes. Another time he ran out in the snow with nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist and shaving cream on his face, pretending he was late and wanted the van to wait for him.

The nightly entertainment is free, and it’s fun with lots of exuberance and energy. So, too, is the skiing and snowboarding.

Guests are placed in classes with those of similar ability and ski or board all day with a group and instructor. I joined some good skiers following instructor Antonella Marquis at breakneck speeds down the mountain trails. We were in Cervinia, but on most days we took lifts up the Italian side of the mountains and skied down into Switzerland, where we enjoyed the slopes of its famous resort, Zermatt.

At our lunch break on the first day, one hot-shot member of the group complained. “I haven’t seen any hills yet, have you? This is all too easy.” Snows were not yet abundant and skiing was limited to the slopes (no off-piste possibilities), and most of the slopes we skied were wide, red (intermediate) runs.

But, many were very long and if skied non-stop definitely left leg muscles burning. There is an excellent 8½-mile run on the Cervinia side to the neighboring village of Valtournenche. And, the Cervinia slopes, while not as extensive as those of Zermatt, get more sun.

Cervinia Club Med, located outside the village, is not within walking distance of the main cable car to the slopes, so club vans shuttle skiers to the lift. Last year skiers had to return to the club for lunch, a time-consuming trek. This year the club has a restaurant on the slopes, so the lunch hour journey can be avoided.

In Italy, the Matterhorn is called Monte Cervino, and it appears differently from how it does in Switzerland. The mountain hulks wall-like over the Italian town, which is totally different from that classy resort on the other side of the mountain.

Cervinia has its charm. It’s a mini-town with several shops specializing in culinary goodies, ski shops, an old church, a few bars and hotels. We enjoyed an après-ski drink at the Samovar Tea Room, a cozy nook across from the church with a fireplace, low beamed ceiling, comfortable stuffed chairs and candles on the tables.

Michele Staiano, general manager of Club Med Cervinia, said his job is not like being a general manager at a hotel because he is actively involved in entertaining guests.

“We have a lot of contact with the clients,” said Staiano, who speaks five languages and began working for Club Med 18 years ago as a a scuba instructor in Sardinia. “It’s really interesting to get to know different nationalities and the way they think. We’re always talking to people. We learn something every day.”

“We’re like a big family, both the [guests and workers]. People come back.”

An Italian couple visiting last December was a case in point. They’ve been going to Club Med for 40 years. They have four sons, now all grown, and all learned to ski at the mini-club.

“You can’t beat it,” they said, enjoying another fabulous meal.

Leah Larkin, a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, is a journalist living in France.

Know and Go

American ski clubs in Stuttgart, Frankfurt and Heidelberg, Germany, are sponsoring a Club Med Cervinia trip Dec. 11-18 for about 900 euros, including transportation. You can also book a Club Med trip through Scherer Tours in Würzburg; telephone (+49) (0) 931-409046.

In the past, après-ski and evening drinks at Club Med had to be purchased with coupons bought by the booklet. The system has changed, and now drinks are included in the package price.

Children ages 4-11 can participate in the mini-club. For children from ages 4 months to 4 years, Club Med Cervinia offers child care for between 200 and 300 euro per week.

Find more information on Club Med at www.clubmed.com.

— Leah Larkin

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