Smoke: Pyramids in the Alps

  • Brent Butterworth

Every great day of skiing ends on an elegiac note, when the lifts have closed, the light is waning, and it is time to pull off your boots. Cigar smokers visiting Courchevel, however, can find solace in the promise of an après-ski evening at the Hotel Byblos Des Neiges’ cigar lounge. Here, Antoine Chevanne, the owner and general manager of this French Alps property, invites his guests to explore new flavors and smoking experiences.
 
In selecting the 85 cigars on the lounge’s menu, Chevanne chose not only what he considered the best brands, but the best frontmarks within each brand. And the man has great taste. Rather than order my usuals from the menu, I ask him to identify a few of his favorites. He responds with both classics and unfamiliar exotics, each an outstanding and distinctive expression of the art of cigar making.
 
Not surprisingly, the menu comprises mostly Cuban masterpieces, including Cohibas in seven sizes. The assortment offers something for everyone: tastes ranging from dainty to forceful, in shapes from petit lonsdales to pyramids to Churchills. The lounge even proffers hookahs filled with exotic tobaccos from the Middle East—an option Chevanne says is especially popular with female guests, who tend to enjoy the light, cool smoke.

Each cigar is prepared by a Byblos staff member, who clips and lights it and then provides a selection of chocolates that Chevanne has chosen to complement it. Among these, to my surprise and delight, is a particularly delectable confection laced with tobacco. I settle down with a robusto and a single-malt Scotch and peruse a French cigar magazine, while time slips away.

Perceiving the traditional men’s club atmosphere as being too stodgy, Chevanne instead designed the cigar lounge with a decor that blends comfort and elegance with the rustic feel one expects to encounter in a tiny alpine town. For practical purposes, he divided the cigar lounge from the rest of the bar with glass doors, enabling smokers to remain within sight of their companions who prefer less smoky surroundings. A DJ spins cool, contemporary music for both the bar and the lounge.

While the Hotel Byblos Des Neiges is especially accommodating to cigar smokers, it is equally well suited to address its guests’ primary purpose for staying here. The hotel offers an in-house ski rental service, immediate proximity to two lifts, and access to the seemingly inexhaustible terrain of Les Trois Vallées, a region that includes Courchevel and three other major ski areas, all linked by lifts and trails. But when you can begin your evening with a superb facial at the Byblos spa and end it with perfect cigars, skiing in the French Alps seems a trifle mundane.

Hotel Byblos Des Neiges, +33.479.00.98.00, www.byblos.com

Photo by James Lipman
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