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Travel Inspo: Glamour’s Senior Features Writer, Thobeka Phanyeko shares her unforgettable journey to the French Alps

A story of happiness, green pastures, snowy slopes and surmounting fear: luxury skiing at the Club Med Tignes Resort.

It’s nightime when I receive an invitation from Gabriella to attend the global opening of the Club Med Tignes Resort in the French Alps. I sleep on it, briefly discuss it with Glamour’s Editor-in-chief, then RSVP. Gabbi says she needs to apply for my VISA, and requests a copy of my passport. The problem is I don’t have one.

I muster the courage to tell her and assure her I’m working on it. She gives me a deadline that’s just 10 days away. Applying for my passport involves queueing in the scorching summer heat for six hours outside Home Affairs, but as fate would have it, nine days later, I receive an email: it’s ready for collection.

Image: Thobeka Phanyeko

My journey begins

With my VISA application complete and my passport in hand, I start preparing for my trip. Gabbi asks if I’d like to ski, to which I respond, “I’m happy to observe.” She later assures me that the Club Med ski resort offers beginner skiing lessons, and I think, why not? As my departure draws closer, I can’t contain my excitement. Last-minute shopping at Cape Union Mart, trying on snow boots, I realise it’s really happening, that in just a few hours, I’ll be leaving South Africa for the first time in my life!

My flight departs at midnight, so I make my way to the airport just after 9pm and then head to international departures – and as it’s uncharted territory, I capture the moment to share with our 95 000 Instagram followers. Soon, we’re preparing for take off courtesy of Air France. We’re greeted in French and English, which affirms that I’m going to Paris!

Image: Captured by Thobeka Phanyeko

Bienvenue en France

We land in the City of Love almost 12 hours later, and I imagine myself on the set of Emily in Paris, fantasise about all the things I could do in this beautiful city if I were there for longer than catching a connecting flight to Geneva. In just three hours, it’s au revoir Paris!

An hour and a half later, the plane touches down in Geneva, where Marketing Manager of Club Med Southern Africa Laura Hendel is there to welcome me. But first, I have to get through airport security. I’m shaken by the fact you’re required to remove layers of clothing, as I’m wearing only a crop top under my jacket and scarf. You can’t be serious, I think, as I notice two gentlemen removing their belts, unfazed. Is this Candid Camera? The stern look on the security personnel’s face asserts that this is really happening. “You’re sexy!” she says, her accent unmistakably French. We exchange an awkward glance, and I utter a nervous giggle as I wait for her to signal that I can proceed to collect my bags and clothes. I regain my composure, reaching for my bag and shrugging on my jacket.

I’m processing everything that’s just transpired as I make my way to Laura. My phone has lost signal, so we’re unable to connect until I spot a gentleman standing next to her holding a Club Med placard. Laura’s gorgeous and sports a warm smile. “Welcome!” she beams, and I feel instantly at ease. With the pleasantries out of the way, we load our luggage into a shuttle and embark on a scenic drive to the French Alps. Driving through Switzerland is awe-inspiring, the road hugging green pastures. As we pass through the city, surrounded by the Alps and Jura Mountains, I can only imagine how the residents engage with those lush green valleys and wind down to sublime sunsets. After travelling most of the day, my adrenalin keeps me alert as I patiently wait to see the slopes for the first time. As the sun sets, I ask our driver how long it’ll be until we get there. “Two hours,” he replies, and I feel myself drift into slumber.

The destination

Image: Captured by Thobeka Phanyeko

Upon arrival at the Club Med Tignes Resort, a friendly staff member welcomes us and takes our bags to our rooms while we check in. There’s activity in the foyer, our hosts visibly excited to welcome us into their space. Then, it’s bonsoir and merci. I receive a tag that gives me access to my room and other spaces in the resort, including facilities in the ski room. The atmosphere as I head to my room is friendly and homely. There’s only one way to describe the glimpse of the view I catch from my balcony: paradise. This all-inclusive snow resort rests among a group of villages that form a high-altitude ski resort in the French Alps. It was recently rebuilt to offer a luxurious, intimate and legendary ski experience against the background of the Tignes - Val d’Isère ski domain. I take it all in and freshen up before heading downstairs to join the rest of the media delegates and influencers. The all- inclusive offering includes meals, drinks and entertainment, so we enjoy live performances, a scrumptious three-course dinner and dance the night away.

Bonjour from Tignes

Waking up to breathtaking views of snow-dusted slopes is the stuff dreams are made of, and seeing the village come alive as the day progresses stirs up feelings of excitement and an eagerness to lean into the day. We attend a media information session where the President of Club Med, Henri Giscard d’Estaing, officially welcomes us and recounts the inspirational story of Club Med, ‘a story of happiness’. I’m intrigued to learn the company, founded in 1950 in France, now operates nearly 80 all-inclusive resort villages in holiday locations worldwide. Through it’s unique offering that places people at the centre, Club Med has positioned itself as a leading light in the tourism “Views of snow- dusted slopes” industry with a global reach. Club Med Tignes, situated in the heart of Tignes resort, draws inspiration from the mountains and incorporates modern design to offer guests an immersive, unforgettable experience.

Image: Supplied

On the slopes

Skiing for the first time is a bucket-list moment.My instructor is patient with me as I find my feet. I meet kindred spirits who encourage me to lean into and enjoy the experience. Suddenly, I’m confronted with the reality of it all, the uncertainty, braving Home Affairs, a long-haul flight, and trying to find my way around Paris Charles de Gaulle airport – all of which led me to this moment. I’m a girl from South Africa who accepted an invitation to the French Alps, even though she didn’t have a passport. But she had faith. So, here I am on the slopes of Tignes, my instructor asking me to overcome fear of the unknown and of falling head-first while I plead with him not to let go of my hand, the irony being that trusting the process led me here. I may not rip up the terrain, but I surmount my fear, and I’ll always cherish my willingness to go back and give it another go. Jusqu’à ce que nous nous revoyions (until we see each other again).

Image: Supplied

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