Catered chalet vs. self catering – Which suits us best?

One of the most frequent questions we are asked is “Should I book a catered chalet or go self catered” and in all honesty, it’s a really good question.

Obviously the needs of the group tend to dictate which is to be the most suitable holiday but unless you have booked, paid for and experienced both types of holidays; you may not know which you would enjoy the most. I therefore thought it would be a useful exercise to examine both types of holiday and look at not only the pros and cons of each but also looking specifically at WHO would enjoy them the most.

Catered Chalets

PROS:

  • A much more relaxing, easy holiday as everything is done for you. No cleaning or cooking!
  • Wine on tap.
  • Much more inviting social spaces and generally a better standard of accommodation.
  • Relatively good value for money in comparison to self catered when all the weeks expenses are considered.

CONS:

  • If not a sole occupancy booking, having to meet other guests can be a bit of a lottery.
  • As can the chalet host, if you get the short straw it can ruin the holiday.
  • A forced timetable, no mammoth après-ski sessions unless you do it on the staff day off. Having to be back for 7pm can become a bit of a pain.

Self Catered

PROS:

  • No timetable to stick to, you do what you want and when you want to do it.
  • The standard of food isn’t going to let you down.
  • No forced socialising as sometimes experienced in catered chalets.
  • If you enjoy going out to eat, this is the best option.
  • The standards of self catered apartments on offer are becoming better and better.
  • No limit of destination as you can find an apartment in most resorts, not the case with the catered chalet market. This is becoming an increasingly relevant point with the new employment laws in Switzerland and now Austria is threatening to follow suit…
  • Less expensive in initial outlay….

CONS:

  • ….But much more expensive when you get there. Especially if you don’t do a large shop on the way. Buying food in resort supermarkets can by dizzyingly expensive.
  • You do need to be disciplined if you are going self catered due to the expense, a couple of nights in a restaurant and you’ve probably spent the difference between a catered chalet and a self catered apartment.
  • The shoe-box apartment is still the norm, especially in the high altitude French resorts. You know the type, kids sleeping in cupboards and 6 adults sleeping in a living room drawer.
  • Having to cook and clean for yourselves, including the end of stay clean which dictates you must leave the apartment in the same state you found it. No half measures here….
  • VERY few larger self catered accommodations, big groups will have to split over several apartments.
  • A fair few hidden costs such as TV hire (if you need it), tourist tax and most will charge a fairly heft damage deposit although this is returned at the end of the stay if you don’t burn the apartment to the ground.

A catered chalet holiday will best suit:

Those looking for a “proper” holiday:

A holiday should be as relaxing as possible, you aren’t truly relaxing if you are cooking and cleaning. Let the chalet staff cook you breakfast, afternoon tea as well as a 3 course evening meal. They will also clean your rooms daily.

Any group looking for a very high standard of accommodation:

Whilst self catered apartments are getting better and better, there are very few indeed that can rival the top end catered chalets for pure luxury. If you are used to your creature comforts and want something special, a catered chalet is really the only choice.

Social skiers and boarders:

Booking a few rooms in a larger catered chalet is a great way to meet other like minded individuals. Many chalet-mates end up staying in touch and going on holidays together in the following seasons. This works especially well if you pick a resort which best reflects what you are looking for out of a holiday. For example, if you are looking for a quiet, relaxing holiday just chilling in the chalet and not going out, going to St. Anton for example would more likely provide you with other guests that enjoy a drink or five after dinner. Taking rooms in a chalet in La Rosiere however, will more likely give you the sort of guests sharing your priorities.

In light of the above, a self catered apartment will suit the following groups better:

The “Foodie” group:

Skiers and boarders that treat dinner as the main event and prefer going out to sample the resort restaurants. Resorts such as Zermatt and Courchevel are fantastic for this. Catered chalets that cater to this market do exist but they tend to be towards the upper end of the market.

All about the Après:

Whilst many groups that fit this bill do end up booking catered chalets it can be a waste of money as so many dinners will go uneaten whilst you are dancing on the tables in the Mooserwirt. It is also a real trial for the chalet host who will spend most evenings watching his 3 course meal overcook whilst tutting and looking at his watch. If you are in an apartment and looking after your own food, this becomes a non-problem.

Shoestring skiers:

If you are disciplined and do a big shop before the mountain, it is undoubtedly a cheaper holiday. Especially if you drive down and share the petrol and toll fares. It should be doable (non-peak) for under £250 a head. Just be prepared to live on pasta and sauce or meals out of tins. Luckily the French tinned food can actually be very impressive!

Small groups looking for their own place:

Smaller catered chalets do exist but for a group of 4, there are only a handful of examples. If you prefer not to share accommodation and there are 4 of you, chances are it will be in a self catered apartment.