Travel

In the French Alps, Luxe Stargazing Is the Ultimate Après-Ski Activity

Come for the slopes and stay for the stars in Megève, France.

Courtesy of Four Seasons
Courtesy of Four Seasons
Courtesy of Four Seasons

Make your way through Megève, France’s cobbled medieval streets and high-end shops, drive passed its multi-million euro chalet-style homes in the surrounding hills, and ascend to the snowy heights of Mont d’Arbois, and you’ll find some of the best ski slopes in the French Alps-if not the world. It’s what this fairytale-like mountain town is known for. But if you walk a short distance from the gondola lifts near the summit, you’ll also find a seemingly unlikely structure standing squat against the stunning panoramic views: an observatory. That’s because Megève isn’t just a destination for powder hounds-it’s also a helluva place to take in the wonders of the night sky.

Perfectly located in the heart of the Alps-and easily accessed via Geneva-Megève is a world-class winter adventureland with nearly 250 miles of slopes. In fact, the village of about 3,000 residents was originally created as an alternative to the Swiss resort town St. Moritz by the uber-wealthy Rothschild family in the 1920s. Long story short, the Baroness Noémie de Rothschild wanted France to have a St. Moritz-caliber ski resort of its own. And by the 1950s, it was held court as exactly that, attracting not just the rich, but the famous, too, including Hollywood stars Audrey Hepburn and other A-listers of the time. Today, Megève remains a bucket list destination for winter sports enthusiasts, who regularly push its population to some 100,000 during peak ski season (and if you hang out with a local for long enough, you’ll hear about the stratospheric real estate prices to match).This tony part of the world also excels when it comes to the timeless tradition of après ski. And thanks to Megève’s elevation, low light pollution, and overall tranquility, you can take your post-cardio relaxation to the next level at nightlife spots like Rendez-vous club, a centrally located disco open until dawn, or the swanky-yet cozy-Bar Edmond at the Four Seasons Hotel Megève, among others. And later, Megève offers the ultimate après-après ski, if you will, in the form of luxe stargazing experiences and educational events powered by a burgeoning community of local astronomers.

There’s a bit of irony in seeking out a travel destination for something as terrestrial as skiing and then finding yourself drawn to something as celestial as stargazing, but here-perhaps unlike anywhere else in the world-these pursuits complement each other swimmingly. Come for the slopes, stay for the stars.

JARRY/TRIPELON/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
JARRY/TRIPELON/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
JARRY/TRIPELON/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Observatoire du Mont D’Arbois, the small but mighty observatory between Megève and Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, is advantageously perched 1,800 meters atop its eponymous mountain, making it privy to unobstructed views of the sky and, of course, killer views of the surrounding resorts. You can actually spot the humble structure from the grounds of the area’s only ski-in, ski-out resort, the Four Seasons Hotel Megève, which also boasts its own stargazing platform by way of the Mont Blanc Suite.

No one knows the vantage point better than local astronomy organization Mont D’Arbois Astronomie, its members occasionally hauling a trove of heavy telescopes and stargazing equipment to the hotel to share with guests. The group, led by Jacques Amsellem, hosts stargazing workshops and other activities for locals and visitors alike, promoting their stated mission to further “the development of the scientific and cultural spirit, especially with regard to astronomy, the discovery of the stars, the study of the deep sky, the universe and cosmology.” They’ve been operating out of the observatory since the building opened in 2015.

Courtesy of Four Seasons
Courtesy of Four Seasons
Courtesy of Four Seasons

The Four Seasons, in turn, has also embraced the stargazing bug. One night, a member of the hotel bar staff overheard a couple talking about their love of stargazing, and quickly mobilized a massive behind-the-scenes effort to surprise them with a dreamy night of sleeping under the stars. The company recently launched an ad about the story, “Based on a True Stay.”

Now available to all guests, the aptly titled A Night Above the Clouds package transports hotel-goers to the exclusive Suite Idéal, a super-secluded mountaintop retreat accessed via a scenic 15-minute cable car ride from the hotel. The special includes a night in the suite complete with a dedicated butler, a sunset Champagne toast, and dinner for two featuring regional specialties and French wines, followed by stargazing. For the main event, a powerful telescope perches on the suite’s panoramic terrace.

Adrien Ledeul/Moment/Getty Images
Adrien Ledeul/Moment/Getty Images
Adrien Ledeul/Moment/Getty Images

Of course, you can find plenty of other ways to take advantage of Megève’s dazzling night sky beyond luxury hotel offerings. For a more local feel, area rental companies like Camping Bornard can hook you up with your own vacation chalet stashed in the heart of the mountains. And if you really want to rough it, the warmer months are ideal for pitching a tent and soaking up the night’s magic with little between you and the cosmos. There are also a surprising number of igloos and yurts that you can reach by snowshoeing through the woods in the winter months for intimate dinners, nighttime hikes, and stargazing.

Between skiing and stargazing, you might not have time for much else. But if you’re looking for a break from the slopes, head into the village for a leisurely stroll through the cobblestone streets cluttered with shops, boulangeries, and cafes. While there, don’t miss Le Hibou Blanc-famous for its prized fondue, it’s also a great place to pause and take in a mug of utterly life-changing hot chocolate (seriously). Each cup comes with a mound of fresh whipped cream that towers out of the glassware like Mont Blanc itself, plus a small square of dark chocolate on the side for good measure.

And that’s just the beginning. Megève is absolutely obsessed with food, and their passion is on full display at standout restaurants like Nous, Indie Mountain, and the Michelin-starred La Table de l’Alpaga and Flocons de Sel. For something unexpected, try Japanese-fusion specialist Kaito, where you can give in to your craving for fresh sushi and pound crispy slices of peking duck in the same sitting.

ARRY-TRIPELON/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
ARRY-TRIPELON/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
ARRY-TRIPELON/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Christmastime in Megève is particularly special, when the entire town transforms into a magical life-sized snow globe. Things kick off the first week of December with the lighting of a massive Christmas tree, a decades-old tradition that routinely draws thousands of revelers to the town square. The rest of the month is filled with festive events, including a Christmas market, musical performances and caroling, parades, reindeer visits, and much more. The big holiday celebration culminates with Soirée du Nouvel An, a New Year’s Eve celebration where those same revelers return to the square for free mugs of mulled wine served from a giant cauldron and a night-long bash fueled by DJ performances and live music.

But don’t let all the partying distract you from Megève’s best feature-for that, all you have to do is look up.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Tony Merevick is the Managing Editor at Thrillist, where he’s served in multiple editor roles on the James Beard Award-winning team since 2015. He’s a journalist, editor, and creative content strategist with more than a decade of experience in digital media, including at top digital publishers Vox Media, Group Nine Media, and BuzzFeed. Over the years, his reporting has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Time Out Chicago, the Chicago Free Press, among others, and his coverage of the national LGBTQ+ news beat at BuzzFeed led to a GLAAD Media Award Nomination in 2015. Merevick is the former editor-in-chief and co-founder of LGBTQ+ news startup, Chicago Phoenix. He’s a graduate of the ASME Magazine Internship Program and holds a degree in Journalism from Columbia College Chicago. He loves wine, making homemade pizzas, and trying too hard at Instagram. Read more.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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