The Chalet des Anglais is some 4500 feet up on the side of Le Prarion, a small mountain on the Mont Blanc massif. It is above Les Houches and St Gervais, reached by a telecabine from Les Houches (and an easy downhill walk) or by the Tramway de Mont Blanc (and a harder uphill walk from the Col de Voza). It easily sleeps fifteen; it can fit twenty at a squeeze; and it is comfortable, with two flush lavatories and both hot and cold running water, but no electricity.
It was first built in the 1860s by an eccentric diplomat called David Urquhart, burned down in 1906, rebuilt in 1909 and used ever since by a combination of Balliol, New College and Univ. students for reading parties and walking holidays.
Chalet Parties consist of about a dozen students, a manager and bursar (also students) and a couple of senior members. The purpose of the parties is to let people read, walk, and talk for ten days; serious climbing is absolutely forbidden, but strenuous walks are encouraged. The daily round depends a lot on the weather, but given decent weather, most people have a late breakfast, read on the lawn, eat a picnic lunch, and then get some exercise; pre-dinner drinks either consist of mulled wine in the Chalet or something restorative on the terrace of the hotel at the top of the telecabine: this is the Hotel Le Prarion better known as 'The Pav' from the days when it was Le Pavillon du Prarion.
The routine is simple: each day, two people cook for the party, shopping in Les Houches earlier in the day; otherwise, the necessary chores amount to rubbish disposal, recycling, washing up, and firewood collection. Parties are led by a manager and bursar, the former to organize the daily round and the latter to save us from financial disasters.
The Chalet parties take place over the Summer Vacation, and there are usually two groups.
Getting to the Chalet is simple: the cheapest and quickest route is by EasyJet to Geneva, train from there to St Gervais, round to Les Houches on the local railway and up the telecabine. In recent years there has been available a direct bus service from Geneva airport to the telecabine station in Les Houches, which makes getting there very easy indeed. EasyJet have been offering roundtrips to Geneva for as little as £35. Otherwise, trains to St Gervais from Paris are frequent, though it is hard to get from Oxford to Les Houches before the telecabine closes at 5.30 in the evening. The return journey can easily be done inside the day.
Living costs are low; there is a fixed rent, currently £5.00 a day for students - food and wine in the Chalet are included in that, but not whatever you rack up at the hotel or further afield. The college contributes to the basic food bill - we order a 'commande' in advance of arrival - and any further costs (usually arising from the buying of fresh food) are divided up by the bursar between all those present. This is rarely ever as much as the basic rent per day, so life in the chalet never costs more than £10 per day for those present, and often considerably less. It is therefore a very cost-effective venture, although Alpine prices outside the chalet are bold. There is, however, some college assistance available for anyone who feels unable to attend the reading party for financial reasons.
For further information on the Chalet des Anglais, please contact Dr William Poole.
The chalet is managed by the Chalet Trust, which comprises a chairman and up to three representatives from each of the three participating colleges.