April 23 2014 Latest news:
Monday, January 21, 2013
Natalie Hoodless goes on a family skiing trip in France and finds it doesn’t have to break the bank
• Cheap lift passes, tuition and hire
• Family-friendly resort
• No queues for lifts
• Plenty of easy terrain plus snow garden for youngsters
• High-quality instructors
• 300 days of sunshine a year
• Plenty of non-ski activities
WEAVING your way down a cruisey blue, the sun shining above, the snow fresh beneath your board and an empty slope ahead, it seems too good to be true.
But it wasn’t, we did the impossible. We found a hidden gem, a yet-to-be-discovered ski resort that offers all you could want and comes in at a price that doesn’t make your bank balance shudder.
The affordable, family-orientated ski resort of Les Orres, located in southern France, close to the Italian border, is a rarity, it offers all of the vital ingredients for the perfect family skiing holiday - plenty of gentle learner slopes for new skiers, some challenging reds, a handful of hairy black runs, first-class tuition, most importantly, delicious hot crepes to keep you going through the afternoon, and all of this came without extortionate prices for essentials like hire and lift passes.
There are some great package deals available, plus your pound will now go that little bit further once you are there as the exchange rate becomes more favourable for us Brits, meaning you really can have a family ski holiday for a modest sum.
• Long transfer from Turin - three and a half hours by coach
• Expensive to eat out
• Very quiet in the evenings, little apres ski activity
The resort is known as the Nice of the Alps, thanks to the fact it enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year and is largely quiet - although Saturday afternoons can be busy once the locals arrive.
There are two villages within the resort - 1650 is the older, more established centre with a newer development consisting entirely of wooden-clad, self-catering accommodation slightly higher up at 1800.
We stayed in the Combe D’or apartments at the top of the 1800 development, a five minute walk from the small offering of restaurants, supermarkets and bars.
There is the option of walking down to the older village which is slightly busier with more choice when eating out. Or you could catch the free resort bus but this does stop at 7pm leaving you with a 15-minute, uphill trek back.
Instead, the majority of families seemed to eat in, either picking up pasta and sauce at the Sherpa to enjoy along with a bottle on Vin Chaud from the 8 a Huit, or grabbing a take away pizza, once again helping keep the holiday within budget.
Our apartment was spacious, with a separate double bedroom, a double sofa bed in the living area, well-equipped kitchenette and a modern, clean bathroom.
The block is listed as being ski in/ski out and, with a little stretch of the imagination, that is true. However, don’t expect to elegantly slip out of the locker room down to the ski lift - it does involve a slight uphill walk, a section of flat and then eventually you reach the green run that leads to ski school meeting point and the main chair out of the valley.
This was our first ski holiday accompanied by our five-year-old and we signed her up for morning sessions in the Snow Garden, run by the national ESF ski school.
On the first day the instructors took the children up the magic carpet and let them slide down - and watching from the ski lift they all seemed a little wobbly and timid, making me nervous about whether she would return the next day.
But proving that little ones learn fast, she stuck with it and our novice Skier proudly boasted that she had been on a bus when we arrived to collect her on day four.
The instructor then informed us they had been up on the chair lift, having already mastered the button lift, skied down to 1650 and then had run out of steam so the group had jumped on the free bus that runs between the two centres to get back to the kindergarten.
By day six, we were all skiing, and boarding, down green and blue together, little one flying ahead and us happily watching from a safe distance, praying she would come to a graceful stop at the end rather than landing head-first in the snow.
Luckily, the runs were quiet throughout the day, meaning she could snow plough down at whatever speed she chose without upsetting too many others.
The lower slopes are dominated by green and blue runs and if you venture a little further up you can ski down the long, winding Le Coqs, covering a fair few miles on one run, with options to switch onto sections of red part-way down. On the opposite side to this pleasant cruisey blue is the Grand Cabane, a challenging red that ranges from a steep, wide open run with excellent off piste opportunity to a tricky, narrow mountain path that requires some tight turns, it is the holy grail of the resort and well worth trying once you have found your ski legs.
The most advanced of skiers and boarders may feel a little hamstrung but we had more than enough to keep us occupied during our week away.
And when we were weary from skiing, there was always the luge run in 1650, ice skating, snake-gliss, sledging and swimming to keep us occupied.
We booked through Crystal, one of the only British ski operators to offer packages to Les Orres, and flew from Stansted to Turin, before making the three-and-half hour coach journey up into the mountains and into France.
The cost of flights, transfers and accommodation for two adults and one child in January was about £750.
Lift passes are competitively priced at around £125 for six days for adults, and £100 for children aged six and over. Tuition was around £80 each for the six days, lessons last for two hours or two and half during the busier school holidays.
Children’s ski hire, including boots and a helmet, is about £40 and adults pay approximately £90 for skis, boots and poles, with a snowboard costing slightly more at £125.