As the weather turns chilly, my thoughts turn to skiing. Ahh, how I long to breathe in some clean mountain air whilst gliding effortlessly on fresh, powdery off piste slopes. Sadly my off piste technique leaves a little (maybe even a lot) to be desired – ahem. I need a few more lessons on how to look elegant whilst negotiating lumps, bumps and deep powder. Master and Miss Gallivant, of course, manage it with ease. They started skiing young so it all comes naturally to them. Sigh…
Last season I spent a satisfying few days in France’s Les Arcs ski area, staying at Arc 1950. If you have ever been to the neighbouring Arcs 1600, 1800 or 2000 you might think you know what to expect, but the design of this much newer village is a far cry from the concrete ‘car park chic’ of the aforementioned.
The design has been based on Canadian ski resorts (indeed it was built by Intrawest who also created Canada’s Whistler and Mont Tremblant) and it has a similar feel, with painted wood buildings. The streets are pedestrian only and it feels very safe for kids.
Accommodation is all in self catering apartment ‘residences’ – there are eight of them – and there are a few restaurants and bars as well an upscale spa and a sprinkling of shops. Apres ski is lively but low key – the real party animals tend to head to Arc 1800.
My accommodation was at the Pierres & Vacances Premium Arc 1950 Le Village, which has apartments sleeping anything from 2 to 10 people. The facilities include an indoor/outdoor pool , sauna, steam room and its own underground car park. The location offers some of the best ski in, ski out access I’ve ever come across – and an added bonus here is that the season is long, with 70% of the ski area above 2000 metres and good snow making facilities on lower slopes.
It is classed as five star. The apartments are spacious, clean and warm but if you are expecting super luxurious you might be disappointed. That said, they do vary (some have fireplaces for example), so my advice would be to ask lots of questions before booking. To be fair, the prices are hardly five star either. There are bargains to be had – and look out for last minute deals too – especially if you’re coming with a crowd.
The layout of the resort and the small size means that this is an easy peasy ski holiday for families – and there is an awful lot to be said for that, when I think of the many times I have ended up carrying skis, poles and grumpy children to find ski buses and ski school meet up points.
The skiing is, quite simply, amazing, with everything from cruisy blue runs through the trees to steep blacks, mogul fields and powder bowls. It’s part of the vast Paradiski area of connected ski resorts, adding up to an impressive 425km of piste! Lifts are modern, fast and comfortable.
We hired a guide to do a bit of off piste. He encouraged me to do all sorts of things I wouldn’t ordinarily attempt. Every time I stopped and wailed ‘I just can’t do that’ he’d insist that I was perfectly capable and that it was only my mind stopping me. And he was right…to a degree.
An aside to those boarders amongst you. The Apocalypse Park has plenty of kickers, rail lines, rainbows and a stair set jib section. Nope…. me neither!
For those wanting an alternative to skiing, or just alternative apres ski fun, there’s lots to do in the Les Arcs area – ice skating, snowshoeing dog sledding, tobogganing, skidooing, paragliding…
My preferred option, after a tough day on the slopes, was to unwind in the resort’s spa – which has a rather lovely pool with water jets, a hot tub, hammam, sauna and steam room – all ideal for soothing muscles screaming from unaccustomed use.
Most nights we would wind up in one of the restaurants, although there is a small supermarket in the village if you want to cook (personally it’s the last thing I feel like doing after a day on the slopes but I did find the kitchen handy for breakfast, lunch and snacks). Most of the eateries are pretty informal. We enjoyed a bit of carb fuelling at the Italian Chalet de Luigi and more refined dining at La Table des Lys.
One night, for a change, we visited the Igloo Village (a lift and a snowy walk in the dark away) where we admired intricate ice sculptures , glugged mulled wine and dived into a cheese fondue. It was fun and – possibly stating the obvious – cold!
* Prices at the Pierre & Vacances Residence Arc 1950 Le Village start from £780 for a one week stay in a one bedroom self catering apartment sleeping up to four people. For more information, or to book, visit www.pierreetvacances.com or call 0870 0267 14,
* Nearest airports to Les Arcs are Chambery (1 hour, 50 minute transfer), Grenoble and Lyon (both around 2 hour, 30 minutes) and Geneva (3 hours).
* The train is a great option for those living in the south east, as the Eurostar ‘snow train’ has direct day trains from Kings Cross St Pancras and Ashford in Kent to Bourg St Maurice, close to the resort. These run between December and April and direct night trains run on Fridays from January to April. Fares start from £74.50 each way. Visit www.eurostar.com
* Or you can drive of course. Bear in mind that parking costs extra at the Pierres & Vacances accommodation.