The Season We’ve Been Waiting All Year For, France, Jet2.com
It’s the 150th anniversary of winter tourism (introduced by us Brits). Here’s how to get more out of it than ever before.
Get intimate in a cable car: How do you say, “Can I buy you a drink?” in French? That’s the phrase to swot-up on before Singles Week, a speed-dating event on the slopes in the Three Valleys’ resort of Brides-les-Bains (it’s name alone is a teaser for singletons). It runs for a week in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day (when else?) and planned activities for the lovelorn include dating nights and morning-after boarding trips from the Olympe gondola. The phrase you’ll need is, “Puis-je vous offrir un verre?”
Snowshoe with a llama: Forget the rules about skiing with just your friends. You can now go riding with an eagle flying by your side in Morzine (bird fanatic Jacques Olivier Travers takes to the slopes with his American bald eagle Victor), or slip and slide through the snow with a llama in Valloire. Mountain guide Gilles XXX and his two South American pack animals Tio and Tchupango lead the way (from £15).
Heliski on the cheap: There’s something about jumping in a helicopter that causes the kind of can’t-sleep-won’t-sleep hysteria that you haven’t felt since Christmas as a kid. No longer a fantasy for lottery winners, British-run outfit Val Heliskiing now offers what it call reverse trips into the Tarentaise Valley for a bargain £80 (based on four sharing) – you hike up, ski well off the piste-map then they swoop in to pick you up. That means you can explore French resorts Val d’Isere, Tignes, Ste Foy, La Rosiere, Les Arcs, La Plagne and the Three Valleys at a snip of the price.
Eat a reindeer: Some Swedes and Finns may disapprove, but for an unusual burger at altitude, try the Caron Freeride Café in Val Thorens, the highest resort in the French Alps. It serves up Scandinavian reindeer burgers topped with French Girolle mushrooms at 3,200m. If that’s too gamey for your taste, they also do a bison meat-patty, or at Les Crozet in Val d’Isère order a rösti burger, made with horse steak and a potato bun.
Shoot James Blunt: Love him or loathe him, the man who single-handedly prevented World War 3 when he was in Kosovo as a cavalry officer (at least according to an interview he gave the BBC) kicks-off the season in Ischgl in Austria. Following Robbie Williams end of season swing-a-long in May, and Elton, Kylie and Rihanna doing their thing in previous years, the singer-songwriter is a big deal for the Austrian ravers. He’s an experienced snow-hound (he owns a chalet in Verbier in Switzerland) so expect the paparazzi snapping him and his girlfriend on the slopes and plenty of opportunities to grab a beautiful selfie with him.
Discover the best resort you’ve never heard of: Up and coming Andorra in the Pyrenees is a three-hour drive from Barcelona and the resort of Arinsal has 65km of pistes, 30 lifts and a teeny one per cent of the ski traffic that the rest of Europe gets. Well, something like that. It’s at 2,560m so is as snow-sure as the best of them – just don’t get all cross-eyed and confuse it with the English football team. It’s pronounced Ar-in-sal.
Do the Toblerone: Impossibly chocolate bar-like, the jagged-edged Swiss triangular peak dominates the resort of Breuil-Cervinia. Ski down it from the 3,899m-high Gobba di Rollin draglift that tops the vast ski area shared with Zermatt across the Swiss border. For its part, Breuil-Cervinia has the best snow record in Italy and the highest lifts in Europe – yet most non-pros have never heard of it. Better still, it’s now easily accessible from Turin, Jet2.com’s newest ski hub, with flights from Manchester.
Be star-struck in Les Arcs: Seven cinemas in a traditional Alpine resort is pushing it a bit, but when you’ve got the sixth annual European Film Festival to organise they come in handy. Artistic Director Frédéric Boyer thinks so, too, and his team returns to Les Arcs with more than 100 films and 10 European premieres, as well as Q&A sessions with filmmakers and actors. This year the focus is on films from Ireland, so if ski fanatic Liam Neeson drops in for a cameo appearance then you read it here first. “I will look for you, I will find you and I will join you on the chairlift” etc.
Ski off a cliff (and survive): Some of the best things in life are free. Like the Freeride World Tour for instance. It’s the newest, craziest Alpine sport, which sees only the most unhinged riders compete each other down sheer slopes at speeds – all the while doing the kinds of tricks you’d be more like to see Louis Smith do in an Olympic gymnastics final. See the lunacy for yourself on the pistes of Chamonix in France (24 January), Kitzbuhel in Austria (31 January) and the event’s newest European leg, Vallnord Arcalis in Andorra (14 February).
Find out why Italians do it better: France has the purpose-built ski factories (Avoriaz and Les Arcs), Austria has the loud, boozy après-ski (drinking beer straight from ski boots in St Anton is almost mandatory). Italy, on the other hand, has a refined collection of resorts where food and style are naturally high on the agenda. Pick of the bunch are world-famous Courmayeur at the foot of Mount Blanc, the traditional village of La Thuile and Champoluc and Gressoney, which make up the heart of the Monterosa area. Handily, they’re are all in the Aosta Valley. Farther east, check out Cortina in the Dolomites where wealthy Milanese in Dolce and Gabbana snow gear with matching poodles stroll the Corso at dusk. Strange, but true.
Hop on the street food bus: If street food is a gimmick, then someone clearly didn’t tell the French. Arêches-Beaufort hasn’t got a food van, but a single decker bus. The small resort, 25km from Albertville in the Savoie region of France, is home to Le Bus Gourmet a pop-up restaurant that’s taking slope food to the extreme. Located next to the Grand Mont slope, owners Michel and François, prepare original dishes based on local Savoyard cheese and charcuterie. Next up in Les Gets, The W has a food van serving paninis and sandwiches located on the Jaillet slope (look out for the deckchairs), while the itsy-bitsy village of Orelle (in a neighbouring valley to Val Thorens) has a pizza pop-up where Anne-Marie serves thin-crust pizza at the bottom of the gondola.