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FEATURED
This year's festival runs from 16-23 Dec. Click on the photo for more

Saturday, 24 December 2011

WHAT'S NEW IN LES ARCS

Here are 6 things which are new in Les Arcs for 2011/12:

1.  Snow

After last year's debacle, the arrival of l'or blanc is THE big news.  Last year, there was no snowfall of note between the end of December and June (sic).  This Christmas sees snow depths of 300cms at the top, more than Val d'Isere and Tignes and far more than in Austria and Switzerland.  Here is Place Miravidi in 1800:



2. Changing hands (i): Hotel du Golf

The "anchor" hotel of 1800 has changed hands, and is now owned by the Groupe Temmos.  They are looking to change the ambiance a little, making it more "welcoming" and less formal.  Sadly this means the charismatic bar host and ace monoskier Pierre-Yves no longer appears to be part of the hotel's plans.  They seem to be having a promising start, and they have some quite competitive half-board deals if you book direct. Hotel du Golf's website here.


3.  Changing hands (ii): Aux Enfants Terribles

The restaurant formerly known as La Poudreuse, on the slopes above Peisey-Vallandry, is now re-named and under new ownership.  Indeed it is now under the same ownership as the Arpette restaurant below the 1600/1800 snowpark.  It boasts a newly wood-cladded exterior and "cosy" bar.



4.  Just open: Edenarc

The Edenarc development is now starting to come on stream, and it looks like Stage 1 is now open.  At least I did see some skiers going in there, and a light burning inside.  It does feel quite lonely and isolated at the moment, a bit like the kind of place Scooby and co would show up at on a stormy night.  If you've got the cash, I'd wait until a later phase, by which time the hot-tubs etc will presumably be bubbling away happily.

By the way, you can see the original Charlotte Perriand design for this site here:


5.  Coming soon: A new 4-star at Charmettoger

The much-loved Aiguille Grive restaurant is now long gone, and 2012/13 will presumably see the opening of this new hotel-restaurant.  You can have a sneak preview by turning left on the main run back to Arc 1800.  It looks like it will be a fair old size.  And it looks like the design will be at least paying some reference to the "Les Arcs" pointy style.


6.  Ride in Style: The newly "pimped" funiculaire

The funiculaire from Bourg St Maurice is proudly deemed to be "unique en France".  It has been given a new coat of paint, which proclaims its "environmentally friendly" credentials.

  


Friday, 23 December 2011

CA PLANE POUR MOI: 50 years of La Plagne

La Plagne celebrated its 50th birthday this week.  Le Dauphine looks back on the festivities here, with more than 2,000 people visiting the front de neige at Plagne Centre - as witnessed by TV Mont Blanc.
It all started as a regeneration project, pure and simple, with Dr Pierre Borionne, maire of Aime looking to stem depopulation of the valley.  Agriculture was no longer able to offer a living to the young, and the local mining industry was in crisis.  If you are keen, you can find out more at the museum named after Le Docteur, down in Aime.  The resort launched, with 2 drag lifts and 4 pistes, on 24 December 1961, according to its entry in Wikipedia.  Fifty years on, it is of course one of France's top ski resorts, linked to Les Arcs by the unique Vanoise Express.  More on the skiing here.



This 8-minute video, made by the Conseil General de la Savoie, includes interviews with the founders.  They remind us that in the early 1960s there was basically no such thing as skiing in the valley, and there were certainly no ski instructors.

The video also includes an interview with Herve Gaymard, president of the Conseil General, who describes the birth of La Plagne as "a big moment in the history of Savoie's ski resorts"; Courchevel and Val d'Isere were already established, but this was before the advent of Les Arcs, Les Menuires, Val Thorens, Valmorel etc.  He also goes on to look ahead to the next 50 years:
  • The focus will be on "sustainable development"
  • They will be looking to renovate the existing apartments
  • Any future building will be "hotels or gites" - ie they will only allow the building of "lits chauds" which will have occupants through the season.  There is a clear plan to move away from "lits froids" - apartments which are only used by their owners for a week or two each season, a concern which is also evident in other resorts like Les Arcs

2012 will see the 25th anniversary of one of the great stages of the Tour de France: "and just who is that coming up behind.....IT'S STEPHEN ROCHE!!!  It will also be 10 years since Michael Boogerd won in La Plagne in an epic solo breakaway.  And of course there was Laurent Fignon's victory there in 1984.  Forget La Toussuire - history suggests it's high time for a repeat visit to La Plagne in the very near future.

You can keep up-to-date with La Plagne at the excellent www.perso-laplagne.fr.


Saturday, 10 December 2011

THE BIG SOCIETY AUX ARCS: Heated Debates

We have endless books and articles in English about how much greener things are on the other side of the Channel.  "The quality of life is so much better, the pace of life is slower, people are happier.  Not like over here...."  The reality is of course rather more mundane.

Bourg St Maurice is an isolated and not particularly wealthy town.  Tourism is of course the key sector, offering loads of seasonal work.  But the ski market has peaked, at least for now.  And it faces the forthcoming closure of the Chasseurs Alpins military base. More here.

With all this comes the issues, controversies and political disputes - large and small - that we will all be used to.  Here are five of them.

1.  Parking

A big issue where I live in Barnet - and a big issue in Bourg St Maurice-Les Arcs too.  A couple of years ago the local council declared that it could no longer afford the several hundred thousand euros a year cost of clearing up the snow.  Outrage ensued as plans for a new peage-style barrier at Arc 1800 took shape.  There were brief celebrations as the technology failed shortly after opening, but now the system is well and truly working. And both locals and proprieteres are not happy.  More on the practicalities of parking here.

2.  Les Proprieteres en colere


As Billy Bragg says, "There is Power in a Union".  You can join the Union des Proprieteres pour la Defense des Arcs (UPDA) here.  They, alongside the ADS (lift company) and the mairie, form a triange of interests who do not always get on.  Recent debates have included a long-running dispute called the "Affaire du Golf" which resulted in money being returned to the proprieteres, parking at Villards (which has witnessed something of a saga around both the old and new car parks) and the more recent "save the Maitaz" campaign (see below).

If you do park at the open-air site at Charvet, you may find yourself walking along a desolate pedestrian tunnel, then taking a lift up to the centre station.  There has been a huge argument here re who is responsible for its upkeep, this time between the local authority and the residents of the Pierra Menta block through which the lift runs.  As far as I can see, the proprieteres emerged as winners.

3.  Chantel

This is only a minor dispute these days in that the Edenarc plans have been in place for many years, and development has only really been delayed by slow sales.  Some locals and fans of the original Les Arcs architecture are unhappy - Claudie Blanc, for example.

That said, there were always plans to build on the Chantel site, even though it means the destruction of some very beautiful tennis courts.  Charlotte Perriand's original design for the site is here.

4.  New developments

You can read more about current and future developments, including the new lift at 1600 here.

Today's heated debate is all about the future of the Maitaz site, which is on the green piste to Villandry.  The discussions surround whether it is such a good idea to bulldoze such a beautiful site at a time when so much of the resort is empty for so much of the year.  This time the villain in many people's eyes is the Landy mairie.  You can read more at the Sauver La Maitaz Facebook page, and see the impact on the Route des Espagnols (aka the piste) here.  It looks like a debate which will run and run.

5.  Politics

Bourg St Maurice and the surrounding valley is traditionally a right-wing stronghold - Sarkozy recorded 60% in the last presidentielle.

2011 saw a political crisis which resulted in a third of the local councillors resigning as the Damien Perry-Daniel Payot administration collapsed in a Savoyard version of the TB-GBs.  This saw an un-triumphant return of former mayor and Jacqueline Poletti in a landslide victory, registering 61% of the vote.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

THE STORY OF LES ARCS: The Old Ski Area

La Plagne, along with George Clooney, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.  Back in 1961 things were also developing up the road in Bourg St Maurice, albeit in a quieter way.

The Espace Arcadien website tells the story, with the aid of some great pictures, and then goes on to provide what is probably the only history of how the lift system in Les Arcs has evolved over the years.

Back in those snowier days there was a piste right down to 800m, the foot of the new chairlift, by the Montrigon bridge.  A second chairlift went from Les Granges up to Courbaton.  By the mid-1960s various draglifts had opened up skiing on the Arpette plateau (site of today's Snowpark; see below).



Some other highlights (!):

1.  A cable car was built from Bourg St Maurice to Arc 1600 in 1974.  It closed a year after the opening of the funiculaire, in 1990.  This suggests its return on investment was, er, not very good.  You can see the old gare on the left of the tracks as you arrive at 1600.  If, like me, you have nothing better to do, you can take a ride on the funiculaire here.

2.  The Espace Arcadien site also provides a photographic record of the construction of your favourite lifts, including the Transarc (1992), Varet (1999) and Vagere (2003).  They don't seem to be updating the site at the moment, but the new lift at 1600 means that fast lifts now cover pretty much the whole ski area, with Pre St Esprit and Comborciere the only weak links remaining.