FEATURED

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

Friday, 29 July 2011

SUMMER IN LES ARCS: THE TOP 10

1. Cycling - it's where Miguel Indurain cracked in the 1996 Tour de France. Never the same again... 
2. Spot the development opportunity #1.  Capitalism in action: Gilles and Annick had to move out of the much loved Aiguille Grive.  It is now demolished and "the future site of a 4 star hotel".  Hmm  :(
3. Spot the development opportunity #2.  Probably the most scenic tennis court I've seen.  It will now have a wider market, as the site of the new "EdenArc" development...
4. It is always warmer inside this pool than out
5. At the top of the Transarc (2550m)
6. Remembering the ski season: Top of Cachette lift, Les Coches in the background (2100m)
7. L'urbanisme (1800m) et Le Mont Blanc (4810m)
8. Looking at Marmottes (2400m; below Transarc)
9. Le Golf: Les Arcs' nursery slopes
10. The Architecture.  Arc 1600 (opened in 1968)

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

IS THE VANOISE EXPRESS THE HUMBER BRIDGE OF SKIING?

This may be a little harsh on the Vanoise Express, but there are times when one wonders whether, like the Humber Bridge, there really has been a return on investment.....


No doubt the Compagnie des Alpes, owners of the lift system in both La Plagne and Les Arcs, would disagree.  Its opening, in 2003, saw the creation of France's 3rd largest ski area, in the rather blandly titled Paradiski.  And its closure for the 2007-8 season was certainly met with gloom and despondency by local shopkeepers and traders.

You can read more about the technical specifications associated with the 4-minute ride across the Nancroix valley here.  And here's a link to the Lord-of-the-Rings-inspired Paradiski website.

The prevailing view seems to be that more go from the La Plagne side to Les Arcs than the other way round.  That said, it never seems to be particularly busy.

Rather than the Humber Bridge, perhaps the better analogy is with the Gateshead-Newcastle "Winking Eye" bridge: it links the two cities in a powerful and iconic way, without ever having too many making the crossing!

In this vein, here are some mountain bikers doing some very silly tricks earlier in the summer.

Looking back at Peisey Vallandry

Saturday, 16 July 2011

VALMOREL

Valmorel is the poor relation of the big Tarentaise resorts.

It seems to have lost its way somewhat, and is now competing against southern French resorts like Risoul or Puy St Vincent, rather than the Premiership resorts further up the valley.  It's more of a Nottingham Forest, or a Leicester City.  It's certainly part of the history of skiing (born in 1976, aiming to be more human-scale than the big purpose-built resorts, jobs to stem the rural exodus).  But it's no longer in the spotlight, and investment in the lift system over the years has been patchy.

That said, it has a big ski area (called, appropriately enough, La Grande Domaine), with more than 150k of pistes, shared with St Francois Longchamp, over in the Maurienne Valley.  It is not entirely forgotten - Crystal feature the resort as one of its 33 French destinations in their 2011/12 brochure.  And it's not entirely down-at-heel.  Club Med are building a new 5 star, 1500 bed, centre, which appears to have divided the locals.  To read more, see the French Wikipedia entry for Valmorel.  To see more, click here:
The facilities will be open in summer - a big deal for resorts these days.


Just a few tips about Valmorel:

1.  It's barely 30 mins from Albertville, so one of the handier resorts for a short trip
2.  It's close to a very special valley (Ceillac), which is for ski rando only, has a couple of small hotels and, unusually, a gondola straight into the skiing.  This would be a short ski stay with a difference.  Locals advised me that the road up to Ceillac would be narrow and icy, so I went to...
3.  Doucy-Combelouviere - a satellite suburb of Valmorel.  The road up there was narrow but not icy, and it is a bit closer than Valmorel centre, with easy parking on the main road and a semi-fast lift into the skiing
4.  St Francois-Longchamp.  The more interesting skiing is on this side.  The village isn't very appealing visually, but friendly.  Do not expect to see many Brits.
5.  Col du Mottet, on the Valmorel side.  This is proper, high(ish) skiing.
6.  Tour de France lovers will like the Col de la Madeleine.  You can find the summer road sign.  (I didn't).

www.valmorel.com

Sunday, 10 July 2011

TIGNES

Tignes is, of course, one of France's biggest and best known resorts - a skiing equivalent of Manchester City, perhaps: French Ski Resorts: The Premiership

It's white for most of the year - and, if you are keen, you can track the arrival of the season from about mid October onwards by visiting the Tignes website.  It rarely gets too hot here.  Here's a summer scene:




Tignes is clearly no beauty.  It's improving, though the austere setting means that a makeover will only go so far.  But it has a lot to recommend it, and in many ways is feels a lot more genuine than Val d'Isere, its show-off neighbour the other side of the hill.


If you're visiting Tignes, here are six good things about the resort:


1.  Parking at Les Brevieres (1550m) gives you direct access into the skiing - the drive from Bourg is less than 45 mins, and saves you another 600m vertical and having to find/pay for a spot in Lac.  Parking is free, although low marks for having no WC facilities at the main lift.  


2.  Parking at Les Boisses (at 1850m) is an alternative and you can either get a bus (15 or 45 past the hour) or lift up.  Be careful about the snowy car park if you don't have snowchains or winter tyres.


3.  The runs down to Les Brevieres (Black as well as the easier alternatives) have an away-from-it all feeling you don't get, for example, on the motorways between Tignes and Val.


4.  The Lagon sports centre in Lac is excellent (includes water slides etc and a gym used for "stages d'altitude" by French sports teams eg the very pink Stade Francais).  For a young family, including some non-skiers or kids who don't want to ski all day, this will add an extra dimension - worth staying close by though.


5.  The museum in the Maison de Tignes, charting the flooding of the old village and the history of winter sports in the area, is excellent.


6.  The ESF at Tignes does excellent one-to-one off-piste lessons, and the area is of course renowned for having lots of untapped territory.  Perhaps more interesting, though, are the collective "grand ski" courses the school runs, which include off-piste.  This is unusual, in my experience, and, like the Lagon, could give a week here a very different dimension.


Tignes claims to be the "most sportif" town in France, by the way.  It does always seem to be up to something - eg rather odd summer "beach rugby" tournaments.  The French football team trained here before their ill-fated trip to South Africa.  You can see the happy campers here.