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Hiking above Peisey Vallandry

Saturday, 25 February 2012

EAT FOR A WEEK IN LES ARCS: A (sort of) Gourmet Guide

Les Arcs is far from being one of the top resorts when it comes to mountain restaurants. In fact, it's fair to say that there simply aren't enough of them.  The contrast with La Plagne is marked.  The Montchauvin/Les Coches area seems to have more places to eat than the entire Les Arcs area.  And over at Plagne Centre, there are many many restaurants to choose from.  Arc 1800 has Chez Boubou.

It's hardly the end of the world, however.  Here are six very different restaurants you could visit during a week's ski break.

Day 1: Above 1800: Blanche Murée

Probably our favourite over the years.  Good in a bad weather day, with a nice terrace where you can drink cheap rosé when the sun is out.  About 12-13€ for a plat du jour.  If you are charming and try to speak French, you may get a free genepi at the end.



Day 2: Bad weather day: The Arpette

This is a bit of a service-station below the snowpark, but usually buzzing as it's a real meeting point.  It changed hands recently, and the owners have now bought the former Poudreuse on the Peisey-Vallandry slopes. It's a good place to be when the weather is really bad, and there is a restaurant with cosy fire if you want to upgrade. There is a large terrace outside if the weather is good, including an Austrian-style "schnee-bar" (kind of).


Day 3: Excursion: Villaroger, La Ferme

The Villaroger side of the mountain is a big contrast to the main Arc 2000 motorway bowl. It's steep(ish), takes you over into another valley, and has some very retro slow lifts. There's also never really anyone there.  Ski all the way down to Le Pré, and have lunch at La Ferme, which is a proper old hamlet, just by the lift.  The picture below is a bit harsh, as it was taken in April!


Day 4: Above Peisey: Hotel de la Vanoise

This is a nice Logis de France, with a good menu.  More expensive than Blanche Murée but cheaper than Chalet de l'Arc (see below).  Try the Quiche Lorraine.  It's upgraded itself in recent years, with a new spar and indoor pool.  Be in Arc 2000 at about 1145, take the Arcabulle lift up, and then ski all the way down to Peisey - more than 1,000m of vertical before lunch, the perfect run!  It's just above the Peisey chair.  Again, the picture attached is a little harsh, as it was mid-April.  Views over to the Nancroix valley are very good.


Day 5: Running out of money: Arcabulle Cafe

This is a new establishment in the Arc 2000 bowl, with a great outdoor area, and cheap prices.  For example you can buy pizza in slices and beer in cans.  A good option if you are starting to feel your holiday money draining away.


Day 6: Blow-out: Chalet de l'Arc

This is getting quite well known away from Les Arcs, and visiting skiers from La Plagne tend to make a bee-line for it.  It has some enticing tables inside and out, and a fairly unique menu (at least for Les Arcs).  Try the mince beef or cheese pie, or the outrageously large pasties.  Prices are on the higher side.  And the service is rarely that personal.  But you should probably go there at least once.  It even has its own website.

Elsewhere

Personal views of course, but I'm less keen on the places in Arc 1950 (Chalet Luigi, for example) which have Val d'Isere prices and lack soul.  The Creche restaurant at the top of the Transarc is good for drinks but over-priced for lunch, given it's self-service etc.  If you ski down to Arc 1800, the restaurants at Place Miravidi are all open for lunch - you can ski to them if you take the descent below the Chantel MGM apartments.  Le Solliet above Villaroger has great views, though haven't been there for a while.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC: Alpine Pop Videos

I am sure there are more, but here are four....in honour of those who felt moved to place their music against an Alpine backdrop.

Star billing, of course, goes to Wham's Last Christmas.  This is the extended, seven minute, version...



For me, the most bizarre of all is The Police doing an alternative Don't Stand So Close To Me video, complete with impeccable Santa mogul-bashing skiers, and Sting stripping off.  Can this be real?



A few years earlier, we find Abba appearing on the BBC's snowtime special, with "What's the Name of the Game".  February 1979, Les Diablerets.  Although in this account of the shoot, Benny says he was born with "skis on his feet", I think the Swiss Ski School might have a word or two to say about their style, shoulders etc....


Also in 1979, and also in Switzerland, we have The Jacksons.  I believe this was shot in Leysin.



And it was 40 years ago that we had Tom Jones in the snow, Walking in a Winter Wonderland.  Can't locate the venue for this one, I'm afraid.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

THE ALBERTVILLE OLYMPICS: 20 Years On

The Albertville Olympics were the last to be held on the same year as the summer games.  They were the first to have a unified German team and a "Unified team" from the former Soviet republics.  Both did rather well - here's the medal table.

Albertville saw off Sofia and Falun (Sweden) to win the games, and follow Grenoble (1968) and Chamonix (1924).  Nineteen years later, Annecy, having beaten Nice and Grenoble for the French candidature, flopped dismally against Munich and the victorious Pyeongchang (South Korea).

It's an unprepossessing place, pop 17,000, at the junction of the Combe de Savoie (the flat valley from Chambery/Grenoble), the Tarentaise, Beaufortain, and Val d'Arly.  A bit like Penrith being the venue for a British version.

The venues for the Games were of course mainly in the various ski stations, and the RN90 was upgraded, putting an end to some monstrous traffic jams.

Some of the facilities you will see in resort today are a direct result of the games - for example the rather excellent ice rink at Meribel.

The speed skiing was held at Les Arcs, and marred by the death of Swiss speed skier Nicolas Bochatay on the morning of the event.

The downhill race was on La Face de Bellevard Val d'Isere, with Graham Bell finishing 33rd, just behind brother Martin (29th).

This was of course four years after Eddie the Eagle's triumphant Calgary tour de force (cue video):


There were actually some pretty strong British performances at Albertville.  For example Wilf Reilly finished 5th in the 1,000 metres short-track speed skating.

Perhaps the highlight of the speed skating, however, came from Austria:



The second notable performance was the British team at the Bobsleigh track in La Plagne, who were 6th in the 2-man and 7th in the 4-man, beating our French rivals on both occasions...

Although I can find no record of this on the results website, apparently Australia had a bobsled team in the 8-man section to complement Glenn Turner and Paul Narracott in the 2-man.  You can see a reunion of these fine athletes here:


Twenty years on, the future of the Bobsleigh course in La Plagne (the only one in France) is by no means assured.  It's not helped by being outside the resort and indeed relatively isolated half way up the Tarentaise.  More here and here.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

THE "B" ROADS OF LES ARCS: Avoiding the February Crowds

The February holidays see Les Arcs, like most of the other big resorts, getting very, very full.  To have a lift system in place which eradicated queues completely would of course be utterly uneconomic.  So, February visitors, tied by school holiday dates, have to be ready for busy slopes.

That said, when there's snow in the lower resorts (which of course there most certainly is this year...), this does tend to reduce pressure on Les Arcs et al.  And indeed, with the full area open (in contrast to 2011), there is more scope for everyone to spread out a bit.

February also sees various events in the resort.  People on British half term will miss the "LA session", which is fun and attracts a good crowd - see below.  For a full list of events click here.


But if you are around in February, you will still need to plan your days carefully to avoid spending too much time here:


Here are some ways to avoid the crowds:

1.  Have an early lunch - be at your chosen restaurant at 12 and you should be fine both to get a table and to get back on the pistes while everyone else is eating.

2.  Take the slow lifts.  You can avoid the biggest queues by relaxing slightly and taking some of the remaining 1980s lifts: Renard will take you to 2000; Comborciere will link you back into the area above Arc 1600 (including the fab Malgovert red run), and Grand Col is rarely too busy, taking you to more than 2800m in the process.

3.  Ski anywhere in Villaroger.  Or potter around the Les Granges area below 1600.

4.  Take a day trip to La Rosiere.  Park your car at Les Ecudets car park just above Séez, get yourself a full area pass, and ski over to the sparsely populated pistes of La Thuile.

Enjoy!

Above La Thuile