Bourg St M Town Hall, Dec 2017. Has "Architecture of XX Century" status, alongside cinema & Arc 2000 cable car station. Click on photo for more

Friday, 30 May 2014

ELECTION SPECIAL: Européennes 2014

In France, the resurgence of the Front Nationale, which came top in the popular vote, is the story of this year's European Elections.  

The election is also notable for the success of Ipsos in predicting the outcome :-)

In the Alps, the most notable election stat is the result in Haute-Savoie, where 215,322 people voted (a 42% turnout).  This saw a near dead heat, with just 33 votes separating the UMP (48,883 votes) and FN (48,850).

Here's a round-up of what happened in Savoie, and in the Tarentaise in particular.  Savoie tends to vote for the right (see round-up from the 2012 Presidential Election here.  But there are still quite sigificant differences from town to town, as the following trip up the valley shows.

For example, the FN scores just 13% in Peisey-Nancroix, yet registers twice this level barely 20km away in Séez.  The Greens triumph in Landry (one of the few areas to have voted Hollande in round 2 of the 2012 Presidential Election).  In UMP stronghold Val d'Isere, les Verts come in a poor third:

SAVOIE: Top 3 (% of vote)
FN: 24.5
UMP: 23.2
Union de la Gauche: 12.0
Turnout 44%

FN: 25.7
FN: 16.2
Green: 13.8
Turnout 44%

FN 27.0
UMP: 24.4
Union de la Gauche: 11.8
Turnout 38%

UMP 27.2
FN: 25.7
Union de la Gauche: 9.6
Turnout 42%

Aime (for La Plagne)
UMP: 24.4
FN: 22.5
Green: 11.3
Turnout 40%

Landry (below Peisey)
Green: 23.1
UMP: 15.6
Turnout 43%

UMP: 35.7
Union de la Gauche: 13.4
Modem (Bayrou et al): 13.4
(FN: 13.0)
Turnout 41%

Bourg St Maurice
UMP 27.6
FN: 22.4
Green: 13.2
Turnout 35%

Séez (La Rosiere)
FN: 27.7
UMP: 18.5
Green: 12.9
Turnout 41%

Montvalezan (La Rosiere)
UMP 38.3
FN: 28.0
Union de la Gauche: 9.7
Turnout 38%

FN: 27.0
UMP: 25.7
Green: 16.1
Turnout 21% (absent proprietors??)

Val d'Isere
UMP: 49.0
FN: 19.7
Green: 7.3
Turnout 26%

Click here for the full results.

Away from it all:
The path from Les Arcs (Col de la Chal)
towards Peisey-Nancroix

Monday, 26 May 2014


This month's Alpes Magazine devotes almost the entire issue to the GR5 trail, also known as La Traversée des Alpes, an epic 607km walk from Lake Geneva to Nice.  It takes 30 to 45 days, depending on your state of fitness and how quickly you want to go. The official start is at the border village of Saint-Gingolph, which is divided into French and Swiss components.  According to one local: "The English take the London-Geneva-Lausanne leg by train, and then cross Lac Léman by boat, before staying the night in St Gingolph".

Some way down the route (stage 9 to be precise) the path reaches the Tarentaise, rising from the valley floor, under the Vanoise express and into Peisey-Vallandry territory.

This marks the gateway to the Vanoise National Park (website here).

The Tarentaise resorts are always going to struggle to attract summer visitors over and above local day-trippers, proprieteres looking to get their money's worth and cyclists/motorbikers en route for the grands cols.  But the walking, once you get away from the ski lifts, is very good:

Porte de la Vanoise (1)

Porte de la Vanoise (2)

Here's my feeble attempt at a translation of the Alpes Magazine account of the GR5 route through the Tarentaise:

"What a pleasure it is this morning to cross the Isere - still youthful and impetuous - on the descent from the Grande Aiguille Rousse.  After the bridge, the GR5 splits into two for the climb up to Peisey-Nancrois.  Which route to take?  The direct way via Montchavin?   Or the path via Landry?  Consultation of the guide-book and much scratching of heads ensues.  Montchavin is chosen.  The result: two hours of (occasionally steep) walking, until we end up at the Moulin (1264m).  We then enter the Ponturin valley through a mixed forest of oaks, maples and sycamores.  Then follows the refuge de Rosuel, gateway to the national part.  It's ideally situated below the snowcapped slopes of Mont Pourri and the dome de la Sache.  The area around the refuge is a cross-roads for walkers.  You have to say that the possibilities are endless.  There's something for everyone - the Lac de la Plagne, col de l'Entrepote, chapelle des Vernettes, lac de l'Etroit, site of the lead and silver mines.  And there's aso the via ferrata des Bettieres and organised donkey walks and horse riding.  And that's without forgetting the climb to the col du Palet which awaits us the next day.  That night, la gardinenne of the refuge fuels us up for the next day - vegetable soup, reblochon casserole with crozets and lardons.  It's just what we need given what lies ahead."  

For more on summer in Les Arcs click here.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

BEST FOR BEGINNERS? Les Arcs makes the shortlist

Les Arcs has been nominated in the Chillfactore awards in the "Best Resort for Beginners" category.

It is up against Soldeu, Arinsal, Alpe d'Huez, Saas Fee and Cervinia.

Not a bad place to be, although I fear Les Arcs may be something of an outsider when pitted against these rivals.  There is little in the way of resort-level nursery slopes.  For example, the excellent area for beginners above Peisey-Vallandry involves a lift up and down.  Meanwhile the home runs to Arc 1800, 1600 and Plan Peisey are all not without their difficulties for first time skiers.  For me, Alpe d'Huez clearly has the edge, with its mega area of green-piste-gradients just above the resort.

Les Arcs is however an excellent proposition for 2nd and 3rd week skiers - easy blue runs take you from top to bottom of the Grizzly (Peisey-Vallandry), Vagere (Arc 1800) and Arcabulle (Arc 2000) lifts.  And of course we have the new beginners' zone coming soon as part of the remodelling of the Chantel - more here.

Home runs above Arc 1800

Saturday, 17 May 2014

MARGINAL GAINS: A new drag lift for Plagne Soleil

They've been talking about it since 2009, apparently, but the Perso-LaPlagne site reports that Plagne Soleil will have a new drag lift for 2014/15, linking the resort to the summit of Le Dou.  It's all part of a broader reorganisation which includes other drags being taken out of service, as well as the installation of a new mega Colosses chair lift - more here.

For an updated internet tour of the world's most visited ski resort, click here

Sunday, 11 May 2014

LE GRAND DOMAINE: Back on the map

The steadily improving Valmorel-St Francois Longchamp Grand Domaine was the only resort in Savoie to launch an extension to its ski area during 2013/14.

The new Club Med at Valmorel has really boosted the resort, helping the LabelleMontagne group to improve what was a pretty dated lift system.

The new Soleil Rouge chairlift over on the St Francois side opened at the end of December 2013.  This 4-person chair serves new blue and red pistes; latest area map here.

The lift is showcased in this helpful video showcasing its evacuation procedure:

The addition of the Soleil Rouge lift takes the area to 165km of piste, with a good vertical drop of 1400-2550m - more if you go down to Doucy Combelouviere.  

For a tour of Valmorel, click here.

And to get a flavour for St Francois, have a look at their "Happy" video.  For me the Maurienne side is the most attractive side of the mountain, albeit much of the resort isn't as attractive as Valmorel.

All in all, the resort is now firmly back in the Premier League - its proximity to Albertville (VERY close) and Chambery (1 hour) being added bonuses.

Monday, 5 May 2014

SKI SEASON 2013/14: Not too bad, all things considering

Easter Monday's Le Dauphiné (now behind the paywall) saw the paper reviewing the ski season just gone.

The overall conclusions, according to the professionals, are of a "broadly satisfactory" season, with occupancy rates of "between 58% and 69%".

This could be putting a slightly brave face on things.  The article goes on to say that most resorts are reporting a decline since last year, particularly in the Savoie, the southern Alps and the Jura.  The dodgy weather at the start of the season, indifferent economic situation and late school holidays have all been contributory factors....

Other headlines include:
  • A further movement towards last minute and short stays
  • Fewer opting for "all-inclusive" breaks
  • The Brits apparently making a comeback
  • Busy resorts at peak periods (December, February) but terrible low-season. For example, Bonneval-sur-Arc, which says skier numbers are up 3%, posted 86% occupancy at Christmas/New Year, but just 10% during January
  • A "good" season in Val Thorens (+1.5%), which reports 80% occupancy, and will not beclosing until 11 May.  VT says 70% of its visitors are foreign
  • Tignes is stable, which it is quite pleased with performance given the cancellation of the X-Games in March.  They had 30% occupation at Easter, thanks to the Belgians, Danes and Brits
  • Val d'Isere is down 3% - they say that they had a particularly good season last year, making like-for-like improvement difficult.  Oh, and the negative image presented on by pesky lower resorts "in need of snow" hasn't helped Val, where l'or blanc has been plentiful

Empty Chairs: Les Arcs saw a 9% fall in visitor
numbers between 2009-12
(Source: Ski Adventures)

For more on the British market, which saw skier numbers tumble from 1.2m pre-crash to 900,000 in 2012/13, click here.

Sunday, 4 May 2014


The Les Arcs site now has its summer skin, and the lifts will start to move again for the "pre-opening" weekend of 21-22 June.

Visitors to Arc 1800 will notice a flurry of building activity in the Chantel area, for example around the construction of the new swimming pool, planned for December 2014. Swimming will be available to the public at the Hotel du Golf, apparently.

Arc 1800 in summer

In July, the sound of music is a feature of Arc 1800, with the annual Music Festival, which runs from 21st-31st.

The annual Cyclocoeur cycling event runs over the weekend of 8-10 August.

For a quick overview on what to do on a summer visit, click here.