A Christmas adventure in Montgenèvre

This year we chose to spend Christmas in Montgenèvre, France’s oldest ski resort, which has just celebrated its 110th anniversary. 

Montgenèvre has a good early season snow record and is part of the Milky Way ski area, enabling one to ski to Italy for lunch. Being slightly less accessible than some better-known French resorts, it retains a friendly, “off the beaten track” feel.

Enjoying hot chocolate at Chalet Montsoleil Claviere in Italy

Enjoying hot chocolate at Chalet Montsoleil Claviere in Italy

We opted to drive and booked the Flexiplus Eurotunnel ticket as part of the Peak Retreats package. After an early start, we were glad to be able to pick up coffees and breakfast at the Flexiplus lounge, whilst the children were handed Eurotunnel fidget spinners – splendid! We stopped en route at the Novotel in Beaune and went for a quick drive around the historic town centre, which was beautifully adorned with Christmas lights at the time of our visit. After taking a wrong turn, we found ourselves bouncing over cobbled streets in the fully laden car and the children pleaded to be taken back to the hotel for supper!

The next day we stopped to do a food shop at Intermarché in Modane, just before the Fréjus tunnel. From there it was a short drive on to Montgenèvre.

Our accommodation for the week was a two-bed apartment at Chalet des Dolines, at the foot of the slopes, in the Hameau de L’Obélisque. Just across the piste was the family-run Cocci Market, which could be described as the Fortnums of Alpine supermarkets, having an impressive deli counter. However, for our family, the biggest attraction of this residence was being able to ski to and from the door. The ski room was excellent with spacious lockers, heated boot warmers and plenty of benches. Chalet des Dolines only has fifty-five apartments meaning that the pool and relaxation area did not get too crowded and the residence had a peaceful and cosy ambience. 

It's so easy to ski-in ski-out at Chalet des Dolines

It's so easy to ski-in ski-out at Chalet des Dolines

As it was the first week of the winter season we were able to access our apartment on the Friday and benefit from an extra day’s skiing. On Christmas Day everyone gathered round the open fire downstairs for drinks and canapés and a visit from le Père Noël!

When we arrived in Montgenèvre, we were overjoyed to see an expanse of white in all directions. No longer having the constraint of ski school, we enjoyed exploring the furthest corners of the Monts de la Lune ski area in superb snow conditions. The south-facing slopes on the Serre Thibaud side were bathed in sunshine for much of the time and we particularly liked the Chalvet red piste in this area. We also ventured over the back of the mountain and found ourselves on a long, scenic and deserted run called Baisses, which was great fun if a little icy late afternoon, as it was deep in a valley and did not get much sun. 

Looking towards the 'Chalvet' red piste

Looking towards the 'Chalvet' red piste

Our favourite mountain restaurant of the week was Les Terraces, situated at the top of the Chalvet gondola. At Les Terraces you can snuggle under a faux fur throw on a comfy outdoor sofa and take in spectacular mountain views. We also enjoyed a couple of delicious lunches at their indoor restaurant where you can hang your helmet on a bespoke seatback holder!

Our favourite mountain restaurant, Les Terraces!

Our favourite mountain restaurant, Les Terraces!

On the north facing side of the resort we love the many scenic tree-lined runs and our son’s favourite this time was Les Rhodos. We also enjoyed going back to the Gondrons area where there are wide open runs for all levels of skier and there is the added attraction of the snowpark. 

At the foot of his favourite run, the 'Les Rhodos' black piste

At the foot of his favourite run, the 'Les Rhodos' black piste

As we skied off the Gondrans chair and down Les Prés red piste, I cast my mind back to our first holiday in Montgenèvre, when our now twelve-year-old daughter was five and skied straight down it, forgetting to snow plough, reducing us to nervous wrecks. She did not remember at all! However, she said that Les Prés was still her favourite piste.

View from the fort in the Gondrons area

View from the fort in the Gondrons area

After a few days of sunshine, the weather turned colder and it started to snow. As we skied down to Claviere in whiteout conditions, it was not long before our teenage son was muttering that he did not do greens or poling. Fortunately, his frustration ceased when we skied off the Serra Granet chair at the halfway point and discovered untracked powder on the piste itself. The excitement was too much for my husband who, for the first time in living memory, lost his balance and did a face plant in deep powder, much to everyone’s amusement.

After lots of fun skiing the tree-lined reds in Claviere, the day’s adventures continued with a trip from Colle Bercia down the blue 90 bis piste towards Cesana. At such high altitude, and seemingly in the back of beyond, we were surprised to find some pretty chalets at the side of the piste. We then left civilisation behind and passed some impressive cliffs, before finding ourselves on a beautiful five-mile run through a forest of snow-covered trees.

Skiing down the '90 bis' blue piste in Claviere

Skiing down the '90 bis' blue piste in Claviere

We reluctantly concluded it was time to turn for home, starting with the two chairlifts back up Colle Bercia. The Bercia chair came round faster than expected and suddenly the corner of the chair hit the back of my leg with some force, sending me flying. My bemused family found themselves having to carry on up the mountain whilst the lift operator summoned a Eur$200 skidoo to transport me to Claviere.

The 'Sanga Logna' chairlift....the lift before the 'Bercia'!

The 'Sanga Logna' chairlift....the lift before the 'Bercia'!

Fortunately, by the time the family had skied back down, the application of half a tube of Ibuleve had worked its magic on my leg and things were looking up. I found myself signing a form entirely in Italian, waiving my right to a skidoo rescue, having decided to carry on skiing. Fortunately, I made it back to Claviere on skis and my husband managed to get the last lift back to Montgenèvre to pick me up by car. By this time the gentle snow had turned to a blizzard, necessitating snow chains for the final climb back to the residence.

 

With the fantastic snow conditions during our holiday, it was all we could do to entice the children off the slopes at 4:30 and there was little time for après ski. Nevertheless, the resort had plenty of events laid on for Christmas week. One of the highlights was a torchlit descent by the ESF instructors followed by a fireworks display. Later in the week, Apeak ski school organised a family torchlit descent from the top of the Chalvet gondola. Other après ski attractions included the Monty Express rollercoaster and an ice rink. 

The ESF torchlit descent on Christmas Eve

The ESF torchlit descent on Christmas Eve

As we dined at a newly opened restaurant called Isabel on the last evening, we watched in excitement as large flakes of snow started falling. The huge snowfall carried on all night and by the time of our departure the fresh snow was thigh deep on the piste and driving conditions in the resort were getting challenging. In the course of the day’s journey to Reims, we drove through snow, slush and enormous puddles generated from the torrential rain and melting snow. At last we could say that it was definitely worth having snow chains and winter tyres! After a long day on the road, with the last hour punctuated by hundreds of flashing red wind turbine lights, it was cheering to finally reach the Novotel and realise that we were not too late for supper.

A last taste of France with Macarons at the Eurotunnel FlexiPlus lounge

A last taste of France with Macarons at the Eurotunnel FlexiPlus lounge