Alison, one of our team, and her family and friends headed to Montgenèvre for their ski trip. They asked themselves the question, is this the perfect resort for families with teen skiers? Find out below...
Our Easter ski holiday resort requirements have changed as our children get older. Six years ago, when we first started skiing together with other families as part of a big group, we were looking for a resort that was a manageable size, had ski school on the doorstep and some confidence building green runs. Val Cenis ticked all these boxes and was the perfect resort to introduce our children to skiing. Our accommodation at the Alpages de Val Cenis, close to the Pré Novel chairlift, had a great outdoor pool where, for the first time, we experienced swimming whilst it was snowing! The size of the ski area meant we had plenty to explore but it was easy to get back for ski school pick ups and the friendly restaurants were perfect for family dinners.
This year, now with confident skiing teens in tow, we agonised over our choice of resort. France has so much to offer for a family ski holiday from the vast Tignes Val d'Isère ski area with kilometres of terrain to explore and a world-beating reputation to the charm of traditional villages like Les Carroz d'Araches that offers skiing in the Grand Massif ski area.
A couple of our group had been to Montgenèvre before on trips with friends, and loved the relaxed Franco-Italian feel (the resort is right on the border with Italy). The promise of April sunshine, good snow conditions, with skiing on both sides of the resort, and a link to the Italian Via Lattea (Milky Way), plus authentic Italian pizza swayed us; so we found ourselves driving to the historic resort of Montgenèvre in the southern French Alps for our Easter ski holiday.
On paper, the drive to Montgenèvre can look a little longer than to other resorts (we passed signs for other resorts we'd been to but still had a bit further to go!). However, the drive from the Eurotunnel somehow felt easier and shorter as we found the excellent French motorways uncrowded, and we could stay on the motorway most of the way there.
We stopped en route in St Michel de Maurienne to shop, and were able to pick up everything we needed for the week in its excellent Carrefour Market. This offered great value and we then used the smaller mini-markets in resort for fresh produce. The quickest route to Montgenèvre takes you through the Tunnel de Fréjus, which added to the cost of our tolls, but coming out of the tunnel into Italy (a novelty in itself) and having only a short easy road through Oulx, Cesana and Clavière to Montgenèvre made it worthwhile.
Most of our group stayed in apartments at Le Napoléon, a 4-star self-catering residence that is ideally located on the main road in Montgenèvre just opposite the snow front (some of our apartments had views over the slopes). The residence has great facilities including a good-sized swimming pool, hot tub, sauna and steam room. Of all the places we've stayed this felt like the most convenient (obviously helped by the fact that our children are now all old enough to carry their own skis!). In the mornings, ahead of ski school. we crossed the road, donned our skis and in a minute were at the ski school meeting point. Although the friendly reception team could order croissants and bread (that was delivered to your door the next morning!), on a couple of mornings it was lovely to start the day with a walk to the boulangerie a couple of doors down. We queued with the ski instructors getting their morning espresso, to pick up fresh pains au chocolat and a baguette for lunch.
We'd hired our equipment through Peak Retreats and the ski hire shop, Astier Sports, was also just a stone's throw from the residence. We'd headed to the shop on arrival in resort anticipating queues but the whole process was seamless. To find us the perfect ski boots, the team had a brilliant piece of kit that took a 3-D scan of your foot, this then matches you to a specific pair of boots that will best suit y our feet.
We'd booked into morning ski school lessons with the ESF (French Ski School) for the week, and it was a nice surprise to learn that most of their ski school lessons start on Sunday afternoons in Montgenèvre, which makes for a much more relaxed start to the week as you have the chance to get your bearings on Sunday morning (and have a lie-in, very teen friendly!). The benefits of going en masse are that there is always someone you know in your ski school class. Our older teens all ended up in one group with a brilliant Italian instructor called Alberto, who really got them. They really made the most of the ski area - heading over to Italy, skiing some challenging terrain and having fun in the snow park. Our younger teens were also with friends and, even when they weren't, friendships were soon formed. One of our newer skiers made a friend in ski school and then skied with them in the afternoons on a few occasions, practicing what they'd learnt in the morning and boosting each other's confidence.
It was post-ski school that Montgenèvre really came into it's own. Keen to make the most of the slopes, our group aren't all ones for long lunches, most days we made a picnic and left it in the ski lockers ready to pick up after ski school. We had a near perfect system - whilst everyone made their way to the boardwalk on the snow front to find a bench (of which there were plenty), one member of each family headed back to the ski room at Le Napoléon to pick up the picnic, we'd then sit on the boardwalk in the sunshine for lunch. If our teens were ready to head off but the adults needed a little more rest, they could take advantage of the short drag lift just opposite to do a few circuits without us losing sight of them. There was even a public convenience just below the boardwalk for the inevitable loo stop.
Our favourite spot for afternoon skiing all together was the Gondrans sector of the ski area. At the top of the Gondrans lift there was a choice of two wide reds (the challenging Prés or Sources), a nice gentle green (Sagnes), or one of two routes through the snow park (one with banked turns and jumps, the other with jumps that you could avoid if you didn't fancy them). Almost all routes met at the foot of a long drag lift (l'Alp) meaning that we could all do the runs at our own pace, knowing that we were in the same area. At the foot of the green, or access by taking the blue Poussins run from the bottom of the drag lift, there was the Café des Anges, which was the perfect mid-afternoon pitstop (their frites were delicious!). Our teens loved the independence this sector of the ski area afforded them.
We also loved the reds on the French side from the top of the Rocher de l'Aigle and Crête lifts, and the surprise of the Chalvet side of the resort, which from the village looked fairly limites but in fact opened up into a huge snowy bowl with perfect wide blues that were ideal for skiing in the morning before heading to the Gondrans side of the resort in the afternoon. The Chalvet side of the resort also had the benefit of the Terrasses mountain restaurant, which had (as the name suggests) one of the most beautiful terraces with outdoor sofas perfect for lounging, and some incredible views!
In term's of après, the Graal Café was lively in the evening and served crêpes, which meant popping out for dessert had to be done! Dining out as a large group of 45 is always a challenge but thanks to a recommendation from David, one of our group's ESF ski instructors, we had a fun dinner all together just over the border in Clavière at Masaniello; a restaurant built in the form of an igloo, with a proper pizza oven for real Italian pizzas, which were a huge hit! We also tried out the Monty Express mountain coaster, an exhilarating sledge on rails, which descends 300m on a 1.4km track through the forest, before passing through two tunnels to the finish. The tourist office organised activities throughout the week too, we loved testing out different types of sledges (a Yooner and a Zipfy) in a free post-ski sledging session.
I think it's fair to say that we loved Montgenèvre. The relaxed vibe, the design of the ski area that allowed our teens some independence, and the perfectly located accommodation, not to mention the pizzas, made this the ideal resort for our group of families.
Where's next for Alison, her family and friends?
We've got our eyes on Tignes potentially for next year, but I think we left a little bit of our hearts in Montgenèvre....