We were lucky enough to have some family come to visit us during October and November which was a first-ever European trip for them. One of the things they really wanted to do while here was to go skiing. In Australia, going skiing is not a cheap or easy thing to do because there are only a couple of spots where there is actually any snow in the whole country. As we are from Perth and those mystical places are over in the eastern states (over 3500km away) and up in the mountains, many people from Perth rarely get to see the stuff, if ever, which is why we get so excited about it.
We had been on a skiing holiday in Australia, but there was a lot of snow cannons and not much of the real stuff falling from the sky. Not to mention with the crowds present, the snow that was there was pretty hard and icy anyway.
So, October came and off we headed to the snow for 2 days of playtime. I had to do a lot of research beforehand to find the most likely place that would have snow at that time of year and that turned out to be Tignes in the French alps.
They were open for their “Autumn season” which was ideal for us. There were several other things that had to be planned carefully and then they all had to work on the day for this little trip to be a success. We had a baby in our group so there were extra considerations for our precious little bundle.
First we had to choose the location and book some suitable accommodation and hire the ski gear. We then decided to hire a car that was bigger than our little old jalopy so that we had more luggage room and also so that we wouldn’t have to worry about breakdowns up in the mountains. We needed it to actually snow that week and we needed to figure out how to use snow chains and possibly drive on bad roads. We also had to hope that the baby could cope with a 7 hour car trip there and back, and we were trying to do all of this without going bankrupt. There were times I felt a bit overwhelmed trying to get it all together.
But, we were lucky; the snow gods smiled on us and our little trip away turned out to be absolutely perfect. Our darling baby was so good in the car we were amazed; the snow arrived in the village just as we got there so we had two beautiful days for skiing; an English friend recommended an online site for booking the ski gear (which saved us almost 50% on the cost, thankyou!), and we found the best hotel possible for our family group!
On the morning of departure, TC and I went & collected the hire car, we loaded up with bags and baby at the house and were then on the road for the 550km drive. Why does this part always take longer than planned? This did go surprisingly well with rest stops and a good lunch break where our bub could have a stretch and a little play. We got to the mountains as it got dark, something I was extremely grateful for, as two of us are very nervous passengers on narrow, steep, roads so the dark hid those particular horrors for us! However, these roads meant that we made much slower progress for the last 30km or so and arrived later than we had hoped. Thankfully there was only evidence of ice on the roads for the last 5km.
We pulled into the village at 7pm to find the guys at the ski shop just locking up, but on hearing that we had booked our gear, they were so very helpful and sorted us all out. From there it was a few metres up the road to the hotel and we could finally put away the car keys and relax.
So, which hotel? Hotel Vanoise, located smack bang in the centre of the Val Claret village at Tignes.
This hotel is a small, family owned & run business and what a lovely place it is. I first found the hotel via the Tignes official website, here, but I am a fan of going directly to businesses whenever I can, so I quickly discovered the hotel’s own site and booked directly. Being used to extremely inflated Australian accommodation prices, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the surprising rates here which also included breakfast. This was starting to seem too good to be true.
I don’t know about you, but I have never really known how the star-system works for accommodation. I kept looking at the 2-star rating for the hotel, then reading the descriptions and I kept getting the feeling that the two didn’t really match. I mean, the hotel sounded clean, comfortable, well located, with ensuite bathrooms, adequate heating… but only 2 stars? And all this for less than the equivalent of $100 Australian per night? What? How?
I decided to trust my instincts and went ahead to reserve two rooms and I am certainly not sorry I did. I am calling this a find!
I went with the “superior” rooms just so that we had maximum space (I had learned by now that room sizes in general in Europe are very much smaller than hotels in Australia and Asia) and these rooms were definitely adequate for two people. Our room actually had a queen bed plus a single so you could get three in the room if you needed. There were also lots of little cupboards and spaces to put things, so the room did not have to be cluttered all. The other room had space for the baby cot (all made up ready for us) so this was perfect. All rooms have a balcony and, since the hotel is so central to the village, the views from all rooms include part of the village with the surrounding mountains as a backdrop. Stunning.
The hotel is also surrounded by several chairlifts – not running during our stay in autumn – that would be perfect in the high season. Literally ski-in, ski-out; a term which had always puzzled this little antipodean. In other words, once you are dressed ready for the slopes, you don’t have to trek for ages or take any transport to get to the chairlifts. Even the funicular railway, which takes you straight up to the top of the Motte glacier in an impressive 7 minutes, was only about 4 minutes’ walk from the front door.
Once we were inside the hotel, it got even better. This is a true family business, being owned and run by a brother, sister and husband team, along with a small number of hired staff. On arrival, it was clear that we were already expected. We were given our keys and an explanation that we could also take a dinner option, at the very reasonable price of 15Euro per head, which we quickly decided to take up given the hour we had arrived. We found out later what good value that was, but in the meantime we headed to our rooms to settle in. The dinner turned out to be a 3-course meal which included fresh daily soup, a small salad buffet, a plat du jour (dish of the day) cooked to order, followed by a small dessert buffet. One of the hired staff is their chef who comes in each day and wow, she produced some wonderful, hearty, homely, French meals during our stay.
We did venture out to other establishments for lunch, but we were most pleased with our dinners in the hotel each night. Before dinner, TC and I would enjoy an aperitif in the small bar, chatting with the owners and other patrons before joining our family for dinner. One thing that still amazes me is the ability to take your pets with you on holidays in Europe, and we managed to get a good dose of kitty-cat-patting when we met Leo, another resident guest that week; perfect since we miss our little moggy so much!
Mornings were for skiing, we spent our afternoons exploring the village (which didn’t take long as it is not very big and was also mostly closed as the proper season hadn’t started) and our evenings in the hotel. After dinner each night, we enjoyed the lounge bar, either on our own or with other guests, chatting and playing games. We loved the personal touch in the hotel, things like when I ordered a glass of champagne, our hosts explained this particular, little known champagne house happened to be friends of their parents (and it was good champagne too, I wish I could remember which house!) and being offered a taste of the local digestif, good for warming the bones after a day on the slopes.
What about the snow? I was the voluntary babysitter for the duration, firstly because I love our darling baby to bits and couldn’t get enough of him while he was over here, and secondly because I had had reconstructive knee surgery not so long ago and had no desire for more torn or broken bits thankyou. So while I was happily trudging around with the stroller and one little cutie-pie bundled up to the nose in his snowsuit, exploring the village thoroughly and enjoying coffees around the place, the others spent two days out on the slopes with a ski instructor and snowboarded until they were exhausted.
They pronounced the first day’s snow to be a little bumpy and icy in spots, but the second day was much better. Fortunately and unfortunately there was great snowfall on our last night which meant we got to experience it for the first time in our lives, but also that in the morning as we were leaving, there was fabulous snow on the ground and skiers were even playing on the flatter parts right next to the village. Oh well, c’est la vie!
Because of that snowfall, we got our first experience with fitting and using snowchains (thanks to youtube and our lovely hoteliers for their advice). We successfully drove out of the village and after about only 20min we were able to whip them off again and be on our way. Leaving in daylight meant that we got to see the full beauty of the mountains at the beginning of the snowy season.
All in all it was a wonderful short snow break, but one that we will all remember very fondly.
And since I asked “Who was seen in Tignes?”, the answer is “I was!”
I had a friend in London watching the webcams so I made sure I was captured by the Val Claret webcam, 1st November at 10:40am. Even though its a little far away, you can see me with our baby in the stroller – indicated by the red arrow!