Finding a low-fuss, peaceful winter bolt-hole with good skiing, great food and a distinct lack of lift queues has got to be the Holy Grail of ski destinations. Add in short travel times and a spa on the premises and we were seriously considering keeping this little gem to ourselves. Thankfully, the little known Haute Maurienne in France has more than enough to go around, so we’re sharing after all.
We visited the beautiful valley of the Haute Maurienne, staying literally on the doorstep of the Val Cenis ski area, and also with quick and easy access to Bessans and Bonneval. With a flight time of an hour and a half from the UK, and cost effective flights with BA (www.ba.com) from London City to Chambery – four times a week and from £67 per person- meaning a bus transfer of around the same amount of time at the other end (buses bookable via La Maison de Val Cenis from €65 return per person), it’s an incredibly painless journey. It’s easy by train too, with the TGV from Paris taking just 4 hours to Modane, which is 45 minutes from Val Cenis.
Staying in the beautifully appointed four star self-catering Residence Les Chalets de Flambeau, available for a week from €791 for an apartment for 2-4 people, the main ski area is just a short distance and clearly visible from the balcony at the rear. With its own spa, complete with sizeable pool, jacuzzis, steam room, sauna and treatment rooms, this modern, stylish chalet complex offers all you could want in the way of comfort. A small convenience store just around the corner is handy for day to day essentials.
The Val Cenis ski area offers 80km of pistes, catering to all levels, but is particularly ideal for intermediates. Beginners will be delighted by Europe’s longest green run, the scenic and genuinely enjoyable tree lined L’Escargot that winds for 10km back and forth across the mountain. Other ski areas (7 in total) easily reached via the free ski bus shuttle include the incredibly scenic Bonneval, just 25 minutes from Val Cenis, which although it boasts only a handful of lifts, makes up for that in the sheer quality and character of its runs and the stunning unspoilt mountain surroundings. For the really intrepid, it’s also an excellent area for guided off-piste excursions. A 6-day lift pass for Val Cenis is €151, and Bonneval €22.50 for the day.
Perfect for families or for those who prefer to mix it up a bit, this area has a variety of non-ski activities available too, such as dog sledding high up on the plateau around the beautiful Lac du Mont Cenis with www.husky-adventure.net , and also snowshoeing and cross country skiing. Nighttime snowshoeing excursions to a rural restaurant are a great way to build up a hunger and give a different perspective on the countryside. For the really adventurous, why not try biathlon? Learning to cross country ski in the lovely Bessans area, at the same time as target shooting a rifle is a truly unique challenge.
If apres-ski is crucial to your enjoyment of a winter holiday, this area may not be entirely for you. The apres here is fairly low key and focused on quiet drinks with friends or a really good meal out, rather than raucous clubs and dancing on tables. The bar Le Criterium, just a short walk from the Residences, is perfect for that post-ski nightcap and serves good food too, both lunchtimes and in the evenings. Other good options for eating out include L’Arcelle in the village of Lanslevillard.
Val Cenis and the Haute Maurienne in general are a perfect choice for those looking for a relaxing break with an authentically French ambience and superb skiing on peaceful slopes.
By Lara Dunn