Nice Pebbles rents out apartments to holidaymakers. Friendly, fantastic service and superb apartments. As it was our honeymoon there were flowers, champagne and chocolates for our arrival. We also had waffle robes. We stayed in Alexandre Mari, so incredibly special with views of all of Nice. The restaurants they recommended to us were also very very good, especially Oliviera on Rue de Collet in the Old Town.
My money saving idea - lunchtimes on the Alps can cost you between £8 and £25 per day! If you're on a budget ski holiday then make the most of your half-board chalet. 1. drag yourself down to breakfast. 2. add several extra slices of french bread, ham & cheese to your plate 3. create a selection of ham and cheese rolls 4. when no one is looking, take out your serviette and wrap around (discreetly) your freshly made rolls, and hide quickly in a pocket or bag... et voila, enjoy on an uncrowded rock, with a view of your choice... ALL FOR FREE!
Having had more than a few ski holidays with the major holiday companies I wanted something cheaper, and the only alternative I could find was to use the big companies to book self-catering accomodation. Then I discovered the French youth hostel website (FUAJ). Cheap accomodation and the most amazing food - and lots of it! One year I couldn't take a whole week off to go boarding so had a long weekend, something that is much harder to organise through the big companies, who tend to deal only in week-long packages.
I speak a little French while the friends I went with don't, but they didn't find it weird being in a hostel where everyone else was French. Yes, you have to organise your own transport but in my experience more and more people are doing this anyway.
If you want to learn to ski off-piste or you already love it, head to Tignes this winter. As well as having tons of different routes of varying difficulty, Tignes also has an area dedicated to teaching people how to use their transceivers and probes. The SPOT area (bottom of Grattalu/ Col des Ves lifts) is constantly manned so you can ask questions and try your new knowledge out on the different levels of off-piste near the hut. A thumbs-up to Tignes for providing this free service.
If you find yourself out in Tignes during the school holidays (which in France means the whole of Feb), structure your day so you eat lunch at 11am or 3pm and use the lunch hours to ski. While all the families are queuing to feed their little ones, you can make the most out of empty pistes.
This is a terrific little bed and breakfast run by a really friendly and helpful couple. Dead quiet location in a village 10 mins from Alençon and the A28 motorway. The gardens are beautifully kept (and large, with plenty of seats and tables) with view of the forest.
There are shops and a little restaurant-bar nearby that is a throwback to the time when good country cooking at low prices was the norm in many parts France. Bikes, horseriding, walking paths and all that sort of stuff kept us amused, as well as sightseeing.
Alençon itself is a lovely town if you take the trouble to go into the centre instead of passing by on the route nationale.
La Basse Cour, Ancinnes.
Tel: 02 33 82 01 19
The largest skiable area in the world, the last time I checked. Excellent for all levels of skiers and boarders. Three or four terrain parks for the more adveturous, and plenty of hikable off piste and backcountry. Each of the main resorts, Meribel, Couchevel, and Val thorens have "ski to" accommodation of varying price ranges and for those on a tighter budget there are the smaller resorts at the lower end of the valley.
This is truly the best ski area in the world. Without a shadow of a doubt. I chose Motterat in Meribel to highlight because it is slap bang in the middle of it all. The snow doesn't linger here as much as in Val Thorens but for ease of access to all three valleys you are on to a winner.
It really is time to forget about Chamonix, and its buses, and put the chaos of of Val d'Isere behind you. Les Trois Vallees is blazing ahead and leaving everyone waiting in the lift queue to follow its tracks.
The amount of off-piste that is available, which is safe and easily accessible but not tracked out is immense. Easily keep you occupied for a week. The beauty is you can keep going without going anywhere near the masses on the slopes.
Tip: Always ski in the trees in low clouds.
Start at Courchevel 1850
The glaciers are retreating, the snow is falling later and more lightly and melting sooner in the spring. If you're going skiing in the alps - TAKE THE TRAIN - it's at least ten times less polluting. And you get an extra day on the slopes...
The ideal place for après-ski drinking. This lively seasonaires favourite serves the legendary Mutzig on tap - a locally brewed and exceptionally strong lager. After a few pints of this tasty and throughly warming beer, you will be ready to hit the town even harder than you hit the slopes earlier!
Rue du Bourg, Morzine
This is a great two-star hotel (breakfast only - quiet bar) brilliantly located less than 100m from the foot of La Flegere so it's an easy walk even in boots. The Flegere ski area is wonderful for skiers up to good intermediate skill level, with easy access, short queues, a range of eateries and offering wonderful views of the Mt Blanc range to the south. The hotel is simple but very comfortable and cosy and a number of the rooms have balconies with incredible views of Mt Blanc and the Aiguille du Midi.
There are two ski hire shops close by which offer discounts to guests. The free bus stops right outside the hotel so access to the rest of the Chamonix Valley ski areas couldn't be easier. To top it off, there is a truly lovely tree-lined snowy walking trail between Les Praz and Chamonix central (25mins) which winds it's way along the banks of the River l'Arve and is well lit at night - a terrific way to ease those weary legs at the end of the day as you head into town to party.
If you don't want the nightlife, the Hotel Eden (50 metres walk) offers a really good restaurant with a fine wine list. Parking is easy at the Hotel Les Rhododendrons or the hotel staff can organise a pick up from Geneva.
Prices: 53 euros single, up to 118 euros for a quadruple room. Booking is easy, efficient and reliable using the web.
100 Route de Tines, Les Praz de Chamonix, - Chamonix Mont Blanc 74400 - France
Phone: 04 50 53 06 39
Fax: 04 50 53 55 76
It's a lively, international après-ski bar with young, friendly staff and punters. It's perfectly situated so that after sweeping majestically down the Olympic black run 'The Face' you can wander straight in. And try to explain why you have snow in your hair on a sunny day...
At the foot of the Solaise and Bellevarde Express chair lifts.
The guidebooks I read before setting off to Nice failed to mention Cagnes. I wanted to go to Renoir's museum so that's why I went. I was very taken with the place. I imagine it's like Brighton was in the 1960s but with a lot more class and a lot more sun. Pay this place a visit. There are restaurants a plenty and they are much cheaper than in Nice yet to the same standard. There are so many children here having fun in the sun too. A very sweet family holiday place which I intend to recommend to my niece's ma and pa.
This is a fantastic restaurant on Rue Lascaris just off the port. It's fantastic and well deserves its Michelin star. The chef is Finnish and it's just a little bit different to the usual whilst still tasting great. The menu changes every day and you can eat outside too.
Tel: 33 4 9708 1480
An absolutely invaluable guide book to everything Chamonix. I picked up a copy last time I was out there and it really did help me experience Chamonix. Loads of information on great places to ski, shop, eat, drink, and party, as well as the history of the place, where to stay, and even a complete phone directory.
This absolutely magnificent building and grounds were once the home to the King of France and his Family. When you have a look at it you can quite litterally see why the impoverashed citizens of France had a revolution. It is grand beyond belief.
There are no two ways about it - a day here is not enough. Two days and maybe you will have seen most of it but by no means all. I will be returning again soon and perhaps will be able to catch one of the shows they put on outdoors in the garden over the summer months.
A worthwhile train trip away from the center of Paris to the station at Versailles. Easy to get to and easy to get into once you are there. I would recommend going to the tourist office that is near by the palace to get a pass. This means you will avoid any queues there are on the way in. Unfortunatly it doesn't give you much of a discount on the train and no discount on sandwiches but still very worth while. There was a rumour that you could pick up a day passport for the palace at train stations but I never managed to find them there.
A great day or two out for all the family.
La Chene is the gite we stayed in this summer - it's FAB! (and suprisingly affordable). Big and spacious even with two families in it. Lovely back terrace with views across the field and great sunsets. The kids loved the upstairs rooms and the 'wet room' almost as much as the heated pool and bike rides.
Although the area and the Deux Sèvres region isn't all that touristy there's no shortage of things to do. We enjoyed days out at the Trogldyte village (caves that were used as houses up to 40 years ago), in the pretty town of Montreuil Bellay, and at the amazing Futuroscope in Poitiers.
We're hoping to go back early next year with some friends on a 'grown-up' break as the owners offer a local 'degustation' wine tasting tour.
Driving there was easier than we expected - ferry to Caen then 4.5 hrs on the autoroutes ending up in peaceful french countryside. If we come for a long weekend we'll fly to Angers and hire a car as that's cheap and easy.
Top tip: If you do stay here, eat out at least once at the Logis de Pompois - AMAZING 4* gormet food (and not too painful on the chequebook).
La Chene is around an hour or so from Tours.
www.gites-en-france.info or call the owners: 00335 49 80 26 58
Nearest airports are Angers or Poitiers, or ferry to Le Harve or Caen and drive...
Le Logis de Pompois, BP86 Sainte Verge 79102 Thouars
Tel: (0)5 49 96 27 84
In the UK we turn our old churches into bars and clubs, in Bordeaux the church St Simeon has become Utopia, an arty cinema.
I wouldn't normally go to the cinema when I'm abroad, but Utopia would have to be an exception. It has a good cafe and five screens showing good films from all over - France, the UK, the US, Bosnia, Algeria, Hungary, Italy, Egypt, Iran, Tunisia, Japan, Finland, Mongolia, Spain, Romania, and China were all represented by films within a couple of months when I last checked. The architecture of many of the salles just adds to the atmosphere and convinces you that you are somewhere special. Films are normally subtitled.
5 place Camille Jullian
The Grand Theatre hosts the National Opera of Bordeaux, with a season of opera, ballet and classical music running largely from September to June. The building itself is beautiful and ornate.
Concerts en balade are held on the first Sunday of every month and have a uniform seat price of 5 euros. They usually take place in the morning or early afternoon and cover music from Mozart to Messaien and Holst to Haydn. You can reserve online.
Place de la Comédie
For the best ski or snowboard holiday look no further. I spent last season there and
the staff at Marmotte Mountain made the whole trip. Great skiing and snowboarding is guaranteed and the hospitality was the best I've ever come across.
Without doubt book and go - you will have the time of your life in the most serene environment with a nightlife to get the most party-hungry excited. I can't recommend it highly enough. It is God's back garden.
Marmotte Mountain Retreat, Argentiere.
Tel : +33 (0) 6 82 89 15 23.
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