A rustic restaurant in Les Houches, just off the Col de Voza run (accessed on a signed track through the trees). It's an old farmhouse lovingly converted by an Australian woman, Julie, and her French husband, Claude. Excellent homemade slow-cooked dishes; about €15 for mains
The best way to avoid disappointment is to combine hunting for the Northern Lights with something else that's fun and different. Tromsø, Norway, is a great place to do just that. I went dog sledding which was so much fun I nearly forgot why I was there in the first place. With seven Huskies dragging you into the quiet wilderness on a sledge, the Northern Lights is an added bonus if it shows up, but even without it you would not go home feeling left out. My best night however was the cheaper option of renting cross country skis from the Intersport shop in town and heading for the free, open 24hrs, floodlit slopes on the island, just a short walk from the town centre! The calming feeling of sliding along on the skis, taking in the fresh air, makes the northern lights even more spectacular. Best of all, you wont have to 'share the experience'with anyone else, which often is the case on organised tours. And the downhills provide an added thrill!
The city itself is known in Norway for being one of the most hospitable – with a buzzing nightlife.
Tromsø also benefits from twice weekly direct flights from Gatwick with budget, but decent, airline norwegian.no. If you book early enough you can get returns for under £100. Stay in the Clarion Hotel Bryggen to get access to their rooftop heated jacuzzi!
There are loads of good (and cheap) ideas on what to do in Tromso and other tips here: www.iglobetrotter.com/norway/northern-lights/northern-lights-activities.
Ski-rental: Intersport Sportshuset, Storgata 87, phone +47 77661100
Husky-rides: Tromsø Villmarkssenter, www.villmarkssenter.no
Google map: tinyurl.com/yl8w4vp
250km north of the Arctic Circle, Abisko Mountain Station is an up-market hostel with fantastic food, a glorious location and comfortable, reasonably priced accommodation (including a self-caterring option). It's a short walk to the 20 minute chair lift to the Aurora Sky Station near the top of Mt Nuolja, the driest spot in Sweden and one of the world's best places to see the Aurora Borealis. There's a good chance you'll have a 360 degree show right over your head. One legend has it that the shimmering lights are swans frozen to the sky, struggling to break free. Duck into the sky station cafe every so often for a warm up by the wood stove, hot chocolate and the aurora exhibition. There are guided tours and it's possible to stay up there overnight. By day there are many cross-country ski trails, as well as snow shoeing, ice climbing and the chance to learn about Sami culture and the local flora and fauna.
Details of Abisko Mountain Station on www.abisko.nu/vinter/englishpages/index.asp
www.auroraskystation.se/ for the Aurora Sky Station.
There is a dedicated railway station, 19 hours from Stockholm or one hour from Kiruna.
Google map: tinyurl.com/ylks5b4
It's at 3842 metres in the cable car station at the top of the Aiguille du Midi. Advertised as the highest Savoyard restaurant in the Alps (I'm guessing it's the highest in the whole world!) The food is good and the views of Mont Blanc and the Chamonix Aiguilles are fantastic. You basically get a real taste (albeit very much a lite version) of the experience of high-altitude mountaineering. The downside is that it costs 41 euros to get up there.
Amazing food, atmosphere and if you've a few quid to spare you can stay up there overnight in their one and only room. The next morning you can have breakfast before skiing down the un-tracked mountain before the lifts open.
These are apartments at the lake at the edge of the village, so we could see the Northern Lights at our footsteps! Just walk outside and stand in awe at this wonderful phenomenon. The owner Patricia is a native English Northern Lights photographer, so she is into this also. There is also a free alert service when the Lights are visible. You can book dogsledding and snowscooters at the apartments or in advance. We used the free langlauf skis that came with the apartment.
Wanaka is a smaller, less 'touristy' town around an hour from Queenstown. It is quite simply a magical place. Located on the shores of Lake Wanaka it looks out over the lake towards the beautiful Mt Aspiring and arguably the best skifield in New Zealand - Treble Cone. Queenstown gets all the press, but Wanaka is the real jewel in Central Otago's crown.
You'll find that with a family or group it's cheaper to hire a car from Geneva than it is to get a transfer. It'll also allow you to get around the various resorts from Chamonix without using (see: waiting for...) the ski bus. Did you know that Courmayeur is only 30 minutes from Chamonix through the Mont Blanc tunnel!
Hard to reach but this will be the most earned drink you will find. The Refuge L'Espace is atop the glacier of Les Diablerets, around 3000m. Clad in sheet aluminium to stormproof it, it is equipped with wood burner, well stocked bar, food such as Baked Thom cheese with basil leaves and truffle oil, and barbecues built into tables over which to braise your plates of raw goat and vegetables. Leftovers are fed to a resident Lammergeir - its enormous - a 3m wingspan cruising low over the terrace is truly spectacular. Also known to fly around here, though a little smaller, are humans in wingsuits. Then ski down powder fields to the Combe d'Audon for over a kilometre of vertical drop red run to make any thighs burn. Oh, and it's open already for the winter season!
Between Aigle and Gstaad. Then up the cablecars from Pillon.
The last stop on the way back from the Klein Matterhorn, and a great place to be after a hard day on the slopes. There's always a fantastic atmosphere, with live music, and a lively crowd, and a great mix of ages and nationalities. Skiing in is relatively easy, but skiing out again may prove more tricky, especially if you've sampled one of their skis laden with toffee vodka shots!
On Run 50 from Klein Matterhorn
tel. 027 966 35 10
If you like to drink, sing and dance on your chairs at the end of a day's skiing, find your way to the bottom of the World Cup Piste to kick start the night. It can get busy so make your way down early to bag a table, hang your coat and get ready for the music to begin. Don't worry if you don't know the tunes, you'll be singing along in no time! There's good food and beer and if you've had a few too many, when you leave take the slide. Great fun all round!
It was one of the best moments of the week the first time I was able to ski all the way down without stopping from our practice slope to the bar/restaurant that had adopted us. We went skiing for the very first time in January this year and it didn’t get off to the best of starts thanks to the ineptitude of our tour operator (Crystal). We were dumped on the side of a snowy road and the very friendly staff at Le Brasero fed and watered us and stored our cases while we waited and waited and waited for the rep. The Crystal service got worse all week, but Le Brasero got better and better: it has great beer, vin chaud and hot chocolate; happy hours, sky sports, decent food and excellent low key live music which we even managed to get involved with (one of our party helped out on guitar). The atmosphere was great and we happily stopped there every evening to refuel with a jug (or two) of Hoegarden. And we could ski out (wobbling for a different reason!) home to our apartment too.
On a bright sunny day after a fresh fall of powder you cannot beat the Haeuslbar on Kaprun's Kitzsteinhorn Glacier. Sun loungers fill the flat, wide plateau surrounding the circular bar area - which becomes one of winter sports' finest sun traps from midday onwards. But even better is the fact that any ability of skier can easily access the bar and enjoy watching the display of skills (or not, as the case may be) of people attempting the off-piste "Langweid" run on the lower slopes of the Kitzsteinhorn area. Grab a glass of Weizen (wheat-beer), recline and be entertained.
Top Station of Gletscherjet 1 gondola / base of Langweidbahn chairlift, Kitzsteinhorn Glacier.
Google map: tinyurl.com/y8vgdvw
Alpine Ski and Golf operate a catered chalet in the Chamonix valley. We have just returned from a half term walking trip where we stayed in the company's catered chalet. The food was great and the service even better. As a holiday this was amazing considering the cost.
Fjall Garden is an amazing bar just 500m above the main cable car station in Are. It's done out as a hunting lodge, with open fires and a sundeck with reindeer skins on the south terrace. It has amazing apres-ski with live bands from 4pm. Best of all, you can get up to it from town on the little funicular railway, or ski down from the chairlifts. It's only a 500m slide if you have to ski back to the main village well refreshed and wobbly of leg.
Top of the funicular from beside the Are ski shop.
Google map: tinyurl.com/y88sv4k
Take the Gornegrat ski train up fom Zermatt (sit on the right for the best views on the way up) and head over to the right towards the village of Findeln. The village is made up of traditionally built huts and has several small restaurants, only accessible on foot or skis which are great for a lunchtime ski bar stop. My favourite is El Paradies which serves excellent, reasonably priced (cheaper than in town) food and drink and has I think the best view of the Matterhorn in the whole of the Zermatt area.
Findeln village, accessible by ski lifts form Zermatt (can get there on foot) The village and restaurant are signposted on the piste.
Google map: tinyurl.com/yjcbk6v
This is a beautiful 'rifugio' located high up in the Italian Alps which has changed little since it was first opened in 1878. It is accessed by a short ski path running just off the piste itself. But this characterful restaurant is a little known gem in the area, favoured by experienced Italian skiers and climbers (situated just beneath Mt.Rosa). The cooking is simple, hearty and traditional and the owners are always friendly, plus their wine cellar is excellent. The Rifugio provides rooms which are traditional and unpretentious with wooden cladding, candles and quilts. A really beautiful little secret.
Rifugio Guglielmina, 2880mts up, between Alagna and Gressoney valleys,
Taken from their website:
The refuge is located at the foot of the Monte Rosa south wall. We suggest you to use the Monte Rosa sky lifts starting from Alagna Valsesia up to Passo dei Salati at 2900m. From there you reach the refuge following an easy path (or by skiing during the winter season) in about 15 minutes.
Google map: tinyurl.com/yzby4ej
At this bar you can not only ski-in, but here you can also hit the dance floor still wearing your ski-shoes. Hotel Laanihovi, in the Finnish ski resort of Saariselka, lies 160 miles north of the Arctic Circle and is famous for its afternoon ski boot dancing. Most people here are Nordic skiers whose boots are somewhat more flexible than those of the downhill skiers, but I have also seen people sliding across the dance floor in their clunky slalom boots. This rather amusing event takes place every afternoon starting at 2pm and, during peak season from February to April, there is a live band to get everyone into the swing. A couple of encouraging local drinks before dancing might be in order in here though, as by dancing they don’t mean some half hearted disco movements on the dance floor but proper ballroom dancing with waltzes, tangos and fox-trots.
The vast majority of skiers and snowboarders travel by air. Typicaly, that means getting up in the middle of the night to get a charter flight from a crowded airport. But Tignes is one of many resorts that can easily be reached by train - a journey that is comfortable, easy, good value and surprisingly quick. You'll be able to find more information about these train journeys at a new website, www.snowcarbon.co.uk.
Mountain Sanctuary is a fantastic setup in Chamonix providing holistic retreats in the most stunning of environments. You stay in an idyllic alpine chalet with Mont Blanc as your backdrop and indulge yourself in the holistic treatments. They have tai-chi, yoga, reiki, nutrition and life coaching specialists on hand to cater for your every need.
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