It has to be the Cote d’Azur, for my activity break of choice – idealy centred on Nice. And with budget flights accessible from most UK centres, it could hardly be simpler. Once you’ve settled into your accommodation and unpacked all your gear, you’re set – and winter is definitely the best time to go! After an early breakfast, drive north to Valberg, Isola or Auron for a morning on the ski slopes, followed by a lunch, before returning to the shores of the Mediterranean. Then you have the choice of cycle routes – leisurely along the corniche, or challenging and into the Alpes Maritime (Gourdon or Sospel, perhaps). And in the evening, what could be better than SCUBA diving with your buddies at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
I can honestly say I never thought I would spend Christmas outside of the UK or away from my family, but I was presented with the opportunity to work at a ski resort in Canada over the 2009-2010 winter season and it was too good a chance to pass up. Having never skied before (or even touched a pair of skis), I was a little apprehensive at first but considering I had five months to get good, I can safely say by the end, I could at least call myself an intermediate skier.
As for Christmas at the resort, well, what can I say - it was spectacular. Snow, more snow, Christmas lights, more snow, skiing, Christmas dinner with my friends (during a break between shifts) and even more snow. Of course, having watched Miracle on 34th Street and knowing the charm of a British Santa Claus, my employers had a special job for me and I duly donned the white beard and red hat and spent half the day ho-ho-ho-ing around the resort. Apart from a touch of vertigo when experiencing my first ride back down the chairlift (cue much ho-ho-ho-ing while green in the face and rushing to the staff office to throw up - fortunately the beard came off just in time), my experience as Santa went very well and the children at the resort were exceedingly grateful for my having delivered all their presents the night before.
Anyway, I would recommend Christmas at Panorama to anyone and especially those people who want to get away from it all and work at the resort for a season. I had the most amazing time and would go back in a second, if I happen to have a spare five months one year.
I'm loathe to give this secret away, but here it goes: From late January to April skiing in Macedonia, Northern Greece is superb. Family operated ski areas, such as Seli, Pigadia 3-5 and Voras, situated high up across from Mt. Olympus, offer fantastic runs and, if you time your trip correctly, fluffy, knee-deep powder that will bring tears of joy to your eyes. Just over an hour's drive from Thessaloniki airport (which has direct connections to Gatwick and Stanstead), these hidden gems can't be beat. Lift tickets range from just EUR12-17 per day. What's more, I don't think there is a word in Greek for lift-line. I have skied the world over, and dare I say it, nothing beats Greek Macedonia for value-for-money.
I've been to Les Gets a number of times now and it's brilliant for families. The snowboarding and skiing is great with a really good selection of runs, from nursery slopes for little ones learning to black runs for Dads wanting to test their limits. It's part of the large Portes du Soleil ski area and lives up to that name - we've had some wonderfully sunny (and very snowy) holidays there. Les Gets itself is a pretty Savoyard village and has some good restaurants, the ones we've visited have all welcomed children.
A beach break on a Greek island was the objective for our Easter holiday. However, on arrival it soon became apparent that a chilling wind from the east would make the original beach plan a very unappealing option. Consequently, we decided to hire a car and venture out to explore the surrounding countryside. Having crossed to the mainland, we were soon heading upwards - and then much to our surprise the road signage included references to the ski resort of Parnassos. Passing world famous archaeological sites en route to the mountain side village of Arichova, we stayed in a fantastic B&B. Early the following morning, it was time to hit the ski stores and pick-up a few essentials (ski jacket and gloves) at bargain basement prices, due to end-of-season offers. The remainder of the day was spent on on the nearly empty slopes of Parnassos, without queues and in glorious sunshine. An absolute gem of a discovery - and one that very few people will have visited, I dare say. We even managed to get onto the beach by the end of the week!
... for awesome skiing in the South Island and an amazing view over Lake Wanaka. I'll always remember the tagline on the poster: '6430ft above stress level'!
Unforgettable fondues, served by Denis himself and lovingly prepared with home made cheese, home cured meats and unidentifiable Alpine liquor. Just the thing after a hard day on the Portes du Soleil circuit which takes you right into Switzerland and back.
Until January this year, I had never skied, but on my very first attempt, I went from the top of Kendal’s outdoor artificial ski slope and did jumps, moguls and an exhilarating, “WHEEE!” inducing descent. No, I am not super-talented, but Dave is. Dave is the amazing volunteer who, once a month, gives up a Saturday afternoon to enable wheelchair users and other disabled adults and children to ski. I get tightly strapped into a “bucket on skis” (known as a “bob”), with a looped handle at the back for Dave to hold onto. We then start the slow and slightly uncomfortable ascent, but as the ski slope is built into the wooded lower flanks of Kendal Castle Hill, I spend these few minutes looking at the plant life, listening to the birds sing as they flit through the trees, and waving to surprised walkers above me. Once at the top, the view over Kendal is beautiful – I get the best views I have had in fifteen years, of my once favourite local walks: Serpentine Woods on the far hill, the west facing limestone Scout Scar, and in the distance, the Lake District fells. In winter, I expect we’ll see the sunset before I go whizzing off into it! Before that, though, Dave goes through the routine with me, demonstrating how the bob will tip, telling me to bend with it, keep my head upright and hands in lap. Then we’re off! The sharp, fresh air whipping around my face, the exquisite, long-lost feeling of speeding down hill (I used to be a keen cyclist prior to a bed-confining illness), the freedom, the adrenaline, the sheer, pure happiness of accomplishing something more than just lying in bed and the occasional wheelchair outing, sustains me long after the event itself. I can’t stop grinning! I am able to experience the thrill of a potentially dangerous sport, whilst being in very safe, competent hands. This is life enhancing in such a big way. There are other centres in the UK offering disabled skiing, but many are indoors. Nothing can compare to doing an “outdoors” sport in the outdoors, and Kendal, with its Lake District views, must be one of the most scenic ski slopes. The helpers and other members are definitely some of the friendliest people alive: readily accepting of all comers and delighted to share their love of skiing.
The highest ski resort in Europe offers fantastic experiences for both skiers and snowboarders. Beginners can get plenty of practice on easy slopes located in the centre of the resort where ski lifts are free for all users. Meanwhile, the more competent skiers can enjoy speed or more technically challenging runs at a higher altitude and snowboarders can try their luck in the snowpark where jumps of all sizes are available. To add to this, the views from "Cime Caron" are stunning: at a height of 3,200 metres, you literally feel on top of the world.
The ‘69’ or the ‘Plan Bois’ lift is one of the best chairlifts in Les Arcs. Why? You can spend a whole day riding the runs and through the trees from this lift. When it’s a powder day. Get up to the top of this lift first thing and head for the ‘Piste de Bosses’ black run. The run has some lovely steeper bits and natural pipes as you go back down to the chairlift. So much fun. Then there is the ‘Renard’ blue run, with natural steps ups, wall rides and literally infinite jibbing possibilities. The red run ‘Belette’ has a blue run ‘Rhodos’ that forks off it. Stay on the run and enjoy the three natural rollers. Perfect for jump practice. Pretty much anywhere from this lift you can get into the trees. Tree runs are what Peisey Vallandry does best.
BDL is a lodge for skiers and snowboarders based in Niseko Village on the island of Hokkaido. It offers simple comfortable accommodation including breakfast, its own restaurant and bar as well as a range of Backcountry guided tours that are all well priced. It attracts a mix of international punters and professionals alike.
The lodge is well linked to the resort free bus service which allows you to access some of the best snow in the world. Yes, the rumours are true, it does not stop snowing and it didn’t when were there. The staff (a mix of Canadian and Japanese) know Niseko like the back of their hand. They are also extremely helpful before you arrive and will offer you assistance with internal flights and transfers.
The backcountry tour packages they offer range from one day to longer trips in Niseko but also to Rusutsu and beyond. We did a day's guiding with Andrew, who took us through the back gates of Niseko for an unforgettable day of powder riding.
Once you have done all that you can return to the lodge and relax in their wonderful but strange massage chair!
+81 136 44 1144
Google map: bit.ly/qqpywa
Black Diamond Lodge
Higashiyama 24-3, Niseko-cho
Nearest Airport: Sapporo Chitose
Nearest train: Hirafu
The highest mountain in the Bavarian Forest. Wintersport resort, ideal for families and beginners, but has a couple of black runs. Holds FIS World Cup events. Also has snowboard railpark. Very reliable snow conditions. Cheaper than the Alpine resorts and less crowed. Only a couple of hours by train from Munich airport.
I spent a nice winter holiday in the Alberg area (Austria), skiing on the ski slopes in St. Anton, Zurs and Lech. The ski slopes in St. Anton were nice, good sightseeing, difficult enough but the maintenance of the slopes was missing. I didn't see a single snow groomer in three days, nor traces of any in the morning.
In Lech, instead, the slopes were very well maintained and the snow groomers were there, on duty.
If you are traveling by car, I advise you to have winter tyres, as the road between St. Christoph and Lech is always frozen.
The Austrian cuisine was delicious, and we discovered that it has more dishes than only schnitzel!
This is a fast food joint located at the bottom of the slopes in Mottaret village, nearby to Meribel. A seasonnaire's best kept secret, the outlet provides delicious burgers that are the size of your head (perfect for nourishment after a morning on the slopes), all for around €5 which make them pretty much the cheapest thing you can buy in the Alps. Plus, they really are scrumptious.
30 seconds off the slopes, but past the slopeside restaurants at the bottom of the runs in Mottaret. The stall is opposite the newsagents and will be easily located if you lookout for young snowboarders with burgers that look too big for human consumption.
Google map: bit.ly/h708Tp
Stop at the first ski lodge in Italy.
The prosecco is cheaper than anything in Zermatt and the pannini excellent.
Most of all the juxtaposition of the order in Switzerland with the chaotic scramble and shouting is a laugh riot.
'Highway 7' (Run 7 on the Zermatt\Cervinia ski map), bottom of the blue run.
Homemade Tarte de Poreau (Vegetarian) provided a meal in itself for a hungry skier. Delicious. There was even a non-veggie version! Exceptional find for frustrated veggies in France!
Les Menuires - on the slopes from the top of La Masse 1 - Les 3V
73440 Les Menuires
Tel 04 79 00 74 04
Nothing in Saas Fee is cheap, they will soon be charging for breathing. The resort sure is stunning though, especially when you find little places like this.
On the way down from a hard day's riding, pop into the Gletschergrotte. It's a small restaurant/ bar on the way down. They serve well priced drinks and nice but not budget priced meals. I would recommend getting a nice beer or gluewine or two, before riding down to the village.
Just be careful of pisters as the runs may have closed while you have been enjoying your beer!
Perfect little pizza place which also serves up local snack food but this is fast food that tastes out of this world.
I rode over from Zermatt for the day I found this place, desperate for food I went into the village to find substance at a reasonable rate. I walked past this super small shop which had a large queue I decided to find out why it was so busy ... after a 10 minute wait I was served the best pizza I have ever tasted. The only downside was it was so cheap I felt I was robbing them. I see why it was so busy.
Its not easy to find, and of course you have to take your board/ skis off to get to it, but trust me its worth it!
Via Carrel 43
Situated at 1650m the Snack Bar du Col de Voza has a spacious terrace which is bathed in sunshine from lunchtime until late into the afternoon. With panoramic views of the surrounding mountains it is the perfect place for a budget on-piste lunch. Although there is no table service, this popular snack bar has plenty of space and a varied, child-friendly and high quality lunchtime menu. Alternatively, miss the midday rush and make the most of ‘Happy Hour’ (from 3 to 5 in the winter season) and enjoy a late lunch with all drinks (including vin chaud) two for the price of one.
Large freshly prepared baguettes/burgers/hot dogs: from around 3 Euros
Pasta: 5 Euros
Good sized and great quality steak, frite and salad: 10 Euros
Reach it via the Prarion gondola.
Les Houches is in the Chamonix valley
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