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October 19, 2012 7:19 pm
The best resorts for families
21 Courchevel Moriond, France
The problem with Courchevel 1850 is that it’s too perfect. From the 1960s when it attracted French film stars, through the years when Parisians bought up the apartments, to today when Russians rule – it has grown ever more impressive. Some 600km of fabulously flattering pistes, an astonishing 180 lifts, hedonistic hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants all vie for your attention as well as the contents of your purse.
But what if you want the same pistes and lifts but would prefer somewhere simpler, less expensive, and more suited to your family? The answer is to consider dropping down a notch to Courchevel’s lower and less fashionable villages, until this year named with suffixes to denote their altitude (the tourist board decided this reinforced an undesirable sense of hierarchy, so set about a rebranding exercise). Courchevel Village (formerly Courchevel 1550) is home to the cheapest apartments and is directly beneath 1850. Courchevel Moriond is at 1,650m, and Le Praz at 1,300m.
Apart from seemingly endless pistes, what the villages all share is great skiing tuition. Gone are the dark days when my eldest son, who learnt here, dreaded going to ski kindergarten each morning. The children spent silent lunchtimes sitting Dickensian-style in rows on wooden benches.
“Children are here to learn to ski, not to have fun,” a teacher told me when I complained.
The much-needed revolution was started by British ski schools here 21 years ago and shows no sign of abating. It began with Supreme Ski, which was later joined by BASS Courchevel and New Generation.
But don’t forget the now multi-lingual ESF – it’s embraced the changes and initiated a few of its own. Children in its classes now wear waistcoats with integral electro-magnets, for example. These lock on to magnets on the chairlifts, making it impossible for small children to slide under the safety bar on the ride up.
Of the various villages that share the ski slopes, Courchevel Moriond is my choice for families. It may be away from the main ski area and lack the glitter of its higher-altitude neighbour, but this means lower prices and emptier pistes – even during peak season. Its wide, perfectly groomed slopes are the best place for beginners, too.
My family and I have stayed here three times. Over new year, during the February half-term and – last Christmas – in Le Ski’s Scalottas Lodge. This is a new complex of five cosy but stylish chalets offering five-star quality at three-star prices, and there’s also an indoor pool.
Returning after a five-year absence, I found Moriond barely recognisable. New shops and reasonably priced restaurants abound. In the alleyways below the main street, old village buildings have been converted into holiday chalets. And there’s a smattering of stylish new hotels, including Le Portetta with its welcoming lunchtime sundeck and lovely spa.
Sleek the hotel may be, but it retains its essentially French ambiance, unspolit by the Russian-oriented ostentation of the Courchevel 1850 properties. Moriond may not have a Millionaire’s Row of chalets and hotels, but it does have better nightlife these days – especially for families with teenagers.
The highlight is the British-run Bubble Bar, a casual pub rather than cutting-edge club. It hosts music gigs and open mic nights. In fact, my guitar-playing teenage daughter ended up as the last-minute support act to the regular band at Christmas.
These days in Courchevel Moriond, children can learn to ski and have fun.
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22 Flaine, France
“It’s where I learnt to ski, and where all my brothers have taught their children,” says Chemmy Alcott. Flaine is a classic example of the purpose-built resort – anyone used to lugging children and all their equipment around traditional Swiss or Austrian villages will be amazed at the convenience. From most of the apartments and hotels in the small, car-free centre, you can put your skis on at the door. Runs are arranged around a big snowy bowl and return to the same central point, making it easy to rendezvous after ski school. At 1,600m, it’s high and snow-sure, plus there is plenty to keep advanced skiers busy – and all only 90-minutes from Geneva airport.
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23 Alpbach, Austria
Regularly voted Austria’s “prettiest village”, Alpbach is small and friendly, with a handful of wooden guesthouses and hotels (including the recommended Böglerhof) clustered around the church. There’s a nursery slope right in the village, while a bus runs up to the main lifts at Inneralpbach. New this season is a cable car connecting Alpbach to a neighbouring resort, Auffach, creating the “Ski Jewel” area with 145km of pistes – ideal for mileage hungry intermediates.
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24 La Rosière, France
“The resort’s motto is ‘Where children are treated like royalty,’” says Andy Perrin of Inghams. “And they back this up with nursery slopes right in the village, a terrific ski school, and a sunny open bowl of blue runs for families to enjoy together.” The resort sits high on the flanks of the Tarentaise Valley, but is far quieter than neighbouring resorts such as Val d’Isère, Tignes and Les Arcs. The gentle, south-facing slopes have great views of Mont Blanc and extend over the border into Italy.
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25 Åre, Sweden
Sweden’s biggest ski area is great for families who want to travel in the Easter holidays – the latitude means there are usually good snow conditions until May. There are three distinct areas of slopes, of which one, Björnen, is specifically designed for children, with gentle slopes, special instructors and woodland trails dotted with friendly wooden bears.
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