At a time when post-Brexit uncertainty makes skiing holidays in Europe potentially very expensive, Andrew Dent recommends families try the lesser known and more affordable region of the Hautes Pyrenees instead.
In a post-Brexit world the pound has lost some value against the Euro. But what if you've been promising the kids a holiday on the slopes for years? How are you going to keep your promise while keeping the costs down? The answer is to head to the south-west of France this year, to the area of the Hautes Pyrenees.
The area is relatively unknown in the UK (which is a good thing) but is blessed with some of the best snow conditions in Europe. The snow often dumps here before moving onto the Alps and in recent years the area has recorded some of the highest snowfalls in the world.The resorts are well set up for beginners and intermediate skiers with enough to keep an experienced mum or dad interested.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference is the food. Due to the area's proximity to Spain, the food is a bit more interesting with tapas and great red wine abundant. And then there is the price – the whole experience is a fraction of the cost of its French cousins in the Alps.
The experience is frankly better from the outset. Firstly you don't fly into Geneva on what feels like a charter plane full of British skiers – if you ski regularly this is an all too familiar experience, which doesn't feel special or fun anymore. For the Pyrenees resorts, you fly to Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrenees Airport (Pau and Toulouse are also options) and then it is between 45mins and 1hr 20mins to one of the three main resorts in the area.
The resorts don't have the factory feel of elsewhere and there is a more authentic, friendly, family feel to the whole place. Don't expect to find some of the luxury chalet holidays of the Alps here. It is much more 3* apartments and aparthotel that are on offer. On the mountain the logistics are easy and the views are breathtaking.
In general it is considerably less busy and way more friendly than elsewhere in Europe. It makes for a perfect family ski holiday. There is just enough to keep the experienced parents happy when they get a few free hours in the day. But it feels like an area where the kids don't need to be in ski school all week. It is perfect for spending the day together with the kids – you feel you can stretch them a little whilst being safe and not experiencing any nasty gradients that can often lead to a tantrum.
With a transfer time of only 45mins this charming bustling town is certainly one to consider basing yourself from. There are 100km of piste and lots of snow boarding and snow park options for the teens. There are two options for accommodation. You can stay up the mountain at the foot of the slopes, or down in the village. The trip down to the village is only about 10 minutes by gondola and once there you will find more things to do than up the hill. The spa is famous and has something for all the family it is a fun way to round off the day.
Pierre & Vacances’ 3* Residence Les Rives de l'Aure in Saint-Lary-Soulan.
From £82.5 pp (£330 per apartment down from £444 saving 25%) for a seven-night stay in a self-catered apartment that sleeps up to four people arriving 25 March, 1 or 8 April 2017. Find out more or call 0870 0267 145. Flights are not included, however return flights from London to Pau via Paris cost from £294pp with Air France.
Nestled under the imposing Pic Du Midi, this is the area's largest ski area and is centered on the villages of Bareges and La Mongie. The accommodation options are somewhat limited compared to Saint Lary, and they are not overly fancy –but there is ski-in-ski-out available. The skiing itself is perfect for younger kids but there is also enough to challenge more advanced skiiers. There are lots of fun activities to do after or instead of skiing ranging from snowmobiling, horseback riding, spa and tennis.
Pierre & Vacances’ 3* Residence Le Montana in La Mongie.
Priced from £77 pp (£462 per apartment) for a seven-night stay in a self-catered apartment that sleeps up to six people arriving 25 March 2017. Find out more or call 0870 0267 145. Flights are direct. Ryanair STN – Lourdes costs from £16.99 each way /person.
Feeling a bit James Bond? Got the technique and bravado to back it up? Then drop the kids in ski school or a morning and take a trip up the cable car to the working Observatory at the top of the Pic du Midi at 2877m. From here you get the most incredible 360-degree views all the way to the Mediterrian Sea. The routes down have been designated amongst the world’s top 50 free ride sites. Believe me, you will feel awesome at the end of what was one of the most exhilarating runs of my season.
Other great resorts to check out include Peyragudes, Cauterets, Luz Ardiden and Piau Engaly.
So why not give the Hautes Pyrenees a try this season? It turns out that by far the best time of year to go to the South of France is winter, not summer. You never know, you might be converted by your pilgrimage. If not you can always pop down to Lourdes and try your luck there!