20th December 2018
You can’t really avoid mentioning immense beauty when you’re talking about Southern French Alps, so it’s probably best just to get it out of the way right at the start and no need to mention it again.
Except that’s impossible. This is after all the ski region so close to the Côte d’Azur, the Mediterranean is in plain sight from the slopes at resorts like Isola 2000. And Auron is neighbourly enough with Nice to offer discounted ski passes for Nice Carnival ticket holders in February 2019. So loveliness is always part of the narrative here, comes up in conversation constantly and basically informs everything from spellbinding, forest-dipped villages to the awesome sensation of sunrise skiing in spring.
Though it’s unlikely you’ll ever tire of hearing about the endless winter sunshine and grand mountains, pure Alpine air, huge blue skies and flawless snow, since they all come together with some of the most fun it’s possible to have on a family ski holiday.
If you’re now wondering why Southern French Alps hasn’t always been your winter go-to, relax. You’ve plenty of time to discover it this winter. The 2018/19 season officially launches on 15 December and runs right through until the end of next April. Giving you the choice of Christmas and New Year, February Half-Term and Easter school holidays. Or for those with under fives; anytime at all during the next five months: toddlers have first lessons as young as 18 months with Ski Babies at Orcières Merlette 1850 in the Écrin National Park.
So apart from the obvious (all that natural gorgeousness), the exceptional skiing, warm and friendly southern atmosphere and irrepressible sense of adventure, what else could persuade you to pick the purest, loveliest Alps for your next family ski holiday?
Eco-awareness isn’t a trend in Alpes des Sud, it’s a way of life. And if you need proof of that, you only have to stand still for a second, breathe deep and have a good, long look around.
Taking care of no less than nine natural and national parks as well as heritage sites, remarkable sites and a unique mountain landscape stretching for over 12,000km² isn’t a responsibility any of the 68 resorts across the region takes lightly.
Valberg recently became a Flocon Vert resort, the first in the Southern French Alps to receive this prestigious certification and well-deserved recognition of a sustainable development policy focused on protecting its magnificent surroundings in the Mercantour National Park. But, perhaps even more astonishing, is how cleverly Valberg has safeguarded great fun as well as the environment. The resort’s family snow park is one of the most thrilling and advanced in the region; sunrise snowmobile rides and planetary snowshoeing treks are just a couple of the innovative activities here; you’ll find more restaurants, bars and shops than you’ll ever need in one holiday; plus there’s over 25km of well-marked cross-country ski and hiking trails to help you admire the cossetted local landscape. So if you imagine responsible means tame, Valberg is delighted to prove you completely wrong this winter.
They aren’t alone. Les Orres is equally exciting and well on its way to achieving full self-sufficiency in terms of energy: positively recycling heat from its chairlift system; installing solar panels throughout the resort; removing ugly pylons, and introducing advanced tech to reduce noise pollution at lift stations.
And for a more traditional, low-key, low impact family adventure, you could always opt for one of the region’s wonderful authentic village resorts. Expect chalets and hotels snuggled into larch forests and practically brushing the slopes. Be prepared for fairy tale snowshoe walks between villages. And anticipate a prettiness capable of silencing the most tempestuous of teens and completely captivating anyone under 12.
When you discover there’s a giant hammock for lounging around at the ski area in Superdévoluy, take it as a sign that you’re now in a region where soul soothing is almost as important as skiing. Because wellness is another trend that’s nothing new round Southern French Alps: how bad can you ever feel surrounded by sheer splendour 24/7?
Athletes have long sung the praises of Cryotherapy and you can now put it to the test yourself at the new Cryotherapy Centre in Serre Chevalier Briançon.
Puy-Saint-Vincent’s motto is ‘good living after skiing’ and the resort sticks firmly to that promise with saunas, steam rooms and jacuzzi throughout the resort, a spectacular heated outdoor pool and delectably wild surroundings where the truly peaceful and soothed have been known to spot Chamois midwinter.
Auron is justifiably loved for its out of this world Semaine du Bien-Être (Well Being Weeks) in late spring. Risoul now has another breathtaking Labell’Aire (rest area) high up on the slopes, created for the sole purpose of slipping off skis and soaking up the peace, serenity and views of the monumental Queyras summits. And it’s also the resort that’s realised well-being means something totally different to kids and organised down-to-earth, skill-building activities like helping to train a rescue dog with Operation Saint Bernard; trying out as trackers and ski-monitors for the day or discovering the resort after dark as a mini-assistant on the snow-grooming machine.
Several of the region’s 68 resorts have superb spa facilities, though only Réallon has the Bacchus Nordic Baths: open air wooden tubs 2000m high in the mountains where you soak in deliciously warm water under the gaze of the soaring Aiguilles de Chabrières peaks.
Of course you don’t need too much pampering to feel great in Southern French Alps, it’s Southern France and the food alone boosts your sense of well being. The local larder is the best of coast and countryside ingredients at their freshest, paired with outstanding regional wines and cooked ingeniously. Even smaller resorts have excellent restaurants. Lunch on the mountains is an art form round these parts. And you might be very surprised at what kids will try when they spot les enfants français tucking in without any fuss.
And then there’s the sun. Southern French Alps is one of the sunniest ski regions in Europe with upwards of 300 days of sunshine a year and a mighty reputation for cloudless blue skies. Which does nothing to diminish the snow-sureness of the slopes, it just makes them a lot more pleasant to play on.
The Southern French Alps are just over an hour from the Côte d’Azur and encompass the Alpes-Maritimes, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and the Hautes-Alpes.
Southern French Alps winter season 2018/19 officially opens on 15 December 2018
How to get there
The region is easily accessible from Marseille, Grenoble and Turin airports.
Direct flights from London to Marseille: 2h 5m.
Direct flights from London to Nice Côte d’Azur: 2h.
Direct flights from London to Grenoble: 1h 45m.
Direct flights from London to Turin: 1h 50m.
Shuttle services from local train stations to resorts run throughout the winter season.