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|Resort: Val d'Isere
Domain: Espace Killy
Date: 15th March '08 to 29th March '08
Our holiday: Second time in the resort but 1st time with the kids. It was the 11 yr old's first ski trip and the 17 year old's third. I have a Sale & Leaseback apartment in La Daille.
Website : Valdinet.com is great for webcams and snow reports.
Basics : Val d'Isere is at the very end (in winter) of a valley in the Savoie area of the Rhone Alpes. For the first time we drove to the resort from Hull using the P&O North Sea ferry to Zeebrugge. This was terrific; we left work at 3.30pm Friday to gather girls etc after school and boarded the ferry at 5.30pm. The girls watched a film at the cinema while we had a very civilized dinner at the Langan's Brasserie on board. After a great night's sleep we disembarked at around 8.30 am in Zeebrugge. The drive down avoids Paris and was relatively trouble free until we approached Chambery. Notwithstanding the stop/start traffic from here to after Moutiers we arrived in resort at about 7.00pm. The girls were kept happy by their portable DVD players. On the return journey we took the ferry back from Rotterdam as the later check-in time made up for the additional 80 kilometres distance in convenience. We broke the return journey with an overnight stop in Villlefranche-Sur-Saone which enabled us to ski until 3.00pm on the Saturday and be at our desks on Monday morning having disembarked at 7.45 am.
Lift system : Brilliant. We had very few queues during the busy 2nd school holiday week. The Espace Killy really does connect up and there is usually more than one option of how to travel between the different areas - very important when you need to be meeting children for lunch or after ski school. One shock was the friendliness of the lifties, they must have all been sent to charm school as I lost count of the "Bonjour"s and other amiable greetings we received, and the older, faster lifts were gallantly manually slowed down even for us adults.
The terrain : My only previous visit was in late April last year and even then I was impressed, but to experience it in its full winter glory was something else. The terrain is incredibly extensive at all levels from wide, gentle motorways to steep, narrow bumps. Despite its fierce reputation our non-athletic, girly, beginner loved it and her Dad appreciated the free lifts on the extensive Front de Neige that meant he didn't have to pay for a lift pass for her for the first 2 days. The Madeline green on Solaise was a wonderful "first mountain" run for her to progress to and there were plenty of others after that. Favourite Reds were the Arcelle on Solaise and the OK on Bellevarde. The Red Piste M down to resort from Solaise was essentially a nice long varied run but suffered from heavy traffic for much of the day and was unpleasant from 3.30pm to 5.00pm. We encountered terrible skiers and boarders endangering others on this run. The Black Le Face was a blast and easy in good conditions as was the Trolles on the Tignes side. The Sache black was a different beast entirely when we did it, bumpy and ungroomed from first to last, we managed it without falling but it won't have been pretty. Other skiers were falling like skittles on the trickiest section and we only saw 2 or 3 people really ski it, as opposed to just get down it as we and the rest did. We couldn't believe that the Blue run from the top of the Aguille Percee chairlift in Tignes all the way down to Tignes Le Brevieres is not more feted as it is glorious. The views are the best in the Espace Killy and it affords a great sense of travel to the novice skier or anyone else. We did it with the girls on our last day and celebrated with a hot chocolate in the deck chairs at the bottom, it was a brilliant end to the holiday.
Having been to jaw-dropping Zermatt at New Year which is unbeatable on the scenery front I was surprised at how beautiful and dramatic the Espace Killy was, more so than I remembered from the previous visit when it will have been more brown.
The snow : We were very, very lucky with the snow. There was a big dump before our arrival and it regularly snowed throughout our visit, thoughtfully mostly during the night. There was only one afternoon when the snowfall was so heavy as to make skiing unpleasantly difficult and fortunately for us it was the very afternoon of an unmissable derby game between the great Hull Kingston Rovers and their bitter rivals Hull FC. We had plenty of blue skies and near perfect conditions preserved by cool temperatures that prevailed until the last day which felt like Spring.
Off-piste : We didn't really sample this but we could see lots of it very easily accessible. The Tignes area looked particularly promising and their fondness for ungroomed itinerary routes looks like a safe way to enjoy the sensation without stumping up for guides. The well known Sache black run in Tignes clearly hadn't been groomed for days. It was bumpy from top to bottom and indistinguishable from the off-piste in in places apart from the posts marking the route.
The resort : Val d'Isere was buzzing and very attractive. The town doesn't rest on its laurels and puts on lots of events such as the Thursday night "animations" during which the main drag is pedestrian only and there is live music; ice sculpting; stilt walkers etc...-great for families. It is however very expensive and it is worth seeking out the many Happy Hours and offers to reduce the devastating impact on your wallet.
It is a boring thing to rave about but the free bus service is just fantastic and made a big contribution to our holiday. It means that the location of your accommodation is much less critical than in many resorts and made meeting up between friends and children so stress free. Our apartment is in La Daille which is incredibly convenient for the slopes and has nice restaurants and bars that are much cheaper than central Val, but the free bus service meant we were only ever 10 mins away from the centre if the bright lights were calling.
Food : On the mountain, La Fruitiere on Bellevarde and Le Signal on the Fornet side are good for a splurge. Pleasant surroundings and excellent food. The Ouiellette at the bottom of the Madaleine is inexpensive and does good cakes and savoury snacks with a savoyarde slant.
We often had lunch at the Petit Danois in town as we had to meet the girls at the Front de Neige. The Petit Danois is relatively reasonable and does good quality diner type staples like burgers and salads. The Maison Chavallot, a chocolatier and patisserie on the main street does divine hot chocolates and superb cakes and savouries plus soup and lasagne for ludicrously cheap prices. It is a bit cramped but worth it.
The central Spar does a very good value hot dish every day cooked in a huge wok/cauldron affair and also sells baked potatoes. We had the Salmon en Papillote which would have passed for restaurant food.
We really liked the Tufs restaurant in La Daille at night. There were a lot of French people eating there and the food was very good and the atmosphere very friendly. The meat was cooked over an open wood fire. The Samovar, also in La Daille, is very warm and welcoming and very good value, -the pizzas were the same price as from the takeaway in central Val but served in charming surroundings that were hard to tear yourself away from.
Accommodation : We stayed in a 2 piece apartment I own through the Pierre & Vacances Sale & Leaseback scheme, so I may be biased but have no financial need to "sell" the apartments. It was very comfortable with all the essentials well covered such as warmth, unlimited hot water, proximity to the lifts. The bedroom (where the girls slept) is surprisingly spacious and the sofa bed we used in the living area is thankfully foolproof and good quality. The kitchen is very well equiped and the lighting throughout is sympathetic and the decor pleasant. There is plenty of storage space and the flat screen TV and bathroom feel quite luxurious. The reception staff are very efficient. My main gripe is that the ski lockers are cheap and a bit skanky with insufficient chairs/benches to get boots on and off. It is quite cold and there are no boot warmers or sockets so I ended up taking my boots up to the apartment at night to ensure they were dry the next day.
Costs: There is no escaping the fact that it is expensive. There are ways of ameliorating this and I hope I have given a few useful tips but despite good intentions and planning I am still unable to bring myself to check my account online just yet.
Conclusion: Not cheap but bloody good value. This was a terrific holiday in every respect. Four very different people had a great time at different levels of competence. The skiing was out of this world and the resort great fun. We found it very friendly and not at all snooty despite the huge numbers of very plummy Anglophones around.
Finally I can't recommend The Development Centre too highly. We did the 3 morning Development Plus Clinic with Colin. The maximum group size is 6 and we had some of the best skiing of our lives. The tuition was brilliant and we achieved our desired goals of skiing blacks and bumps with smiles on our faces instead of with trepidation. They have a very good website, just Google tdc+val d'isere.
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