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Live TR: Embrun, Provence Alps, 12-19 Mar 2020 - now with photos

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
On Thursday we'll hopefully be off to Embrun in the southern French Alps - a region we've never been to before. Once again I'll be keeping a live trip report going if all goes to plan... except that the coronavirus outbreak has made that a rather big "if". Originally we'd booked a DIY, 2-base trip to the Brenta Dolomites (more on this old thread), but with concerns over the outbreak in parts of northern Italy (and the stigma around visiting at the time) we pulled the plug at the end of February while our accommodation was still fully refundable. We managed to recoup all our costs except for flights - which were then refunded a week later after EasyJet cancelled our return flight. While Trentino and Verona airport still aren't in a lockdown region, I've heard today that most or all of the resorts we were planning to visit may be closing imminently.

Back to our hastily re-booked trip to Embrun and the southern French Alps - this region is not currently a "hotspot" though, like most of Europe, there are a handful of cases which will surely increase over the coming days. It's difficult to assess the risks - to health, skiing and logistics - with numbers that increase both exponentially and randomly, but at the moment I think we're comfortable (well, perhaps that's not quite the right word) with the level of risk. We'll certainly continue to keep a close eye on how things develop, and be prepared to cancel or curtail if need be.

Embrun is apparently known as the "Nice of the Alps" for its sunny climate. It's perched on a rocky outcrop 850m above sea level, just above the Durance valley and Lac du Serre Poncon. The popularity of the region for summer tourism seems to keep winter accommodation prices low, and if all goes smoothly then it could be our cheapest trip yet. Why haven't we been here before? Well, flight times from Scotland to Marseille are a bit rubbish, with no possibility of skiing on arrival or departure day, and snow tyres / chains are hard to come by.


Tour Brune, Embrun

Onto the skiing - we hope to stick to our usual plan of visiting a variety of local resorts, perhaps taking advantage of lift pass offers on certain days of the week. The reasonably well known ski areas of Les Orres and Foret Blanche (Risoul & Vars) are within shortish driving distance, plus the smaller areas of Reallon and Crevoux. There's also a cluster of resorts around Gap further west, but the vague plan is to leave these for a future trip. Snow conditions are finally excellent again following recent heavy snowfalls, putting an end to a mid-season drought. Temperatures are forecast to rocket during this coming week, before returning to seasonable values for the weekend and beyond, with further snow possible (in which case, we might be hunting for some snow chains in local supermarkets).

So to sum up, we're very much crossing our fingers and hoping for a hassle-free week of sunshine and good snow, but a lot could go wrong. I'll update on Thursday evening upon arrival in Embrun, or sooner if there are any significant developments. If anyone has any local recommendations, please do share! As always, I'll add photos and a cost breakdown at the end of the trip.

Previous trips:

This is our 10th ski trip together (discounting Scotland day trips). Previous trip reports are linked below if I wrote one.

Feb 2014: Soll (SkiWelt), Austria
Jan 2015: Alpe d'Huez, France (+ days in Les 2 Alpes)
Jan 2016: Les Carroz (Grand Massif), France
Mar 2017: Belle Plagne (Paradiski), France
Jan 2018: Notre Dame de Bellecombe 1150 (Espace Diamant), France
Mar 2018: Ponte di Legno (Passo Tonale), Italy (+ days in Pejo, Monte Altissimo & Aprica)
Jan 2019: St Gervais (Evasion Mont Blanc various areas), France (+ day in Cordon)
Mar 2019: Varena, Val di Fiemme (Dolomites various areas), Italy
Jan 2020: Abondance (Portes du Soleil), France (+ days in Bernex, Praz de Lys & Thollon)


Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Sun 22-03-20 18:19; edited 3 times in total
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
@denfinella, best of luck, Embrun is a great town, and we go there every now and again in summer, and or end of season, and I should imagine will still have a good vibe even in the Winter even though it's not a ski resort.

In your list of potential resorts you MUST include the Queyras, and in particular, St Veran at 2,020 the 3rd highest village in Europe, looks like Walt Disney designed it!

You don't have to drive up there but you can ski there from Molines, all on the same lift pass, which also covers Ristolas and Abries, so ski one sector in the morning and go to another in the afternoon.

Other resorts closer to Gap will not be so snow sure, so I'd stick to Var, Risoul, Queyras, Crevous and Orres that should be more than enough.

You might even find as has been the case in the past that the Queyras resorts will be doing crazy deals on lift tickets.
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Looks magic

On the list


http://youtube.com/v/Y6uGhJKasks
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@Mike Pow, at 1:33 they're sitting at one of our fav restos in the mountains.

https://www.stylealtitude.com/picdufonddepeynin.html
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Great write up
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You'll need to Register first of course.
I've been to this region multiple times, both in summer and winter.
It is pure magic, my favorite in the Alps together with Aosta.

I strongly recommend you to visit this blog, written by someone who has visited virtually all exotic resorts in Europe.
http://blog.inmontanis.info/

For instance this one
http://blog.inmontanis.info/?p=5882

It's in German, but that should not be a problem, just paste the URL into google translate (and have a laugh because of the funny translations).

Recommendations from personal experience
-Serre Chevalier (obviously)
-Montgenevre
-Les Orres
-Saint Veran http://blog.inmontanis.info/?p=5912
-Risoul
-Puy Saint Vincent (tip; contact Rogier van Rijn)
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Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Thank you all for the local knowledge, links and tips - which I've enjoyed browsing. The number of resort recommendations is much higher than we can fit into a single trip, so probably worth saying that any we don't end up visiting will be on the list for future trips.

@Weathercam, we did actually carefully consider an Airbnb in one of the Queyras villages, but it was squeezed out by Embrun in the end!

CV cases in the Provence Alps have continued to inch up in the last few days - though much higher numbers elsewhere in France. At this late stage we are still all systems go, but I admit that the risk of our trip being curtailed or disrupted is quite high. Much depends on when France moves to its "stage 3", what measures this will involve, and which regions they will apply to.

The weather forecast is looking fairly benign over the period we'll be there, which is one less thing to worry about! A little rain possible on Friday morning.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
TR from Puy saint Vincent (german)
https://www.alpinforum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=47&t=61772

PSV - video report in dutch
https://www.wintersport.nl/weblog/bericht/351732/op-verkenning-in-puy-saint-vincent

Video report from Abries, the powder paradise in the Queyras
https://www.wintersport.nl/weblog/bericht/5189/op-verkenning-in-het-franse--poederparadijs-abries
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And a last one, from Risoul (Foret Blanche)
https://www.alpinforum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=59795
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Ski the Net with snowHeads
Magic
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snowHeads are a friendly bunch.
Thursday - arrival

Well, we've made it here, at least! Weather leaving the house this morning: 1C with falling snow. Weather upon arrival in Embrun this evening: 21C and sunny...

Our flight ran on time and was almost full - very much business as usual at Edinburgh airport except for a few NHS notices stuck on walls, and people washing their hands more thoroughly than usual. Ditto at Marseille, with no temperature checks or anything like that.

We chanced our luck with Interrent car hire (who we have previously avoided) this time, and first impressions are that they are as bad as feared. We had to go to great lengths to hold off a barrage of "mandatory" charges for excess, eco tax, fuel and other things, which eventually magically disappeared from the bill (which was €0 in the end plus a €1000+ deposit). Nevertheless, it left a bad taste and we are being very careful with taking pictures of everything / keeping receipts etc. Not looking forward to hearing back from them after dropping the keys back out of hours next week...

The drive to Embrun took 2.5 hours or so, on busy dual carriageways to Aix en Provence, then the tolled A51 along the Durance valley, leaving just the last 45 mins or so on a main, single carriageway road.

Good views of Les Orres ski resort from the Intersport on the edge of Embrun where we picked up ski and boot hire. The bargain price of €77 for 6 days (in total for 2!) included a €10 voucher for anything in the store - so we ended up purchasing a spare set of discount skiing gloves at €9.99 - i.e. free. Intermarché was conveniently located next door to shop for dinner: burgers with local blue cheese and wine.

Our apartment is a few km up the hill above Embrun and probably has wonderful views - but it was just getting dark when we arrived. It's a well furnished, reasonably spacious, 2 person studio with WiFi. Full marks to the couple who welcomed us and went to great lengths showing us how they'd cleaned every light switch, door handle etc. to guard against coronavirus. It's really a summer chalet, so there's nowhere to store skis, but no big issue.


View towards Les Orres ski area from the studio (taken later in the week)

We watched the Macron announcement with great interest this evening (and heard about the less dramatic UK one). Nothing directly mentioned about ski resorts. We'll have to wait and see I guess - hopefully we'll at least get a few days skiing in.


Last edited by snowHeads are a friendly bunch. on Sun 22-03-20 17:46; edited 1 time in total
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Ski your back bottom off

Then feast.
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 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
Glad you had a safe journey! The cost of the skis... did you internet book? How so cheap!?

Have a great day, looking forward to hearing about it.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
@Mike Pow, we did indeed! Very Happy

@ElzP, thanks. Yes, ski hire was booked online, a week or so in advance with a discount code.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Friday - Les Orres

A lovely and tiring first day skiing at Les Orres - the closest resort to Embrun. Les Orres is a purpose-built place with several resort bases. The ski area (piste map here) is reasonably large (100km claimed, but probably an exaggeration) and five different lift bases. It's a varied area, with a good mix of wooded and high open slopes between about 1500m and 2700m; most slopes face roughly west, which is a bit too sunny for late season. The lift system is generally decent, with several fast 6-person chairs; however the highest lifts are all slow, and the Portette and Genepi drags had queues of a couple of minutes at times.


Prelongis chair out of Les Orres 1650 in the morning - while higher lifts were still shut


Le Guet (red) back towards 1650


Les Orres 1650

Parked at Champs Lacas at 8.45am and picked up €34.50 day passes (5% online discount) in good time for 9am lift opening. It had been warm and wet overnight (rain to about 2500m), but fortunately not enough to make the pistes sticky. Patches of low cloud / inversion hung around in places for a couple of hours, but above this it was soon mostly sunny. There was still a reasonable refreeze before lift opening time (despite air temperatures well above zero), so pistes were hard packed just at first before becoming quite slushy lower down by lunchtime. Further up the snow stayed firm - occasionally icy - all day, except for the very top 100m vertical where there was a centimetre of fresh. Laughing There's certainly plenty of snow around though, except on a couple of the very lowest pistes which had a few grassy patches.

The warm weather was setting off avalanches on sunny aspects (i.e. most of them) which resulted in several piste closures high up - namely all the runs off the Cretes chair, the three runs directly under the Fontaines chair, and the long Grande Cabane red on the far right of the piste map. Still plenty left for a full day without repeating runs - highlights included Myrtille (red) + Orivette (blue) off the Pic Vert chair (quiet and lots of fast bends), and Homme de Pierre + Vallon des Fontaines (both red) off the Pousterle chair (quieter than the busier runs directly down the lift, and with a slightly shadier aspect than other parts of the area). Finished the day with a fun trip on the Alpine Coaster (€4 each) - had a nice chat with the person running it about skiing in Scotland - before trundling down the green run back to the car at 5.15pm.


Cretes sector from the top of the Fontaines chair


Cretes sector from Edelweiss (green) off the Pic Vert chair


Gentianes (red) from the Portette drag


Looking east into the wilds from the top of the Genepi drag - the high point of the area


Snowy (top of Genepi)


Genepi (red)

Lunch at the Bulle restaurant at Les Orres 1650 today was outstanding. The PDJ (beef, mustard sauce, rice) + dessert (an enormous chocolate mousse) for €13 was excellent value; my partner's €13.50 carbonara was possibly the best we've ever had.


Carbonara at lunch - bigger than it looks here as the plate was enormous!

In the evening we looked around the attractive centre of Embrun, which has a large cathedral and lots of pedestrianised streets. Dinner back in the apartment again - same as yesterday.


Embrun

A quick note about CV - there was no visible difference compared with a "normal" March trip; in fact, it was surprisingly busy in restaurants and on the ski area, with a couple of lift queues and pistes cutting up as the day progressed. We only heard French being spoken - no Italian or any other language. Still no soap in the ski area loos. For entirely selfish reasons, we're glad to hear that French resorts plan to stay open, for now, though of course this could change without notice at any time.

Tomorrow we're off to Risoul and the Foret Blanche domain.


Last edited by Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name: on Sun 22-03-20 17:00; edited 2 times in total
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
(duplicate post)


Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Sat 14-03-20 21:45; edited 1 time in total
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Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Saturday - Foret Blanche (Risoul / Vars

Beautiful weather and snow conditions today in the Foret Blanche (piste map here): the domain linking Risoul and Vars.

A scenic drive up the Durance valley followed by a series of fierce hairpin turns up to Risoul Station at 1850m. People visiting for the day are treated to a sleek system for getting skiing - an enormous, free car park on the edge of town with its own dedicated drag lift and return piste. There's no lift pass office here so the drag is free and theoretically opens at 8.45am (they were late today), from the top of which you ski down to the central caisse just in time for opening at 8.50am.


Risoul snowfront at opening time

The Foret Blanche claims 185km of pistes and indeed seemed like a (surprisingly?) large area. Risoul and Vars Les Claux are both set in broad bowls (a little like Flaine) amidst scenic larch forest. The Risoul side has a second, open bowl further south, while Vars has its own extra, high area "over the back" and a couple of lower lift bases at Vars Sainte Marie, further down the valley.

Heights are decent - 1650m to 2750m, and so was snow cover; the ski area mostly faces north, but the shapes of the bowls made it easy to follow the sun around and avoid any ice or slush. Slightly lower temperatures than the previous day also helped, with the freezing level probably reaching mid mountain or so.

We absolutely loved the variety and length of runs all across the area, from peaceful forest to snowy high alpine, and from wide motorways to intimate tracks. Lifts are generally fast at resort levels, but are in need of upgrading higher up. In particular, I could probably have written this entire day's trip report while riding the long and important Mayt chair on the Vars side Laughing


Heureux (blue) towards Vars

We spent most of the day around Vars, and particularly on both sides of Vars Ste Marie. The remote Peynier sector was nearly deserted, while the Peyrol side (served by fast chairs) had a few very short queues, though pistes were fine and stayed in great condition. Packed lunch was consumed on various chairlifts.

Loads of superb runs, but Vars highlights included a morning blast down Jas du Boeuf (blue); the exceptionally long and scenic Vallon + Grand Vallon (both blue) down to Vars Ste Marie; Faisandiere (blue) meandering through half built suburbs to the Peynier sector; and the deserted Peynier / Resiniere (reds) down to the bottom of the long Peynier drag lifts. We didn't have long to explore Risoul, but Pinataux (red) ran along a ridge with jaw dropping views up the gorge towards Briançon.


Grand Vallon (blue) to Vars Ste-Marie


Vars from Melezes (blue) in the Peynier sector


Views from Pinataux (red) on the Risoul side

Another Alpine Coaster to have a go on (€4.60) after the lifts shut, and a couple of large takeway pizzas (€10 each) from Embrun for dinner tonight.

There were a few more signs about coronavirus in the resort today, including notices requesting customers queuing for lift passes to stand a metre apart - which were being ignored. Still NO soap in any of the resort toilets!

We've heard the latest news about non-essential shops and public places shutting from tomorrow, so it sounds like today was very probably our last day skiing on this trip. We'll wait for confirmation, then have a think about what we should do next.


No panic buying of toilet roll in evidence - UK take note...


Last edited by Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person on Sun 22-03-20 17:39; edited 3 times in total
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Looks like you might be right about your skiing - but sounds like you've had a couple of great days at least! Bit like our trip to Garmisch, it's whetted the appetite to go back.

Your description of Vars/Risoul sounds amazing, that's definitely going on my list. Thanks for the reporting you've managed to do - fingers crossed you get a day or two more?
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@denfinella, thanks for your excellent TR. Very sorry that your trip will now be cut short Sad

Like @ElzP, I’m impressed with your description of Risoul/Vars. I had no idea there was such an extensive amount and range of pistes there. Somewhere different to try in future.

Stay well and hope your journey home is as smooth as possible.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
PeakyB wrote:
@denfinella, thanks for your excellent TR. Very sorry that your trip will now be cut short Sad

Like @ElzP, I’m impressed with your description of Risoul/Vars. I had no idea there was such an extensive amount and range of pistes there. Somewhere different to try in future.

Stay well and hope your journey home is as smooth as possible.
+1 You write better than many travel writers I have read, Denfinella.
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Thanks everyone for the compliments / sympathy - indeed, fingers crossed for the return flight on Thursday.

Sunday - Foret Blanche (Risoul / Vars) day 2

Today I was 90% sure we weren't going to be able to ski after yesterday evening's abrupt government restrictions. But against all the odds, Risoul published a statement just before midnight last night saying they would be staying open for Sunday!

None of the other resorts around Embrun had released any info prior to 8am on Sunday, so we assumed they'd be shut and headed back to Risoul, where we were still thinking their opening intentions were too good to be true.

But no - the dedicated day visitors' Pelinche draglift started spinning bang on schedule at 8.45am, just as we pulled into the car park. We recharged our passes at an automatic booth well away from the resort centre (the main ticket office would surely have been rammed); €41 euros for a standard rate single day pass, so not as cheap as Saturday.


Pre du Bois 8-person chair from Risoul snowfront

The domain was fully open and at its best, with sunshine, light winds, seasonal temperatures and very little slush or ice around. Cloud was building to the south and west, but only reached the far end of the ski area just before lift closing time. A couple of non-essential lifts had slightly shortened opening times due to local elections.

Coronavirus measures had been stepped up another notch, but in slightly bizarre fashion. On the Risoul side, we were all mandated to stand a metre apart in the lift queues (enforced by staff), but the chairs themselves were going up full, with people sitting next to each other. On the Vars side, chairs were only running at half capacity. For example, 3 people were permitted on a six person chair, with every other entrance gate blocked off and netting segregating skiers into 3 lines. This led to some largish queues (especially for 4 seater chairs) with everyone standing in close proximity to one another - but there was no sign of the 1 metre distance rule. The gondolas on the Chabrieres telemix were roped off. Mountain restaurants were also open and busy, seemingly in defiance of the ban.

We spent the morning above Vars again, mostly in the central Sibieres / Escondus sector before progressing to the long, slow Crevoux chair (with entertaining snowpark below) despite lift queues of 5 minutes or so.


Sibieres sector


Grand Ubac (black) from the Escondus chair


Crevoux chair and the Vars snowpark

Around lunchtime (which was pre-made sandwiches again) we said goodbye to the Vars bowl via the lonely Chabrieres drag up to the high point of the Foret Blanche at 2750m. The red back down the drag has stunning views across to the tiny ski resort of Crevoux in an adjacent valley, and a row of untouched snowfields beyond. A check of social media revealed that Crevoux also opened for a last hurrah, and so had nearby Les Orres - but the other nearby resort of Reallon had shut, in common with 95% of the other French resorts.


View towards Crevoux ski resort and the Lac de Serre-Poncon from the Col de Crevoux

Into the "back" bowl of Clos Chardon via another fabulously scenic (and completely deserted) red: Col sans nom. We'd have liked to repeat it, but there's no lift back to the top. The other runs in this high, fairly remote sector were all excellent with perfect snow conditions, and quiet thanks to them being served only by two slow, long chairlifts.


Col sans nom (red)


Clos Chardon sector


Clos Chardon sector from Saluces (blue)


Clos Chardon (red)

For the next hour or so we lapped the Peyrefolle and Plate de la Nonne fast chairs above Risoul by almost every combination possible - favourites included the Grande Bleue and Lieve blues off the latter, and the fast, hard-packed Coqs red off the former. Pisteurs were busy packing up netting / racing gates etc. for the unplanned season closure.


Grande Bleue (err... blue)

I also tried the short, but steep and unpisted Gentianes black (which my partner wisely gave a wide berth), which turned out to be perhaps the most unpleasant run I've ever skied - rutted, unbreakable crust all the way down its mercifully short length. My biggest criticism of the otherwise excellent Foret Blanche area is that there are a whole load of runs intentionally left ungroomed; this is nothing to do with the resort closing - they are marked as ungroomed on the piste map. I can see the appeal after fresh snow, but not after rain and several days of freeze thaw. They just end up being very unpleasant to ski, and therefore largely unused.

By 4.45pm the long Melezet drag was pretty much the last lift standing (in the Alps?!), so we wound down with a few pleasant wooded runs off this. A last ascent just before the 5pm closure gave access to the Serpent blue which stays high enough to traverse back to the car park. And feeling a little sad, we hopped in the car to join the steady stream of departing traffic back down to the valley.


Deserted Pelinche (green) back to the car, at resort closing time

All the resorts around Embrun, and probably throughout France, are now closed for the season as a result of CV, so we returned our ski hire (to a closed shop - involving phoning the owner who was at home, and obtaining the entry code for a storeroom) and headed back to our studio for homecooked dinner.

It's been a good run, but it had to come to an end at some point, and frankly I'm surprised that we managed to get 3 excellent days of skiing. We'll definitely be back in a happier, future season.

We can't switch our return flight (with Ryanair) to an earlier one without spending several hundred pounds, so we're expecting to stay here until Thursday as planned - fingers crossed. The next three days will therefore hopefully include some low key sightseeing (more quiet walks than busy tourist sites). The weather is set fair with temperatures reaching the high teens at valley level, so it should be pleasant for exploring. I need to get planning!


Last edited by You'll need to Register first of course. on Sun 22-03-20 17:45; edited 3 times in total
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
I'm guess you've seen this already and it may not be strictly relevant in your case, but have you seen this: https://www.ryanair.com/ie/en/useful-info/disruptions-and-refunds/coronavirus-covid-19/flight-change-fee-removed

There's a couple of people on here are suggesting France may be in full lock-down early this week.
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After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@denfinella, another interesting day’s report, thank you. And good luck getting home later in the week.
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You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
@denfinella, brilliant that you got another day in, and even more inspiration to visit that area. snowHead

Have fun exploring in the sunshine (hopefully!) and safe trip home.
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 Ski the Net with snowHeads
Ski the Net with snowHeads
ElzP wrote:
@denfinella, brilliant that you got another day in, and even more inspiration to visit that area. snowHead

Have fun exploring in the sunshine (hopefully!) and safe trip home.
+1 and thank you again for the lovely reports
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 snowHeads are a friendly bunch.
snowHeads are a friendly bunch.
@sugarmoma666, thanks - yes we've seen this (problem wasn't the flight change fee, but more the cost / availability of alternative flights). We'll be tuning in at 8pm for the next Macron announcement. I think that, however severe the next set of restrictions are, France will still allow foreigners to get home. But it is all a bit uncertain.

@ElzP, @Hurtle, cheers.

Monday - exploring up the Durance (no skiing)

With all French ski resorts now closed, our winter holiday has now been converted into a summer-type one: walking, sightseeing and scenic drives. Fortunately we like all of these things, and the area around Embrun is a lovely region to explore.

Our target today was the general area upstream from Embrun. First we went for a drive up the remote Vallee de Fressinieres. One of the longest hanging valleys in Europe, it's fringed by enormous cliffs with waterfalls tumbling down from dizzying heights. Several olde-world hamlets line the narrow road along the gorge, at the top of which is the roadless village (reached by a 45 min walk) of Dormillouse just inside the Ecrins National Park. The road got a bit hairy beyond Les Viollins about halfway along, and the increasingly tall banks of snow on the sides of the intermittently icy road meant it might have become impossible to turn around had we continued. We had no winter tyres or chains, so decided that a u-turn was wise.


Waterfall near Les Viollins

Next we went for a 5km walk around the Gouffre de Gourfouran: a chasm marking the lower end of the hanging valley. Impressive views, fascinating geology, interesting historical info (a vanished Roman settlement, old conflicts and religious processions), lots of birdlife and lizards scampering about in the morning sunshine - recommended.


Climbing up from the car park


Path near Le Chambon


Gouffre de Gourfouran


Gouffre de Gourfouran


Lizard on the way back down

Over lunchtime we wandered around the old mining town of Argentiere la Bessee. Old industrial relics and disused warehouses probably give parts of the place a bit of an apocalyptic feel at the best of times, but with social distancing in force, even the very centre of town was almost deserted, with just the odd car passing through.


Deserted Mairie in Argentiere la Bessee

Back down the valley a bit, and up to the Vauban fortifications at Mont Dauphin. The ramparts are all typical Vauban stuff, but with the added bonus of a dramatic setting above the gorge leading to the Queyras, and of course a backdrop of snow covered peaks. The site was officially closed as a tourist attraction, but there's a small, living village inside so it was still possible to look around the place, just without actually entering any of the buildings. In contrast to Argentiere la Besse, there were lots of locals around, either standing and chatting in the street or sunbathing on benches in the orchard area - not much else for them to do, since all shops and services in the town were shut.


Powder magazine at Mont Dauphin


View of the Guil gorge from Mont Dauphin


And on the other side, looking up the Durance valley

After driving to an obscure viewpoint on the Vars road for a snapshot of Guillestre and Mont Dauphin from above, we headed into Guillestre itself for a wander. Guillestre is the main town serving the entire Queyras region, and today was market day - well, it should have been! Despite no market the streets were busy with people wandering about, with a lot of "essential" shops open - some with restrictions on the number of people allowed in at any one time. The town wasn't particularly exciting from a tourist's perspective, though the church was quite nice - apparently part of the roof collapsed during Christmas Eve mass in 2013, landing on and injuring the priest.


Guillestre

Anyway, we're now back in the chalet relaxing - another homecooked dinner tonight, and a date with Macron at 8pm.


Last edited by snowHeads are a friendly bunch. on Sun 22-03-20 18:07; edited 1 time in total
snow report
 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Tuesday - am: Lac de Serre Ponçon (no skiing). Pm: lockdown

At 2am this morning we received a text (which fortunately woke us up) from Ryanair informing us that our flight on Thursday had been cancelled. There was an option to switch to a flight on Sunday but with the escalating situation and work (of some sort) to return to, we decided to book an alternative flight with easyJet for Wednesday. This isn't ideal: aside from the extra costs, the flight is to London Gatwick, followed by a next day train journey back to Scotland. With flights, trains, buses and multiple cities onvolved, it's not ideal from an "avoid contact" point of view. We've been on hold with Ryanair online chat since 6am UK time (it's now nearly 1pm), hopefully to organise compensation - though obviously there are more important things to worry about at this stage.

With the French lockdown coming into force at noon, we left our apartment at 8am to make the most of the morning. After that, no travel is permitted without a form - even to the shop or to go for a walk.

We went for a drive around the nearby Lac de Serre Ponçon - the largest manmade lake in France. The water level is low, possibly the result of a dry winter in the southern French Alps. Various lovely viewpoints to stop at including for a chapel stranded on an island, the huge barrage / dam, and into the mountains on all sides.


Island chapel


Durance just below the dam


Lake views


Lake views

We also walked up to the Demoiselles Coiffees - interesting glacial rock formations - near Sauze du Lac. The scenery around here (particularly on the southeast side of the lake where the Ubaye valley joins it) is seriously impressive - perhaps the best I've seen in Europe and certainly on a level above anything I've seen in the northern Alps. Another reason to return. St Jean Montclar ski resort was visible from some of the higher parts of the road - as well as Reallon later in the day.


Demoiselles Coiffees

One last stop at the deserted Abbaye de Boscodon (closed as a tourist attraction but open for general visiting), then the short drive back to Embrun with one eye on the clock. On the way, people clad in army uniform were beginning to gather in the roadside towns / villages ahead of 12 noon.


Abbaye de Boscodon


Foret de Boscodon, an hour before lockdown

A quick trip to the supermarket on the edge of Embrun was required to pick up dinner. Only 5 people were allowed in at a time and I was asked to stay outside while my partner did the shopping. New safety measures in force inside included staff wearing masks and gloves, and plastic barriers erected between the staff and customer sides of the tills.

We got back to the apartment at 11.45am in good time for the start of the lockdown, and are currently relaxing in the sunny garden, with a good view of the closed slopes of Les Orres across the valley. Our neighbours are printing off a "permission to travel" form, which we hope will be sufficient to get us to Marseille Airport tomorrow morning.


Last edited by And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports. on Sun 22-03-20 18:18; edited 1 time in total
snow conditions
 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
@denfinella, good luck with your travels! And thank you again for keeping us entertained.
ski holidays
 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
It's as interesting reading the non-ski reports as the skiing ones!

Safe and swift travels, and as above, thanks for the entertainment.
snow report
 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
@Hurtle, @ElzP, thanks both, all is well!

Wednesday - back in the UK, but not Scotland yet

This will be a short post, mainly because everything went very smoothly today... phew!

Armed with our "permission to travel form", we left the apartment at 5.15am - leaving 1.5 hours contingency in case there were checkpoint delays / complications etc. As it turned out, we didn't meet a single police car, and with traffic obviously very light we reached Marseille airport 4 hours before our flight! Interrent refused to inspect our car while we were present (apparently due to CV reasons), so hopefully no quibbles about getting back our deposit / credit card hold.

The airport was pretty quiet with about two thirds of flights on the board showing as cancelled. Fortunately our EasyJet flight (a replacement for Thursday's Ryanair one, which was itself a replacement for a Verona one!!) had survived the cull, and took off on time. Passengers were trying to keep apart from each other while waiting to board... until a staff member ushered us all into a confined space, pointing out that "you will all be close together on the plane soon anyway!" Laughing

The flight was about a quarter full and Gatwick was almost deserted. Then a couple of reasonably busy trains to SW London (made cheaper by one of those bizarre split tickets) where we are staying with (low risk) family for the night.

I have to admit it's a bit of a relief to be back in the UK, even if not the right part yet. I never seriously thought our ability to "escape" France was in doubt, but couldn't be 100% sure. Less happily, 100% of my forthcoming work (as a self employed musician) over the forthcoming months has been cancelled - in common with a lot of people at the moment.

Train back to Scotland tomorrow afternoon.
snow report
 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Thursday - aaand we're back!

Happy to report we're finally back home in Scotland, after a quiet trip back from suburban London. Small delays on the train journey, but thankfully an inexpensive trip helped by another split ticket. Our modes of transport today have been bus, train, tube, train, bus then car - which when added to the car, plane, monorail, train, train then car of the previous day is pretty much the opposite of "avoid travel" rolling eyes Still, no sign of any CV symptoms at the moment, and hopefully will stay that way.

I'll post a trip summary, costs and photos in the next few days - though costs may take a while to be finalised due to the various complications.
ski holidays
 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
@denfinella, Very Happy Very Happy
(What sort of music do you do, if I may ask?)
snow conditions
 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well done for getting at least a few days skiing in and indeed for getting home, a bit of an adventure in trying times.
latest report
 You need to Login to know who's really who.
You need to Login to know who's really who.
Ok -- So, where was the Mono-Rail ??

You, and your family, have certainly had an Adventure !! -- stay safe
snow report
 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@Hurtle, I'm an organist and pianist, mainly working with churches and choirs etc.

@ster, thanks, it was certainly interesting!

@albob, thanks - and the same to you. The monorail was at Gatwick Airport (though having just googled it, it's not technically a monorail)
latest report
 You'll need to Register first of course.
You'll need to Register first of course.
@denfinella, I'm missing my choral singing! But I don't get paid for it... Sad
ski holidays
 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Interesting read and useful links. Like many others here, I was looking forward to a trip to France this week. Ended up with a visit to Scotland. Good conditions at Glencoe at the moment if you're not done for the season.
ski holidays
 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@Hurtle, Sad hope you can sing at home! (Or at least in the shower!)
@Schnorrr, thanks, yes, lots of great links provided by others. I'm sorry to hear about your cancelled trip. Well, Glencoe is shut now, but it looked good from various reports I've read.

Photos now added to each day's post - hopefully a nice diversion for a few minutes for all those stuck at home. I'm holding back on listing costs for now as some are dependent on possible refunds (I won't hold my breath...).
ski holidays
 You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
@denfinella, I've got a very mediocre singing voice (though a good ear and white tone which blends OK) so singing to myself isn't too entertaining. It's making music with others which is the pleasure of choral singing for me. I'm still thinking about trying to resurrect my piano-playing skills, unused for over 50 years; I think that could be a step too far, both for me and for my neighbours...
ski holidays
 Ski the Net with snowHeads
Ski the Net with snowHeads
@denfinella, wonderful, wonderful photos. Thank you so much for moments of real pleasure, albeit vicarious. Very Happy
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