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Gentle blue pistes and a hotel with a treasure island pool and sweets on tap - is France's La Plagne the best family ski resort on Earth?

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 15/02/2020 Jake Wallis Simons

Speaking for myself, the best part of a ski holiday is not hurtling down the slopes. It’s not even sauntering into the bar in the evening for some well-deserved après – although admittedly, both are darn good.

No: what I really love are the ski-lifts. Sounds silly, I know. But it is in those moments, soaring above the mountains, that one can find those rare moments of peace.

Picture the scene. Your turn comes up for the lift at the bottom of the mountain, surrounded by the colour and chaos of other skiers. There is the hubbub of voices in many languages and the whirr and clank of the mechanical winch.

a group of clouds in the sky over a snow covered mountain: A panoramic view of La Plagne, a vast ski resort made up of 11 villages

A panoramic view of La Plagne, a vast ski resort made up of 11 villages
© Provided by Daily Mail

You plump on and lower the safety bar across your lap. You take the weight off your skis by balancing them on the little foot-rest. You feel warm from the exercise but cold from the snow.

Then, little by little, you ascend into the air. With your head de-cobwebbed by the adrenaline on the piste, the noise and busyness of the resort fades away and the majestic mountain range opens up silently on either side.

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Paradise, no? In fact, on this occasion I mean it literally: this was a week with the family at a cluster of Alpine resorts known collectively as Paradiski.

I speak of a region of the Tarentaise Valley of the French Alps that includes Les Arcs, Peisey-Vallandry and La Plagne, linked by a double-decker cable car called the Vanoise Express.

On offer are 264 miles of pistes – over 50 per cent of which are green or blue runs – serviced by 160 lovely, lovely lifts, with myriad hotels, bars and apartments to match.

We opted for La Plagne, one of the most popular ski resorts on Earth, with upwards of 2.5 million visitors enjoying its 11 resort villages. In April, at the very end of the ski season, I nabbed a cheeky week with my wife and my three children, aged 12, 10 and 10 (twins), at the hexagon-shaped Araucaria Hotel, which is situated on the very edge of the pistes at Plagne Centre, which lies at 6,463ft (1,970 metres).

From beginning to end, the hotel was fab. The rooms were quirky yet comfortable, the food top-notch and the lift would take you conveniently down to the ski room to get kitted up before slipping straight onto the slopes.

In addition, there was a drinks fridge, pick-and-mix station and pool table available 24/7 – perfect for children of a certain age.

In this most popular of ski resorts, there was no shortage of innovative companies offering services to make our holiday go exceptionally smoothly.

Foremost of these was Oxygène, a firm that offers an excellent ski school – which we sampled – as well as advanced ski kit hire.

I say ‘advanced’ because the 'chalet fitting' service was so simple. You divulge your sizes in advance and then, when you arrive at the hotel, a bag for each member of your party was at your hotel waiting for you.

Kitted out in our snug, well-fitting costumes, we took to the slopes. We were novices, having only skied once before, and took advantage of a few private lessons to give us the basic skills we needed.

The instructor, Sylvan, who worked for ESF, one of the most prominent, English-speaking ski schools in France, was a suntanned wizard of the slopes with dyed blond hair, a laid-back sense of humour and a wiry frame.

Amazingly enough, under his tutelage, the whole family transformed from novices to intermediate skiers within a couple of days. We ended each day in a state of exhaustion and exhilaration as we arrived back at the hotel for dinner.

From then on, we went to ski school with Oxygène in the mornings, and explored the mountains on skis in the afternoons. It was daunting at first being released into the snow without an instructor, but it soon became second nature.

With a map of the resort at hand, we were easily able to take advantage of the many slopes that web the mountain and gain a feeling of travelling across the range on skis – not simply going up and down the same slopes.

Some of the pistes offered novelty features like disco tunnels and ramps, while others were simply broad, friendly descents that were accessible to everyone.

This was April – right at the end of the season – and the advantage was immediately apparent. The slopes were not crowded, and it was easy to feel that you mastered the pistes without worrying about overcrowding.

As temperatures were warmer than they were in midwinter, however, there was some slush to contend with, especially later in the day. I found it particularly hard to ski through slush, and ended up providing entertainment for the children by falling over and slipping down on my backside.

TRAVEL FACTS 

Rooms at the Araucaria Hotel start at €252(AU$ 406).

Oxygène snow school starts at €189 per week and kit hire starts at €80.

ESF private ski lessons start at €96.

Spa sessions at Spa Bains de Belle-Plagne start at €32. 

One evening, we sampled the Spa Bains de Belle-Plagne, a rooftop spa against the backdrop of the mountains. We roasted ourselves in saunas with bubble windows onto the snow, then swam in the aerated swimming pool.

We even cooled down in the piles of snow that had accumulated beside the walls, before plunging back into the saunas again. The following day, we were even more ready for the slopes.

There you have it: Paradise. It may have been the very end of the season, but La Plagne was a fantastic place for a family skiing holiday. And I’m still feeling the peace of those ski lifts.


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