Last December we spent Christmas in the Alps for the first time. We chose to return to one of our favourite resorts, Les Arcs, and booked accommodation in the highest village to be sure of a white Christmas!
Whilst we have enjoyed trips to Les Arcs by Eurostar ski train in the past, self-drive seemed the obvious choice for the Christmas trip given that we were taking a large amount of luggage as well as ski equipment, presents and even a miniature Christmas tree!
We drove to Portsmouth for the early Brittany Ferries sailing to Caen which we had booked at a very reasonable price through Ski Collection. In the winter the ferries on this route tend not to be that busy and we found it a relaxing way to travel. We reached Caen mid-afternoon and set off on our onward journey, whilst listening to our entire collection of Christmas music ranging from 80s pop compilations to traditional carols. Driving around Paris during evening rush hour, a few days before Christmas, is not for the faint-hearted and we also encountered heavy fog on the way to our overnight hotel in Beaune.
The second day’s drive was more straightforward and by the time we reached the Alps we had emerged from the fog to clear blue skies and sunshine. As we toured the aisles of Super U in Bourg-Saint-Maurice for our self-catering supplies, there was a cheery “Ho! Ho! Ho!” from the next aisle and we had our first sighting of le Père Noël! Christmas trees and fresh snails were on sale outside.
"We were looked after very well all week by the reception staff who were most friendly."
Our accommodation for the week was a second-floor apartment at Chalet des Neiges - La Cime des Arcs, which occupies a prime location in Arc 2000. As we entered the apartment we were thrilled to find that it overlooked the piste and the view was particularly beautiful at dusk. The apartment was immaculate with gleaming glass and a pleasant aroma of wood polish. The wooden shelves in the sitting room were soon festooned with tinsel, presents and the Christmas tree. We enjoyed a swim in the small pool with its pretty starlit ceiling and there was also a steam room and sauna.
We were looked after very well all week by the reception staff who were most friendly and even phoned round the local supermarkets to find us a baguette for our fondue, when the nearest supermarket had sold out. After reception shut in the evenings, guests were still able to use the communal sitting area downstairs which would be particularly useful for larger groups. For those wishing to eat out there was an excellent restaurant, Le Savoy, on the ground floor of the residence and a wide choice of other restaurants within Arc 2000 and Arc 1950, the two villages being linked by the Cabriolet gondola, which runs all evening.
The children’s excitement levels at the start of the holiday were sky high with the anticipation of skiing and opening Christmas presents, especially the distinctively long and narrow shaped gifts! They did not have to go far to try their new skis as there was snow right to the ski room door. It was exhilarating to find ourselves skiing Le Refuge, a “doable” black run off the Grand Col, as a family on Christmas morning.
We booked the mountain restaurant, Les Chalets de L’Arc, for a late Christmas lunch and tucked into turkey and chestnuts followed by “Bûche de Noël” in rustic and cosy surroundings. Later we headed down to Arc 1950 for a glass of vin chaud whilst we watched Father Christmas descending from the rooftops to greet the crowds by the large resort Christmas tree. We were lucky to have clear skies throughout the week and some days it was warm enough to eat lunch on the mountain restaurant terraces. One of our favourite lunch stops was Chalet Grillette on the Grands Mélèzes piste in Arc 1800.
"There was also plenty of enjoyable après-ski for all the family."
Unfortunately, snow levels in the Alps were well below normal but even so around sixty percent of the runs in the Paradiski area were open and we were still able to ski down to some of the lower villages such as Vallandry and Arc 1600. We also took the Vanoise Express lift over to La Plagne one day and skied the slopes above Champagny en Vanoise for the first time. There are so many runs we love skiing in Les Arcs that it is hard to pick favourites but some of the slopes we enjoyed most last Christmas included the lower section of the Arandelières red, accessed from the Varet gondola in Arc 2000 and the higher slopes in the scenic Peisey Vallandry area.
There was also plenty of enjoyable après ski for all the family. The children loved the 3 km Rodeo sledge ride, accessed from the top of the Arcabulle ski lift. At the foot of the Arcabulle was an igloo ice bar with amazing sculptures inside. Our energetic teenage son was pleased that after skiing all day, he could also ski all evening on the floodlit Marmottes piste twice a week.
Meanwhile, I toured the local spas; Deep Nature in Arc 1950 and the luxurious spa at the newly opened Taj I Mah hotel. The Taj I Mah is located next to La Cime des Arcs and has a cosy if pricey bar with live music once a week. We also walked up the piste under the stars for an evening meal at Les Chalets de L’Arc.
"We loved the experience of early season skiing at Christmas and it is certainly an experience we hope to repeat."
Whilst we were relieved not to need our snow chains, we were glad to have invested in winter tyres, as we drove in sub-zero temperatures all the way to Caen for the overnight ferry home. This time we took a motorway route avoiding Paris and the children marvelled as we drove for hours past trees covered in a thick layer of frost. Having skied late season for several years we loved the experience of early season skiing at Christmas and it is certainly an experience we hope to repeat.