Snow has never been part of my life but it’s always held a glossy, somewhat remote allure. I imagined cosy après ski lounging and laughter by the log fire accompanied by an apéritif to take you into the night. It’s not until living in France that I’ve had the opportunity to venture to the snow each year and it’s our big holiday. It’s not really the glamorous image I’d envisaged in my dreams. It’s cold obviously and learning to ski can be challenging but the snow definitely has its charm and the environment is so beautiful that you can’t help but pine for it when you leave. The alps are not far away from Sainte Maxime and actually the closest ski field is only two hours from here. This year we visited Serre Chevalier, comprised of three villages – Villeneuve, Chantemerle and Le Monêtier-les-Bains as well as the city Briançon – the highest in Europe.
We stayed in Villeneuve and the snow made an appearance the night we arrived. The next morning the streets were pathed with snow and I was bewitched by the white folds of soft sludgy mush. Villeneuve has a huge number of pistes to satisfy all levels of skiing abilities. There’s a wide range of accommodation including apartments, chalets and hotels and we found a small apartment that served us well. Children can commence ski lessons at around three years of age and they learn so quickly it’s incredible. The ski schools are fabulous with the kids, with around eight in each class all striving to grasp that medal (more like a badge) by the end of the week. My children had never seen snow before we came to France, so I’m always blown away by how easy it is for them to get going on skis. I wish I could say the same about myself.
The food in the old part of the village was delicious if you eat out. We found a Nepalese / French restaurant above the main village (Le Pastelli) and the menu offered something a little different from the usual mountain fare. We actually went there twice we liked it so much and on Wednesday evenings a pig is slowly roasted on the wood fire which I have to say was delicious. If you’re not a fan of cheese and meat – you’ll be sorely out of luck when dining out. But you’ll be able to have the real deal raclette if you hunt it out and believe me I was always starving after skiing (and I’m not doing it all day and I’m not going fast – in fact I’ve been told I’m like a snail on the slopes by my youngest). Other great eating spots were La Marotte in the old town, that served regional specialties and La Pastorale with its cave like interior and lively atmosphere. There’s also a movie theatre screening films for kids and the adults ranging from Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight to the violence free Heidi. And an English pub at the bottom of the slopes brought back beer soaked memories of student bars from my Uni days. Instead of beer underfoot it was melting snow.
If you ever visit the area I would highly recommend the hot pool complex (Les Grand Bains) at Le Monêtier-les-Bains. These feel like heaven after being in the snow, and help to ease the aches and pains. If you have forgotten to bring your bathing costume, then never fear, a store sells one pieces and even though swimwear is my horror purchase, I managed to find one that looked passable without too much fuss. The centre houses a wide variety of pools in a range of temperatures including outdoor pools so you can feel the snow tumbling on your head whilst bathing. Saunas and hammans heat things up and if facials are your thing then you will be very happy to know there’s a beauty centre at your disposal. Plus there’s a shallow music pool where you can hear relaxing chill out tunes as you recline partially under the water. Sublime!
Here are some pics. Hey one final word – it’s never too late to hit the slopes if you’re a latecomer. Seriously if I can get on skis anyone can.
All photos by Megan In Sainte Maxime.
Addresses :Le Pastelli : 7 rue de la Tournante, 05240 La Salle les Alpes, France : +33 4 92 53 35 75