“Quick, we’re leaving in an hour.” It’s the end of Spring term at the school gate. In four hours, we’ll be rolling sous la Manche on the Eurotunnel, headed towards the French Alps. It goes like clockwork, by midnight we were tucked up in bed on the outskirts of Rheims: 290 miles and one very long game of ‘Spot the Blue Lorry’ down; 452 miles to go. The room was basic but the coffee, hot chocolate and croissants were good and we were back on the road at 8.45 am the next day. Twenty minutes later, we were still trying to leave Rheims. Mummy turned off the sat nav and started reading signposts instead. So when it had said ‘turn left’ at the junction with five exits; what it really meant was ‘take the turn that is between the left turn and road straight on.’
We drove a similar route last year and took the precaution of marking on the map in pink highlighter pen all the decent service stations. Mum was anxious to get underway and make the carefully planned elevenses stop because it had a branch of excellent French baker and patisserie Paul, where lunch could also be bought. Our pace picked up. Despite driving rain, and then snow, we arrived comfortably in Val d’Isere before 5.00pm. There is something deeply satisfying about driving to the end of the road and pulling up surrounded left and right by mountains.
By good fortune we arrived in time to spend a long weekend with five friends with whom we had enjoyed many a ski holiday before all the children came along. Well, actually less a case of serendipity and more a spate of late night pan-European emails after a few glasses of wine several months ago, followed by a few “online shopping accidents” (as my friend so eloquently put it when she booked her trip). So, stretching ahead of us, we had two nights in a hotel, a week in a chalet with friends from our village at home, and then a further two nights in a hotel before we set off for an overnight stop in Burgundy en route home.
Our group size in mind, we had booked restaurants ahead of time to avoid every parent’s bank holiday weekend nightmare of trailing hungry children round town from fully-booked restaurant to fully-booked restaurant. On the first night, the kids enjoyed cooking their own meat on hot stones at Les Bistrots des Cimes. The next evening, they watched the famous Bourg en Bresse chickens spit roasted at La Luge. A lot of colouring, word searches and snap was played until the lure of the iPods was too great and they sank into their own electronic worlds. That said, free app hit of the holiday was a version of Connect 4, which was remarkably sociable.
The first two days in the resort dawned snowy…and just got snowier. A complete white out on the slopes gives rise to the strangest sensation – disorientated doesn’t really do justice to the feeling you have when you can’t distinguish sky from ground and you don’t really know which way is up and which way is down. Luckily, the kids like swimming as much as skiing so I left some of the hardy souls to play in the powder and hit the swimming pool with the kids to break up the days.
Come Saturday afternoon we checked into our cosy chalet apartment, a stone’s throw from the nursery slopes and enjoyed a sumptuous dinner. Sunday morning brought sunshine and Sunday afternoon brought the nanny, so now we could really get some mileage in on the slopes. By Monday, our first batch of playmates had all departed and we settled into our relaxed week as a group of six in the chalet.
The week pretty much continued with bouts of sunshine and snow. We enjoyed some excursions to the furthest reaches of the piste map thanks to the well linked ski areas and over-indulged in the meat- and cheese-heavy fare of the mountain restaurants. My husband took off for a couple of mornings off piste with a guide from Alpine Experience. Looking out from 2700m at snowy mountains in April sunshine, with a steaming vin chaud, all was well with the world. Being spring time there was even chance for a deck chair moment with chilled white sundowners on the chalet balcony. Bliss.
My son returned from his lessons bolder than ever, having followed his instructor down his first truly off piste run, the enticingly named Vallee Perdue. My daughter came on in leaps and bounds, leaving the nursery slopes behind and happily tackling all the green runs by the end of the week (we took the opportunity to spy from a distance a couple of mornings). Both kids enjoyed the snow parks constructed at varying levels of difficulty and containing tunnels, jumps, slalom poles and half pipes. Our chalet mate’s daughter gained her ski legs with a handful of one-to-one, two-hour private lessons and was confidently tackling the nursery slopes. We have been coming here since 1998 and I felt distinctly emotional as we skied for the first time all together as a family out of the lift, down a familiar run to a favourite restaurant for lunch and then onwards to the foot of the mountain. Mission accomplished.
At the week’s close we were sad to see our chalet mates go but we’d treated ourselves to a hotel with pool and steam room to ease tired muscles before the long drive home. And we joined some locals enjoying Saturday breakfast bowls of hot chocolate and café au lait with fresh croissants in the awesome Maison Chevallot bakery.
We pulled out of town in Monday morning rain and covered the 245 miles to Beaune in around four hours. A wander round the old town walls in the direction of the play park was cut short when the heavens opened and we dashed to the nearest restaurant. Here my son fulfilled his holiday-long wish to have snails. Despite one Pretty Woman-esque moment when a ‘slippery little sucker’ shot under the next table, he seemed to enjoy them.
With more rain in the morning we plugged the kids into their own personal electronic heaven and drove in and out and around various villages of the Côte-d’Or until we found a likely place to stop at Vougeot. La Grande Cave de Pierre Laforest houses plenty of cool, damp, spooky cellar passages for children to explore, an exhibition that gives a potted history of Burgundy wine villages and plenty of tasting. A pleasant hour or so later, we had filled any remaining voids in the car with a selection of bottles and were on the road again to cover the remaining 360 miles to Calais.
Devoid of delicious anticipation and expectation, the journey home is always longer. The best snacks have run out, iPod batteries are running dangerously low and, despite mummy’s rubbish management policy, it would appear as if a small tsunami has washed through the back seats. Daddy resorted to watching Scooby Doo on his iPad under cover of headphones while mummy continued to override the sat nav’s suggestions with increasing intolerance.
Yet, with faces glowing from mountain sunshine and we maintained a sense of well being and I, for one, was content to reflect on the last two weeks as we rumbled through the M25 roadworks towards home.
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