If you're looking for an Alpine retreat that's still offering traditional rustic charm, La Clusaz will most likely hit the spot says Dean Usher.
One of the beauties of the Alps in winter is that they cater to everyone. Some places offer several hundred of miles of pistes; some have culture and views to die for; others offer the most opulent lifestyle imaginable – with prices to match, as anyone who’s had a €50 bill for a hamburger will attest.
At La Clusaz, however, the charms of skiing in the Alps remains simple. It’s a charming, traditional little town in a heartbreakingly pretty setting, where you can still have lunch without taking out a second mortgage.
It’d been six years since my last visit, so after a refresher at the Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead I headed out to La Clusaz – an hour from Geneva, which itself is the same from Gatwick – to enjoy a few days in this traditional resort in south-eastern France. And after a brief pitstop to drop off bags at the St Alban Hotel, I set off in search of the floodlit slopes of Manigod, the largest nocturnal ski area in Savoie Mont Blanc. It was a great icebreaker for the trip and as well as a unique experience, it helped blow off any cobwebs. After an hour on the slopes we stopped off at the Restaurant Happy Chalet and tucked into the amazing Savoyard speciality of Tartiflette with salad. It’d been a while, but I was back in the Alps with a big smile on my face.
The La Clusaz-Manigod ski area boasts 120km of downhill slopes, with 52 ski lifts able to cope with almost 60,000 skiers an hour, and breathtaking views towards Mont Blanc from Le Plateau de Beauregard.
With the help of an instructor to help me shake off the snowboard rust, I started off on the wide blue slopes on a quiet Sunday, the perfect way to get back into form and build up an appetite for lunch at La Vielle Ferme will live long in the memory due to the amazing brasserade and equally superb reblochonnade.
In the evening we headed back to the hotel, the brand new and thoughtfully-styled Hotel St Alban. Like the resort itself it has a simple but cosy feel, and with 48-rooms it remains small enough to feel friendly and intimate – a sensation aided further by friendly and attentive staff.
Rooms are decorated in a clean, unfussy way, and there’s an on-site ski shop which made it incredibly quick and easy to pick up gear and head to the slopes – either via the free shuttle bus or a 10 minute walk. The hotel also offers has a few unusual touches including a tapas bar and a spa with pool, sauna, salt wall, sensory shower and ice cave.
With the cobwebs blown off my technique, next up was Le Grand Bornand, a short trip from La Clusaz via taxi or (free) shuttle bus, where my group was greeted by the most glorious weather and a vast array of runs. It’s a great ski resort that’s perfect for families, kids and beginners, with some wide green and blue runs that are a great place to learn and improve. Yet there’s also a variety of more challenging runs which the advanced skier or boarder would enjoy – a good place for a mixed group, in other words.
If you’re feeling brave, Le Grand Bornand has a great slalom course, complete with timer which you can activate with your lift pass as you head off. You’ll also get a video of your no-doubt-impeccably-smooth turns (ahem) waiting for you at the bottom. Lunch at the rustic L’Esperluette was spot-on, just the tonic before heading out again for an afternoon on the slopes.
Le Clusaz is a lovely place for a skiing break that has a friendly, rustic, non-commercial and local vibe. Everyone from ski instructors and lift operators to the waiting staff in the restaurants we visited could scarcely have been nicer, with a pace of life that makes it a wonderful spot to escape from your hectic life.
Inghams offers a seven-night ski holiday on a bed & breakfast basis at the four-star Hotel St Alban in La Clusaz, France, from £859 per person based on two sharing in January 2020. Price includes return flights and airport transfers. Weekly equipment hire can be pre-booked from £100 per adult and collected from the hotel’s own ski hire shop on arrival. Whole area, six-day lift passes can be pre-booked from £202 per adult, with an €11 supplement for a night skiing session. To book, visit www.inghams.co.uk/ski-holidays or call 01483 791 114.
Food and drink
Alpine food is always something of a treat, and the traditional Savoyard speciality of tartiflette with salad at Restaurant Happy Chalet in Manigod was particularly good, while at nearby La Vielle Ferme you’d be mad not to order the brasserade and reblochonnade; nothing warms you up more than grilled local cheese and steak.
If you want an excuse to swap the ski gear for something smarter then the Bistro Les 2 Mules in La Clusaz is a lovely option with a touch of fine dining at a reasonably price, with a choice of three courses for €38. And if you’re after something different again, try the new Restaurant Sushi Fumi
While you’re there
Why ski downhill when you can ski along the flat, being towed by a horse? If that’s a question that’s always bugged you then you’ll need to give ski joëring a try. €29 per person for an introductory session.
If that gives you the bug for trying alternate Alpine activities then there are all manner of other options in the area, including ice skating, snowshoeing, paragliding, bowling, dog sledding and ‘paret’. The latter is an old-fashioned luge which, from the looks of the positioning of that handle, seems designed specifically to make the prospect of a high-speed sledging crash even more terrifying than it might otherwise be.
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