The ski season is well underway, and it feels like the whole of London is decamping to the mountains. From Val d’Isere to Courchevel to Whistler, just the names of my friends’ destinations of choice hold the promise of Christmas card vistas, exhilarating descents on pristine white slopes, and cosy yet chic après-ski.
But there are disadvantages of these iconic resorts too. For ski aficionados, the big ticket resorts can be frustratingly full of people with “all the gear and no idea” – simply there to show off their Prada skiwear and be seen in the right bars rather than enjoy the slopes. For relatively inexperienced skiers (like your correspondent), learning a new skill that involves lots of decidedly ungraceful falling on your arse, is a lot more intimidating if image is all that counts, and your You’ve Been Framed style fall risks making a cameo appearance in an influencer’s Insta-story. And of course for thrill seekers of all levels, iconic status is always accompanied by eyewatering prices.
For just some of these reasons, I thought I’d try hitting the slopes somewhere a little less famous.
Les Saisies, tucked away in the Savoie region of France, is a real hidden gem. 90% of its tourists are French, with very few Brits making the journey. I don’t want to spoil the secret, but it really is worth taking a look.
First things first. If you’re after a Folie Douche-type experience, dancing on tables quaffing champagne, this isn’t the resort for you.
But, if you want to take a young family away on an adventure, have a cosy pre-Easter holiday with bae, or get away from the pressures of city life in a stunning setting, Les Saisies just might be the perfect destination.
This village resort, with its rustic chalets and quaint churches, is chocolate-box perfect. It has none of the concrete buildings you see in so many purpose-built resorts, and no building is higher than four storeys. You will feel like you’re truly getting away from it all in a snowy rural idyll.
The bowl-like structure of the resort sees slopes for all levels meeting in one central basin, filled with eateries and activities. This means parties with varying levels of skill don’t have to wave goodbye to each other after breakfast, only able to reconvene at the end of the day. Experienced parents can hit the more challenging pistes, while little ones take lessons from friendly instructors, and grandparents take the dog for a relaxing walk in the snow: then everyone can meet at the bottom for some well-earned lunch to relay their morning experiences. Everyone will feel comfortable in the unshowy, welcoming atmosphere.
But a lack of pretentiousness doesn’t have to mean a drop in standards compared to the big-name resorts. The quality of the restaurants is second to none. La Table des Armaillis, serving up stylish Japanese-French fusion dishes, features in the 2019 Michelin guide. It should be – in this foodie’s humble opinion – well on its way to a star. Don’t miss the stunning wine cellar, where you can sample delectable local cheeses and sip carefully paired vintage wines. (Go on, you will work it all off on the slopes tomorrow anyway.)
If you’re looking for a break from skiing, drop into Le 1650 – a chilled out bowling alley and snack bar. Its hearty, reasonably priced fare runs the gamut from burgers to French onion soup, and will serve you well for a quick but delicious bite. Then pop next door to the on-site spa to relax achy muscles in the saunas and jacuzzis.
There are plenty of special activities to try out, from cross country skiing, to the adrenaline-pumping mountain twister (basically sledging on rails – yes, it is as fun as it sounds).
It’s amazing there aren’t more Brits here already – but Les Saisies has already prepared well for our arrival. Le Bus Givré is a home from home for Londoners – an iconic red double decker bus where you can treat yourself to waffles and ice-cream before skiing off down the slopes again. It’s just like The Bloody Oyster on London’s Southbank, but with better views.
Les Saisies isn’t for everyone – I understand that, for many people, part of the appeal of a ski holiday is the glamour and the nightlife. But this lovely resort’s inclusive, friendly feel, combined with the wide variety of activities on offer, makes it ideal for anyone seeking a fun, reasonably priced and chilled out holiday – all in a setting beautiful enough to rival any world-class destination.
Discover more about Les Saisies, skiing and Savoire at www.lessaisies.com