Puy-Saint-Vincent, great little ski resorts
Pretty Puy-Saint-Vincent sits on the edge of the Ecrins national park in the southern French Alps, not far from the Italian border. The closest airport is Turin, less than two hours away, or add another hour to drive from Grenoble or Chambéry. A small UK company, Snowbizz, established a base here in 1986 and offers full family packages to the resort.
When it comes to family ski holidays, it doesn’t get much better. Little ones (six months to 11 years) are well cared-for at the morning ski school, all-day crèche and evening kiddie club, all a few steps from the shops, bars, and ski lifts. In fact, nothing at this compact resort is more than a short walk away. Except for the French school holidays, the pistes are not crowded and queues rare. Even absolute beginners should quickly feel confident enough to get high up the mountain and wind down a long, gentle green run, or even tackle one of the blues. And ski passes are among the cheapest in the Alps.
The resort is on three levels – 1,400, 1,600 and 1,800 metres – and skiing extends to 2,750 metres. The ski area is easy to navigate, with most runs leading past the main resort, Puy 1600. There’s a snow park and boardercross, and advanced skiers will be challenged by a wide choice of reds and two blacks – one tricky for its sheer steepness, the other for its moguls. There’s plenty of off-piste through larch forest, but professional guides are recommended for the big off-piste challenges of Narreyroux valley and the Col du Bal. Puy is known for late-season snow and an average 300 days a year of sunshine. The whole ski area is in the sun until mid-afternoon.
Despite its size, Puy has the usual winter fun options and more. The nightly snake gliss (toboggan train) is a perfect way for non-skiers to enjoy a thrilling, high-speed descent (€10). Or try a night skiddoo tour (€70 for one driver or €80 with a passenger), which does two loops, the second quite speedy. There’s lots of cross-country skiing, or join a snowshoeing tour (€35 a day, €24 half-day). The snowshoeing guide, Cyril, also does a moonlit expedition, where you’ll stop to build a fire and enjoy mulled wine, local delicacies and stargazing (€28). Kids will love the trampolines, sledging and 28C outdoor pool, heated to (speedos please gentlemen). All activities can be arranged by Michel at Snowbizz or at the Puy 1600 tourist office.
This is a family resort, so there are no noisy clubs, though there’s a nice buzz at Le Pub on the ground floor of the Sun Vallée apartments. At L’Ours Brun, you can have a beer while watching the children bomb down the mini sledging slope. In the school holidays, older children can join a weekly torchlit procession, with free mulled wine or hot chocolate for spectators. There’s a special Santa one at Christmas. While the après is relatively tame for grown-ups, kids can party at the Snowbizz Kiddie Club, with a pizza party, talent show, pirate night and disco (two hours each evening, £40 per child for six nights).
Tuck into fondue and raclette by the fire at La Chaumière in Puy 1600: the fondue bourguignonne for two (€22 a head) could easily feed four – and there are child-pleasing pizzas and chocolate brownies, too. Order other delicious alpine favourites, such as tartiflette (€9, serves two) and cheese and génépi tart (€14, serves four), from the hugely popular Maison Artisanale de la Vallouise. Place your order the day before and take away piping hot food, ready to eat. The two mountain restaurants, lunch only, have mains at around €12 and daily specials. There’s an excellent bakery, too.