Tim Price stays with Chilly Powder to experience the action-packed French Alps
Those with a passion for hitting the French alps in the winter months may well be familiar with the Portes du Soleil area on the border with Switzerland. Destinations such as Morzine and Avoriaz are generally regarded by winter-sport aficionados as offering some of the best skiing in France. Perched at 1800m, Avoriaz has spectacular views down from its clifftop location. This purpose-built resort is very much geared to families and gives them access to over 650km of slopes. And while architecturally it may not be quite so pretty to behold in itself once the snow has thawed, there is no escaping the fact that there is still much to be enjoyed in the area for the activity-minded mum and dad with kids in tow. That’s certainly what I found when I stayed with my family at Au Coin Du Feu — a catered ski chalet that forms part of a local accommodation portfolio run by a company called Chilly Powder. Instead of being located amongst the modern towering blocks of Avoriaz, Au Coin Du Feu is found in much more serene settings in the valley towards Morzine below, just yards from the Les Prodains cable-car station which links guests to Avoriaz.
Au Coin Du Feu
This chalet is a four-storey residence of traditional alpine style providing catered accommodation across 20 themed rooms. Run by British husband-and-wife team Francesca and Paul, Chilly Powder has been operating this plus a range of self-catering ski and summer activity holidays since 1996. Although described as ‘luxury’, don’t expect a boutique Cheval Blanc. The rooms are comfortable enough but not palatial, more homely than designer chic. But what this place lacks in trappings such as a steam room or swimming pool (although there is an outdoor hot tub and a staffed massage treatment yurt in the garden) it makes up for in a family-geared, social welcome. If you come to the Alps with children, looking for healthy outdoor adventure and to make friends into the bargain, then Au Coin Du Feu really fulfils that role well. For example, evening meals are served in the open-plan dining room, auberge-style. The younger children all have theirs, then the teenagers and adults all sit down together to eat a five-course meal on the long tables, exchanging stories about their exciting day. And I have to say, we found the food to be excellent. So while the little ones are looked after by professional childminders, in the meadow garden, crèche or cinema room with its library of movies and games, the enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff (who are in most cases adrenalin junkies themselves) are always more than ready to recommend places for us to try the next day. And the list of options is endless..
Lots to do..
During the summer, ski runs become mountain-bike trails varying from beginner green runs through to macho, extreme black ones, and if you don’t decide to bring out your own multi-geared, full-sus MTB from home to show it something a bit more challenging than its familiar Surrey Hills experience, there are of course plenty of places to hire from in Morzine. We were persuaded to give some electric ones a go. The proprietor of the ABC Sport SKISET that we rented them from told us that there has been a huge increase in people opting for high-tech electrical assistance in recent years. “It enables the less athletic of the family to climb comfortably alongside the others,” he says. You still have to pedal, but the effort is considerably minimised when you flick through the motor speeds. They were good fun. The network of cable cars and ski lifts is adapted to carry bikes too, so those with a death wish, sorry, I mean those with a passion for downhill biking, can get straight to the peaks without wasting energy. The area is of course a popular road-cycling region too. It features on a stage of the Tour de France. In fact, Francesca tells me that one of the teams regularly takes over the entire chalet for a period while they prepare. But if cycling doesn’t float your boat, there is plenty of water in the area that will, whether it’s a white-water raft, canoe, kayak or paddleboard. Lakes such as Montriond or Leman, like the surrounding scenery, are absolutely stunning and besides the water sports do offer a beautiful place to relax for a bit and soak up the alpine sun. At Les Gets there is a water park featuring the Wibit — a fun, floating inflatable obstacle course. The higher-octane entertainment of rafting takes place a bit higher up amongst the rapids of the Dranse or Giffre rivers. Likewise you can try canyoning (swimming down through gullies). A family favourite for all abilities is the summer sledge run (on wheels) which starts from the top of the Crusaz chairlift. Or for a really breathtaking aerial view of the wonderful scenery that surrounds Morzine you can take a tandem flight on a paraglider. For a powered option, helicopters can be chartered from several locations including both Morzine and Avoriaz. There are even Heli gastronomy flights and tours of Mont Blanc. Plus there is golf, fishing, tennis, horse riding and at Morzine’s Parc des Dérêches there are both indoor and outdoor swimming pools. As you can now appreciate, there’s an awful lot to do here, so a ‘Multi-pass’ is a must have. This little card gives access to over 60 activities while you are on your holiday, including cable cars and chairlifts. Just leave it to Chilly Powder and they’ll arrange it for you. It’s understandable that with Chilly Powder the emphasis is on activity, but even if the height of your strenuousness is just a walk, this captivating setting provides the ingredients to make each one a memorable one. The towering mountain scenery, the forests, rich green meadows, wild flowers, babbling streams and fresh air all made a change from beach towels, salt water and ozone. I have to say, I was truly won over by the alpine version of a summer break.
This article appears in our spring edition. To view all of that click HERE
Photo: Robbie Davies