The French Pyrenees have received regular fresh snow top-ups over the last two weeks building on an already excellent snow base setting them up for excellent conditions for their final few weeks of the season and spring events.
Below are a selection of ski holiday offers for March and April:
Zenith Holidays in St Lary – Departs 17 March
Zenith Holidays offer 7 nights in the Cami Real apartments from 17 March from £163pp, sleeps 4. Flights available from £50 from London Stanstead. www.zenithholidays.co.uk
These excellent spacious apartments are in the centre of the Pyrenean village of Saint Lary Soulan in the Hautes-Pyrenees. Sensoria, the resorts thermal baths are just a short walk away through the garden of the residence. The main gondola up to the skiing at Pla d’Adet and beyond is a 100m from the Residence. St Lary has a lovely collection of shops and restaurants with plenty of Spanish influence in the local tapas bars lining the streets.
Big Break St Lary – 11-30 March
Book direct with St Lary between 11th and 30th March for any 3 days and get the 4th night for free. Just 175€ for four nights including a lift pass. www.saintlary.com/hiver/big-break
Ax les Thermes in the Ariege region of the French Pyrenees, just 1.5 hrs from Toulouse is an historic village based around its thermal waters. Guests can visit the Bains du Couloubret spa or soak their feet in the thermal open air foot spa at the base of the gondola. Ski Ax 3 Domaines with its three sectors, Bonascre, Saquet and Campels and skiing from 1400m up to 2400m. Over the closing Easter weekend March 31 and April 1st, a Snow Bike festival closes the season with MTB/Dirt bikes, enduro and races for all ages.
Erna Low in Cauterets Save 15% and 20% Departs 31 March
The Residence Baleno Aladin has a great location in the centre of Cauterets, 100m from the gondola taking skiers straight up to the ski area and 150m from the resort spa centre. Guests have free access to the Espace Balnéo Aladin spa centre which covers 800m² and includes 5 pools heated to 32° with water jets and hot tubs, steam room and sauna. Children from 3 to 13 years have a 3-storey play structure, games consoles, a mini cinema and a relaxation area for parents.
Pierre et Vacances in Grand Tourmalet Save 30% Departs 7 April
Grand Tourmalet is made up of the two villages Bareges and La Mongie with the largest ski area in the French Pyrenees. La Mongie is ski in-out with the cable car access to Pic du Midi and Bareges and old French town with tree lined skiing from the Tournaboup area. Both areas have spas using the local thermal waters.
Ski France in Peyragudes – Save 10% 17-24 March and Free Children
Ski France offer an apartment sleeping up to 4 people from 31 March from £319 in the Residence Les Adrets de Peyragudes plus children ski for free with every adult ski pass purchased. www.skifrance.co.uk
Peyragudes is a modern ski resort with ski in ski out accommodation perched on the side of the mountain in the Hautes-Pyrenees region of the French Pyrenees. Guests can enjoy an indoor pool at the Les Adrets de Peyragudes residence or take a short drive/transfer down to the village of Loudenvielle where they can enjoy the Balnea spa. The French Snowboard Championships weekend takes place over the closing Easter weekend.
Les Angles 30% off Lift passes and reduced Packages
Les Angles is offering 30% off lift passes booked from 17 March to the end of the season.
So a six day adult lift pass 165€ instead of 195€ [child 12 yrs & under 148€ instead of 175€) www.lesangles.com
Les Angles old village Is at the foot of the slopes, and it has managed to retain its authentic character whilst at the same time providing facilities of a modern ski resort. It is the only resort in the Pyrenees where the ski slopes end in the old village itself. The ski area has 55km with an altitude drop of 800m. With skiing up to 2,400m it is one of the largest ski areas in the Pyrenees-Orientales.
“Le Rendez Vous” EVENT 20& 21 April Cauterets
300 amateur and professional freestyle riders descend on Cauterets for the closing weekend. The Oakley snowpark at the foot of the ski area will be open for photos and video shoots to get the best of the action from the event. DJs are on site and the “Winter Closing” party is held in Cauterets village at the Royalty Café.
New from the Hautes-Pyrenees, France in association with Huesca*, Spain, is a series of 3, 4 or 7 day Road Trip itineraries taking in some of the most iconic landmarks in the Pyrenees as well as routes linking the French and Spanish borders.
With these itineraries taking you from France into Spain and back, the Road Trip Pyrenees hopes to evoke the spirit of adventure that other famous routes such as the Route 66, the Silk route, the trans-Amazonian highway have created. The Road Trip offers a super highway to exceptional places of magnificent spectacular scenery, for unique experiences and long lasting memories.
Combining some of the key sites of the Pyrenees including: Lourdes, Cirque de Gavarnie, Pic du Midi, Parc National des Pyrénées, Parc National de Ordesa and Monte Perdido, Le Grand Canyon d’Ordesa, Cañon de Añisclo, The Trou du Toro/Forau de Aigualllets and The Aneto – the itineraries covering over 25% of the Pyrenees massif.
Isabelle Pelieu, Director of HPTE* comments, “Our region is made for ‘Road Trips’! We have launched these five new itineraries three of which include routes crossing the border between France and Spain. We are excited to be working with our partner region Huesca and hope this new ’road trip concept’ will be a popular choice for tourists to the region. They are available to anyone for nine out of twelve months of the year.”
Choose a road trip and experience some of the following:
2 COUNTRIES (France and Spain)
3 WORLD HERITAGE SITES – Gavarnie & Ordesa – either side of the same mountain
4 GRAND SITES MIDI-PYRENEES : Pic du Midi, Gavarnie, Cauterets / Pont d’Espagne, Lourdes…
8 CLASSIC TOUR DE FRANCE COLS : Col de Peyresourde, Col de Val Louron-Azet, Col du Tourmalet, Col du Soulor, Col du Pourtalet, Coll de Fadas, Coll de Espina, Col du Portillon
2 NATIONAL PARKS
2 NATURE PARKS
1 NATIONAL NATURE RESERVE
1 MOUNTAIN LAKES ROUTE
8 SPA CENTRES
1 WINE GROWING AREA
Each itinerary comes with precise daily information of the required driving route including maps for each day with distance and time of travel by car all detailed. All accommodation is booked for each of the itineraries through the boutique agency www.pyrenees-holiday.com .
A new ‘road book’ detailing all the itineraries is also available in print and provided for each road trip booking. The road book details, besides route information, ideas for walks, great restaurants, activities, sites to visit, not-to-be-missed panoramas and suggestions for exploring off the beaten track.
Example Road Trips:
The Grand Tour – 7 day road trip -3 nights in Spain- from501 € /person based on 2 people
An example of a seven day itinerary takes in the French- Spanish border, the biggest and best scenery in the Pyrenees: the highest peak, spectacular canyons and grandiose cirques which are World Heritage sites, the mystery of Lourdes, the highest Observatory in Europe in the clearest of skies – the Pic du Midi with access by cable car to just under 3000m
Intense pleasures of the Pyrenees – 3 day driving circuit from 278 € /person based on 2 people
3 days/3 nights in B&B, staying in Saint-Lary, Gavarnie, Lourdes, 1 ‘Grands Sites’ pass to the Pic du Midi (access to summit by cable car) + Cauterets-Pont d’Espagne (parking, cable-car ride from Puntas and chairlift to Lac de Gaube), 1 entry (2h) to two spa centres of the Hautes-Pyrenees: Balnéa and Les Bains du Rocher spa.
From the UK there are easy options to access the French Pyrenees
Lourdes Pyrenees airport: 4 flights a week from London Stansted with Ryanair
Biarritz airport (Biarritz- Lourdes: 1h50 by car): 1 daily flight from London Gatwick with EasyJet / 1 daily flight from London Stansted with Ryanair
Toulouse airport (Toulouse- Lourdes: 1h50 by car): daily flights from London, Manchester, Bristol and Birmingham airports by many airlines
*The Pyrenees-Trip Project combines the Tourist Development Agency of Hautes-Pyrénées (HPTE) and TUHUESCA, its Spanish counterpart acting on the Region of Huesca.
The project has been co-funded 65% by the « Fonds Européen de Développement Régional ( FEDER) through the Program INTERREG V-A Spain, France, Andorra , (POCTEFA 2014-2020).The aim of POCTEFA is to strengthen the economic and social integration of the border territory between Spain-France-Andorra.
Its assistance is focused on the development of cross-border economic, social and environmental activities through joint strategies that promote the sustainable development of the territory.
For further itinerary examples, images or information please contact: Vanessa Fisher, Hautes-Pyrenees UK PR, firstname.lastname@example.org 07957 618525
It is not always easy to choose a ski resort for the busiest week of the season – February Half Term. I was seriously worried that I had messed up. Not only had I chosen quite a small ski resort in the Pyrenees with only one main access point – a gondola – but also a resort whose closest city – Toulouse – was on the same February holiday period.
I’d envisioned long queues in the morning and packed terraces at lunchtime. As it turned out the worst queue was off the mountain, but I’ll come back to that!
Toulouse is just 1.5hrs from the town of Ax les Thermes in the French Pyrenees. Locals commute to Ax by train as the station is in the town centre, and over 800 people each weekend day arrive this way. However, we wanted to have the flexibility of a car so had rented a vehicle for our stay.
In an endeavour to be first in the lift queue, we breakfasted early only to be told by one of the hotel staff that all the lifts were shut due to high winds.
I’d heard of Ascou, a smaller local ski area reported to be open, but with fears of that being packed, on recommendation of the Tourist Office, we headed for the Col du Chioula for some cross-country skiing.
CROSS-COUNTRY IN COL DU CHIOULA
Tickets purchased and kit rented we spent a few minutes on the flat area getting to grips with the little, lightweight narrow skis and the soft boots. It’s over 15 years since I last tried cross-country skiing in Kimberley, BC and I had forgotten everything.
The front of the cross-country ski boots simply clip in to a toe piece on the ski. Our little group of seven (four children) were keen to get moving up the ‘green trail’. Following narrow cross-country tracks in the snow, we made good progress uphill, your heel lifts and helps to push and glide the skis along. Slightly longer ski poles with angled baskets are helpful for keeping the uphill momentum.
The downhill sections proved trickier for me, cue laughter from everyone, a lot of tumbles from me and a close encounter with a friend who decided he should fall over rather than be pushed.
After lunch I was persuaded to try again and this time we all conquered the longer ‘blue trail’. Opening up stunning panoramas across the Pyrenees, we headed up to 1600m. We felt so lucky to have had bad weather to give us all this experience. The children loved it; my youngest, just 8 years old, needed a bit of a ‘tow’ up the longer, uphill sections, but the downhill they mastered much more quickly than I did.
SECRET HOT SPRINGS
Day 2 and 90mph winds still blowing, we decided to find the ‘secret hot springs’, which a friend had told me about. Not promoted by the region, they are tucked away on the GR10, the main hiking route that spans the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.
After a 15-minute uphill hike we found them. All prepared with swimming costumes under our ski clothes, it didn’t take us long to submerge ourselves in the toasty sulphuric water. It was warm, not super-hot, and quite smelly (!) but on extracting ourselves suddenly the water felt a whole lot hotter! There are three small pools literally on the side of the mountain – an incredible experience to find them and one we will remember forever.
AX 3 DOMAINES
Finally we made it up to Ax. Overnight the winds had dropped leaving a drizzly morning that we knew was forecast to clear. There were no queues, so we hopped straight on the access gondola up to Bonascre – one of the three main areas of Ax 3 Domaines. From Bonascre we took the high-speed six chair ‘Lievre Blanc’, and then the ‘Tute’ six-man, and were treated to about half a foot of fresh snow. The early birds definitely catch the powder – although we managed to find fresh tracks across the whole area all day, and even on our second day there was still fresh snow to be found through the trees.
The ski area was busy, as expected, with a couple of bottlenecks at the Rebenty chair and the two-man ‘Savis’. With 25 million+ euros being invested in the next three years though, these queues will ease with the replacement of these slower chairs and with it the creation of several new runs. We discovered restaurant ‘Le Louzat’ – a fabulous spot for lunch tucked away in the woods, arriving early to get a table on the terrace.
ROAD TRIP TO ASCOU
We decided to head up to Ascou for our last ski day on the recommendation of a local friend. She said it is a special place, quiet and with runs through the forest. She was right. Just a twenty-minute drive from Ax – les -Thermes, Ascou-Pailheres sits just off the road up to the Col du Pailheres (closed in winter). There are only 15km of slopes and seven lifts, but for a day we loved it. The beginners’ area was very busy but on the higher draglifts we had the slopes almost to ourselves, not bad for the busiest week of the season!
The runs cut through the forest and feel a little like some of the smaller Canadian resorts I have skied in. Lots of small off-piste sections you can cut through and just one base café but with excellent coffee. The terrace overlooks the beginner ski area and we enjoyed a peaceful coffee in the sunshine while the children skied the beginner button lifts and little Fun Park.
DISCOVERING THE REGION
We all loved discovering this area of the French Pyrenees and having a car rental meant we could explore Chioula and Ascou as well as skiing the main ski area at Ax 3 Domaines. We tried to get in to the recreational spa after skiing – Les Bains du Couloubret, but this was where the real queues were.
After a 30-minute wait and no progress we decided to stick with the natural foot spa in the centre of the town. Each evening this becomes a focal point for people to sit and chat – we all loved it, the naturally occurring sulphuric water coming out at 77 degrees.
The town of Ax originated in approx. 800AD with the old hospital and foot spa alongside dating back to the 1200s. Spa tourism thrived during the 19th Century. Ax-les-Thermes is a town full of history with its narrow old streets to discover and quaint bars and restaurants.
We arrived in Ax-les-Thermes in the Ariège region of the French Pyrenees the first weekend of the busy half term week, the night before a massive storm set in.
90mph winds closed almost all the lifts at Ax-3-Domaines on our first morning. The closest smaller ski area of Ascou was open but with rumours of 1hr 30 queues for each lift, we decided, after speaking to some locals, on an alternative.
We left Ax and headed for the Col du Chioula to find the cross-country ski area.
Day passes bought and kitted up, we spent a few minutes ‘clipping in’ and getting used to the very thin and lightweight skis.
Soon we were heading up the green route following the narrow tracks which you slide your skis in.
So far so good!
One loop around the easiest green track and a few tumbles along the way and we found ourselves on the long blue climb up towards the refuge at 1600m.
The cross country trails offered stunning views out over the Pyrenees and then we would turn in along beautiful, tree lined tracks through the woods.
Cross country through the woods
Cross country through the woods
Our little gang of seven had so much fun, the children (and me!) were really challenged and we all loved learning this sport.
I had tried it just once in Kimberley BC many years ago.
Cross country in Chioula
If the weather had not been so bad we would never have had this experience and seen the fantastic area at Chioula.
With the storm passing we finally made it up from the town of Ax-les-Thermes, where we were staying, to the start of the ski area at Bonascre at 1400m.
As we rode the fast Lièvre Blanc and Tute six man chairs higher up the resort we could see the fresh snow that the overnight storm (and rain in the valley) had brought.
Fresh tracks in Ax
All day we found fresh lines under increasingly blue skies.
In our two days we skied pretty much all the three ski areas – Bonascre, Saquet and Campels – which make up Ax-3-Domaines, and enjoyed lunch stops in our favourite restaurant, Le Louzat, tucked away between the poma lifts in the woods at Saquet.
View from restaurant Le Louzat
We loved the skiing ‘Indian’ Ax uses on its logo and branding – “3 areas, 1 territory, 1 tribe’.
“3 Areas, 1 Territory, 1 Tribe”
People who ski Ax – 93% French locals – are proud of their ‘tribe’.
The town of Ax-les-Thermes, named after the naturally occurring sulphuric water, is full of history – the old hospital, chapel and old foot bath contrasting with the newer foot bath near the gondola and more modern recreational thermal spa.
The influences from its proximity to Spain and Andorra are seen in the mix of tapas restaurants along the main street.
Over the next three years more than 25 million Euros will be invested in new lifts to alleviate the bottle necks in the resort and bring the system up to date.
There are also ongoing discussions to re-build the gondola from the village of Merens-les-Vals where the original lift to the Ax ski area was built.
Ax isn’t huge, its locals love it and I can understand now why they are proud to be called a ‘tribe’.
See you again soon I hope! Skiweekends.com offers short breaks to Ax-Les-Thermes.