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.
More and more people are heading high in the summer. PlanetSKI reports from the French Pyrenees.
The French Pyreness is a region of extreme contrasts – from high peaks to lush valleys.
There is wonderful cuisine and fascinating culture.
Adrenalin action sports to gentle family activities.
PlanetSKI reporter, Vanessa Fisher, has been enjoying the area with her young family.
I visited last summer to see some of the extremities of the region and reported on it here for PlanetSKI. I fell in love with the Pyrenees in the summer months and was keen to see some more of this contrasting region.
Down in the foothills is a sleepy little village called Madiran.
Wine aficionados may recognise the name from the rich red wine which carries its name.
Madiran wine, is one of the most well-known red wines from this part of France.
The Brumont family being one of the biggest growers and exporters of this wine.
The vineyards grow on the south facing slopes of this little corner of the Hautes-Pyreenees.
What isn’t little is the Chateau which sits amongst the vineyards – Chateau Montus.
When I visited it was about to host a huge wedding party.
The converted outbuildings were decked out with linen and flowers but we managed a quick peek in to another of the vast buildings which houses the enormous metal cylinders where the wine is produced and stored.
I’m not a huge wine fan (unless it’s fizzy) but the beautiful old chateau sitting with its panoramic views across the valleys was quite the setting for a wedding reception.
The lady on reception went down to the cellar to dig out a couple of bottles of 2010 Montus, an excellent year for this wine…apparently.
My dad loved it!
On the other side of the region, heading down towards the Med and nestling up against the Haute-Garonne department is the Barousse Forest.
With our wine stash we were in search of some new treehouses that have been built up in the woods.
This is where Sat Navs struggle, small mountainside roads, where they get confused with the switch-back roads and tiny paths and tracks.
After a couple of interesting routes, we drove into another tiny village, Cazarihl.
Just off the ‘main road’ through the village are Les Cabanes de Pyrenes.
A local couple have invested in a small section of the forest and built three bespoke treehouses, one sleeping two, one sleeping four and a larger treehouse sleeping seven.
That was to be our home for the night.
As a family overnight treat it was absolutely idyllic; giant wooden games are scattered through the surrounding woodland, and if you want to hike, the owners are clearing an ancient path which runs north from the treehouses up into the woods beyond.
Each treehouse has a different entrance, the duo with its circular stairway and a ladder across to a seating area ‘a deux’.
Ours had an easier wooden staircase, safe for the children, a lovely outside balcony and fun swinging chairs underneath.
Inside was spacious, with a double raised bed, two sets of bunks and a small single under the double.
Small details such as the intricate carving around the windows and the lovely bed linen makes an overnight in these treehouses seem luxurious.
The naturally heated hamman (like a small Jacuzzi) was fired up for us to relax in and for dinner we ate in the on-site Kota grill.
You can cook local meat over the fire in the centre of the little hexagonal building and the owners prepare potatoes and salad plus homemade tart and breads and dried meats to accompany.
After more wine, sleep comes easily, no noise, just the sounds from the woods and pitch black all around.
Gentle fairy lights inside enough to keep the children’s fears at bay!
In the morning, after hauling a wicker basket full of fresh croissants, hot coffee and chocolate up and over the balcony and devoured around the little central table, we moved back down to the valley to discover some ancient caves and hand prints.
The Grottes de Gargas caves take you way underground where, with a guide, you follow the routes through the limestone tunnels and discover a series of 27,000 year old hand prints and animal carvings.
Our guide spoke in French but quickly translated in to English.
Once again we were late for our set tour but luckily managed to tack on to the back of the tour which had only just begun – booking in advance is essential.
Onwards up the valley still at the very edge of the Hautes-Pyrenees and then crossing the high pass at Col du Peysourade brought us down in to the Louron Valley.
It is the new Pyrenees Road Trip. It takes you over many of the famous Tour de France ‘cols’ zigzaging between France and Spain, and to some of the most beautiful sites of the Pyrenees.
A Road Book accompanies you on this trip. It is free and full of practical advice, with lots of good addresses for accommodation, full of information on the best sites to visit, the places for outdoor activities, the spa centres, the best restaurants… It is not just another tourist guide, only the best sites recommended by clients are included. It is set out as a daily diary and has ideas for easy walks, unusual places to visit, and is full of interesting stories. Its valuable information makes it the perfect guide for a great adventure.
It is something that should be done at least once in a lifetime, whether integrally or for just a few days.
The itinerary can be done in 3, 5 or 8 days, you can choose your own rhythm. All logistics are taken care of by the Hautes-Pyrenees Holiday Boutique, the specialist in made to measure holidays: 3 and 4 star accommodation with breakfast included, pass for access to the Grand Sites, entry to the spa centres…
On the basis of two sharing it only costs €494 per person for 8 days, €335 for 5 days and €260 for 3 days (transport not included).
2 COUNTRIES (France and Spain),
1 WORLD HERITAGE SITE,
4 GRANDS SITES of the Midi Pyrenees: Pic du Midi, Cauterets-Pont d’Espagne, Gavarnie and Lourdes…
THE NEOUVIELLE RESERVE – NEW For Summer 2016 Five Linked Refuges
The richness of the flora and fauna, together with the many lakes and sublime scenery, have made the Néouvielle Reserve a subject for detailed study and attention.
Created in 1936, the Néouvielle Nature Reserve is one of the earliest established in France. The area covers 2,300 hectares with more than 70 lakes (Aubert, Aumar, Orédon, Cap de Long, Laquettes) and pools in which more than 570 species of algae have been identified. The area is covered with Pins à Crochets (a dwarf mountain pine), the tree growing at the highest altitudes in Europe. This famous range is bordered by the massive limestone walls of Barroude and the Pic Néouvielle at more than 3000m.
A paradise for walkers, there are many possible circuits and the grand tour of the Néouvielle can be done staying in the 5 refuges, newly linked for summer 2016.
PARC ANIMALIER DES PYRENEES – Up Close and Personal!
The Pyrenees Animal Park, ranked among the top in France , opens a new hut sleeping two adults – with windows overlooking the Bear Park.
Having successfully created the trapper’s cabin within close proximity to the wolves, this new hut will get visitors close to the bears. (closed peak months of summer July and August) www.parc-animalier-pyrenees.com
ON YOUR BIKE!
The Tour de France 2016 spends 2 days in the Hautes-Pyrenees this summer :
8 July 2016- 7th stage – L’Isle-Jourdain – Lac de Payolle 162 km
The Campilaro : 24 – 26 th July – 3 days, 370 km, 8500m of elevation, 5 cols and timed ascents and 30 km of ascent to Gavarnie – www.campilaro.com
The Haute Route of Pyrenees – 23-25th August – stages 4-6 travelling via Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Azet and over Col de Peyresourde – www.hauteroute.org/events/stages/pyrenees-2016
Marmotte Grandfondo Pyrenees – 28 th August – 25 years in the Alps, 7,000 participants and for the 1st time in the Pyrenees – 163 km, 5 600 m of elevation including both sides of the Col du Tourmalet via Barèges (2115m), Hourquette d’Ancizan (1564m), Col d’Aspin (1489m), and again Col du Tourmalet (2115m) via Ste Marie de Campan, arriving Luz Ardiden (1666m). http://marmotte.sportcommunication.info/
Alternatively take an electric bike to access any of these routes
Pyr’Epic -Mountain Bike Pic du Midi to Lourdes 3-4 September 2016
A 2-day MTB event taking in 120 km of trails from the top of the Pic du Midi via Cauterets to Lourdes. Two stages of 50 and 70 km with 8000 meters of vertical drop, and 4000 m of elevation gain .Easy access to the Pic du Midi cable car ( 2877 m); the cable car and chairlift Cauterets and the Funiculaire du Pic du Jer for the final descent to Lourdes. http://www.lourdesvtt.com/pyrepic-le-raid-vtt-all-mountain-by-lourdes-vtt/
NEW – 3D Hiking App
Available on Android, easy and fun, with map, compass , GPS, cameras. A new way to hike in freedom and security. www.faceausud.com (Cauterets, Gavarnie, Néouvielle, Pic du Midi)
The longest descent in Europe from the Pic du Midi by scooter
5th and 12th August at 04.00 pm : 2 hours of descent:15 km et 1800 m
Price : 95€ for adults – 85€ for teenager – maximum 10 places on each date. The price includes transfer from Argeles- Gazost or the Campan Valley, access to the top of the Pic du Midi cable car, equipment and snack on arrival descent. Scooter descents also available all summer at Hautacam. https://montnroll.com/la-descente-la-plus-haute-deurope/
Hike with a Huski !
With a belt around your waist allow the huski dog to gently pull you along on a hike or enjoy a quad bike ride pulled by a pack of Huskis. From 6 years – available at Argelès-Gazost, Barèges, Val d’Azun and Louron Valley – 30 mins, 35€/adult ; 25€/children (under 10yrs) – www.sherpa-chien-traineau.fr/Cani-rando
Historical Walk of Lourdes
Lourdes, the 2nd most visited city in France, and famous for its pilgrims has a fun ‘city beach’ for all this summer.
New – two 1 hr 30 themed walks discovering the history behind Lourdes from 1858 when before and after Bernadette’s apparitions and Lourdes in medieval times when it was known as ‘Lorda’.
Artitude – Modern art in a small village in the Hautes-Pyrenees
15 artists create a walk in Arras en Lavedan, a village of 500 inhabitants, near Argelès-Gazost on the theme of Saint Jacques de Compostela, a mixture of history, old artifacts and modern art accessible to all. LOCAL PRODUCTS
Black Pork of Pierre Sajous –
A new delicatessan open on the Lourdes-Gavarnie road. Specialising in the local Black Pork de Bigorre. Visit the factory, see the hams being salted and taste and buy products. Discover the different breeds of pig and their diet.
Cooking courses with one of the best Chefs of the Hautes-Pyrénées
Le Viscos is one of the best restaurants in the Hautes-Pyrenees with Jean -Pierre Saint-Martin and now his son, English speaking Alexis. They are passionate about serving the best products taking over 2.5 hours to produce their meals. Cooking courses 75 €/pers. 3 people maximum –
Thermal Spas –Eight spas in the region – Aquensis, Balnea, Bains du Rocher, Cieleo, l’Edenvik, Jardin des Bains, Luzea, Sensoria Rio -make the most of the region’s superb natural resources to create a unique range of spa and wellness products, harnessing the naturally warm and soothing waters.
To stay in one of the spa centres of the Hautes-Pyrenees is to discover an area which has more rivers, lakes, mountain torrents and waterfalls than almost all other regions. The air is pure, the climate soft. Spa clients re-charge the batteries with a true mountain style treatment : sunshine, superb scenery, authentic villages, a warm welcome, a traditional and comforting cuisine.
Half term is one of the busiest weeks of the skiing season – last season a combination of increasing frustration at the cost of mountain food and drinks and long queues left us wondering if we could find a better solution for skiing at this time of year.
Last summer we combined a beach holiday with a few days in the Pyrenees and we stayed in a lovely old spa village, St Lary. When I mentioned to my friends that we had decided to return to there to ski for our family holiday, most looked blank with no idea where we were heading! A local journalist friend of mine who lives near Toulouse had skied St Lary last winter informed me that the locals February break was actually the week after the UK half term – that made me think we’d chosen well, as I knew many other regions of France had the same half term as UK meaning the routes down to the Alps would be busy.
We felt pretty smug with our choice of a Sunday scheduled flight to Toulouse compared to images coming up on social media of traffic queues around Reims and chain-donning self-drivers caught in heavy snow in the Tarentaise valley.
Our drive to St Lary was easy. There’s no hair pin bends to navigate, most of the 1hr 45 journey is on the A64 autoroute and then a 20 minute drive up the valley, past some beautiful old villages takes you in to St Lary. The main village sits at just over 600m, it is hard to tell how much snow is on the mountains as you cannot see the main ski area from the town. We arrived at dusk and I could see a little fresh snow with a clear snow line running horizontally across the forests above the village.
We’d chosen not to ski at Christmas/New Year this season due to a friend’s wedding and various other family commitments; as we’d loved the hotel we stayed in during our summer break, we decided to treat ourselves to the same 4* hotel in the village, the Mercure Sensoria, with its huge family rooms and excellent food.
In the summer we had seen the cable car heading up the mountain about 200m away from the hotel and thought this was to be our route up to ski but on arrival we spotted a different telecabine literally right opposite the hotel, we were all excited about that for a speedy first lift of the day and minimal ski boot walking for everyone.
The ski hire shop was next door to the hotel and I’d pre ordered the equipment we needed which was all ready for us with no queuing, bliss.
Once up on the mountain the new six man chair seemed the logical route to take. We could see the ski school groups using the area above Pla d’Adet but the new Bouleaux chair skirts the side of this area and after a quick warm up run, we headed left along ‘Corniche’ blue all the way across the mountain and on down to the Portet bubble. The weather was fairly ‘socked in’ – snowy, windy and cold so the bubble was a welcome warm up for us all. We even popped in to the little cafe at the Portet lift station for hot chocolates – a fantastically French and friendly, tiny bar!
From the top of Portet bubble the Mirabelle red down to the Soumaye chair was perfect for our small group. We found fresh powder to play in which had accumulated overnight and really enjoyed lunch at the ‘Les Trois Guides’ restaurant. A few runs later and another long blue traverse took us all the way back to the telecabine to head down to the hotel (there is no ski run to the base) for afternoon pancakes cooked to order on the griddle.
Looking at the piste map that evening, and with a clearer second day ahead, we could see there was another whole area to discover ‘Le Vallon’. The same uplift route took us to the top of the Soumaye chair but this time we dropped down the black soumaye run from the top of this summit (invisible in the cloud the previous day). My youngest struggled a bit on the steepest section but after a few nervous snow plough turns he was safely down and schussing across to the ‘Glacier’ button lift. The pistes were empty – great fun cruising blue and red runs with hardly anyone on them and gorgeous panoramic views from the top.
We managed to get everyone at least halfway up the steepest button lift (!) to take the red run l’oule to Refuge de L’Oule for lunch. The most beautiful run through the woods and a short pole along the cliff side path at the end brings you to this special spot. Perched above the lake, this refuge is definitely one not to miss in St Lary. Lovely terrace, more great views and a good selection of food (self service). Less confident skiers can download on the Lac two-man chair which we did later in the week and everyone who skis down has to take the chair back up to connect back in to the main ski area.
For the four days we skied St Lary, we found plenty on the mountain to enjoy – having our own car rental meant we could explore two nearby ski resorts (more of that another time). We only had one major queue and that was on our last day when the sun was shining and the locals were out in force, but with the new six man chair we weren’t queuing for long.
With swimming in the thermal spa alongside the hotel (Sensoria Rio) – whose water comes from a nearby well emerging at a toasty 32 degrees (from 1200m deep)- the children were really happy – built to look like a series of caves with jets and currents it was full of playing small people, but the adult sauna, gym and separate pool offer more peaceful options. We only made the short walk into town twice – this was busy with an ice rink, jazz band playing and lots of shops with open fronts selling local produce: the black pig in all its forms, delicious cheeses and homemade nougat and another speciality from the area ‘gateau a la broche’ – like a Christmas tree-shaped cake.