Downhill all the way
PUBLISHED: 15:32 17 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:18 20 February 2013
You don't have to love skiing to enjoy a skiing holiday, says David Rudge
When one of the friends who was due to join us on a skiing holiday confessed that she didnt actually fly, a sense of relief washed over me.
Our previous winter escape to the French resort of Chamonix had been a nightmare, simply because wed flown to Geneva the craziest airport ever. It has a French side and a Swiss side. God help anyone who arrives, or departs from one side, if theyve hired their car on the other side.
Air travel is frustration heaped upon frustration. Who in their right mind would suffer it? When we finally arrived back at Manchester Airport, we discovered that our luggage had remained in Geneva.
The great thing about driving all the way is that ones fate is usually in ones own hands. AlsoI dont mind driving on the wrong side of the road, providing Im on the right side of the car. Driving on the left side of the car (in the hire car we finally found in Swiss Geneva) I spent the first hundred miles trying to change gear by thrusting my left hand into the door pocket. Nightmare followed nightmare.
Our chalet was up a track, and the car hire firm had given us the wrong size chains for the tyres. The first evening was spent hunting for a garage which sold (very expensive) chains so that we could actually reach the chalet. My eldest son cut his leg while snowboarding and that was an expensive fix too.
So, this year we drove all the way from Warwickshire to Val dIsere, in an English car a total driving time of 15 hours, but worth it to avoid the stupidity of airports. Indeed, the drive there and back was a breeze (with the exception of the M20 between London and Folkstone.
Five couples, this time minus children (we all agreed that other peoples children are too much to bear for a whole week, however big the chalet), hired a spacious house overlooking the charming old town of Val dIsere. The luxury chalet came with its own staff, who cooked, cleaned and generally entertained us with tremendous energy and humour.
One of the best features of the property was its indoor pool in which one could luxuriate while looking out over the bright lights of the town, and the mountain views. As a non-skier, it was my favourite place.
The skiers in our party were out on the slopes throughout the daylight hours, while those older and wiser, and less bendy, spent the days walking in the mountains. We even reached the Italian border on one of our snowy forays. Another pleasure was to take the ski lifts to mountain top restaurants and bars, and wait to be joined by our skiers, and listen to their tales of adventure and exhilaration before they rushed off downhill once more, leaving us to enjoy some more coffee and chocolate.
And the nightlife in Val dIsere was great fun too though one had to put up with the groaning of the skiers, whose bumps and bruises began to ache after the first glass of wine.
Our week in January was cold but sunny throughout, with plenty of snow, which was a good thing, apparently. We witnessed the astounding torchlight procession by hundreds of skiers down the mountainside, and marvelled at the hang gliders who spent the days cruising the thermals over the valley.
After probably too much wine one night, one of our party, a chap in his early sixties, who didnt ski because it was too dangerous, decided hed have a go at hang gliding. The following day, despite our pleas for caution, he paid to be strapped to a Frenchman who was in turn strapped to a big kite, and was flung off the side of a mountain. We thought hed have a heart attack. Instead, he said it was the most exhilarating thing hed ever done in his life.
Snowy alpine landscapes are certainly beautiful, but a word of warning - if one doesnt ski, snow may lose its appeal. The cold and damp, even in such scenery, and even with the luxury of a fully-staffed chalet to enjoy, isnt to all tastes.
For the non-skier, though, Id still definitely recommend Val dIserebut maybe try it in an Alpine summer as well?