Un Petit Spa et un Coin de Nourriture
The La Clusaz area of France has a different feel to the higher, but purpose-built, resorts – the buildings are natural and rustic, the perfect place for skiing, a little spa and a spot of food
Article by Mark Nicholls
The full moon sits high in the clear, cold sky. Beneath my skis the snow is squeaky, almost crunchy, as the temperature falls. It is 8pm; the floodlights cast shadows across the slopes of Manigod, near La Clusaz in south-eastern France as we head off for a spot of night skiing. The piste is well-lit for half a dozen runs on the friendly blues between the trees. We are in good spirits, and after an hour or so, call in at the aptly-name Happy Chalet for sustenance and a warming dish of the Savoyard speciality, Tartiflette, rich with reblochon cheese, potato, onions and bacon.
Night skiing, which is open on Friday and Saturday nights until 9pm and costs 11 euro on top of the ski pass, proved a great introduction to the Aravis region. We’d checked in to the four-star St Alban Hotel & Spa, having flown in to Geneva just across the Swiss border that afternoon, and then enjoyed a short one-hour transfer to La Clusaz, and still had plenty of time to ski that evening.
Next morning, having our ski appetite whetted by our nocturnal introduction to the area, we were out early to explore the 120 kms of runs above La Clusaz-Manigod. With 52 ski lifts, a highlight is Le Plateau de Beauregard for fabulous views over towards Mont Blanc on a clear day. The slopes are broad and inviting, with a mix of blues and reds and a challenging black or two for those who want on-piste excitement, as well as a snow park, and off-piste opportunities.
Of course, there’s plenty of opportunity to stop for a coffee, or lunch, and after a morning skiing we arrived at Restaurant La Ferme, where the speciality is Braserade. It’s a hands-on way to dine, cooking your own meat over a table-top grill while heating raclette beneath and mopping up the melted cheese with bread, salad, and sauces. It’s filling, and if you’re not careful, can even temper the appetite for skiing in the afternoon.
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After a couple of further apres-lunch runs, we headed back to the St Alban. Opened for the 2019 season, it is all you’d hope from modern ski accommodation – ski rental on site, a ski room, and lifts that aren’t far away. The accommodation is stylish, modern, cosy and comfortable with a selection of rooms – including excellent family room facilities – and there is a cosy modern cocktail/tapas bar and restaurant. The spa offers a range of treatments, massages and therapies. I opted for the ‘de-tox’ massage, where the emphasis on the legs and lower body proved a perfect antidote to a day on the slopes. An indoor pool, ice room and sauna also offer the opportunity to unwind and relax. It is situated a short walk from the lift system, though there is a regular door-to-door shuttle to all the lift stations across the resort if required.
Our group was holidaying with Inghams, which offers half board and B&B accommodation in La Clusaz, as well as a self-catering apartment option. With the St Alban Hotel & Spa, Inghams guests stay on B&B but have the option to upgrade to half board, taking three-course evening meals in La Scierie, a Savoyard restaurant nearby.
La Clusaz is an attractive resort, pleasant to wander around and explore, with several bars for apres-ski and a glass of wine, a beer or shot of génépi, the local herbal liqueur. It also has a good selection of restaurants such as Les 2 Mules, that serve authentic French alpine cuisine, or the intimate Sushi Fumi. It specialises in traditional sushi, combined with selections that have an innovative mountain twist, such as: Beaufort, blueberry and walnut; goat cheese and honey; or home-made foie gras and gingerbread with figs.
The village of La Clusaz sits at 1,100m above sea level in the Massif des Aravis range in the Lake Annecy region and is a gateway into the Aravis Ski Area, which has an overall total of 210km of pistes (78 blue, 45 red and 10 black) and also includes Manigod, Le Grand Bornand (accessible via free shuttle bus from La Clusaz) and Saint Jean de Sixt, with the highest point at 2,616m.
Le Grand Bornand offers a different ambience and opens up a whole new ski environment; one that is natural, family-friendly in a landscape dotted with wooden huts and small hamlets as the mountains rise all around. It has a predominantly sunny aspect and a wide range of terrain from green, blue, red, black and off-piste, but designed in such a way that even the higher slopes are accessible to beginner and intermediate skiers with plenty of blue runs back down to the valley. There are 86km of downhill slopes and 28 ski lifts and access to the mountain is via the Rosay Cable Car, which brings with it an artistic dimension. Upgraded with modern cabins, each has been decorated by local painter Pierre Amoudry with 55 original artworks – one for every cabin – inspired by the resort’s photographic archive and poems that showcase different aspects of its character.
This area of France has a different feel to the higher, but purpose-built, resorts – the buildings are natural and rustic, offering a new ambience to the terrain and as you’d expect you won’t need to look far for somewhere to stop for lunch or a drink. Often, the food is simple and traditional – expect Tartiflette or something as wholesome as Diots Frites (11 euro), basically sausage and chips, in a hut such as La Taverne.
For those with a competitive edge who want to test and time their speed, Le Grand Bornand has a superb slalom course – simply swipe in with your lift pass at the top and sweep down between the blue and red poles. The technology does the rest. It not only times your run but films you along the way. At the bottom, as your time flashes up, simply type in your email address and the video is automatically despatched to your inbox.
For those who like activities other than skiing, the area has much to offer: there is ski joëring (effectively being pulled around a snowy course behind a horse), ice-skating, snowshoeing, paragliding, bowling, or even dog sledding.
Inghams offers a seven-night ski holiday on a bed & breakfast basis at the four-star St Alban Hotel & Spa in La Clusaz, from £859 per person based on two sharing. Price includes return flights from a range of UK airports, and airport transfers. Equipment hire can be pre-booked from £100 per adult (collected from the hotel ski hire shop on arrival) and whole area, six-day, lift passes can be pre-booked from £202 per adult. To book, or for more information, visit www.inghams.co.uk/ski-holidays / 01483 791114.