Chasing snow: family short breaks in the French Alps for non-skiers
Like most people, I have a wish list of things I'd love to do. And one of those things was to take my family on an snow holiday in the French Alps and stay in a fully-catered chalet with a log fire and a hot tub and we would build snowmen, go sledging and you know, live the Alpine dream. But it didn't quite turn out like that...
Many people pointed me in the direction of the family friendly resort towns of Morzine and Les Gets which are about 6 hours’ drive from Paris and only 1.5 hours from Geneva Airport.
But as I discovered, between December and March, most of the nice chalets in these areas are booked out well in advance by skiers (because they are next to the slopes). And during peak season most places only offer a minimum 1 week stay so this pushes up the cost if you only want a short break.
I soon realised I had to compromise. I didn't get my catering, chalet or hot tub but what we did get in the end was superb value and the most pleasant and relaxed family holiday I have ever had (yes, big call!).
We stayed in the village of Taninges which is less than an hour from Geneva airport or 5.5 hours’ drive from Paris. It’s at the base of the snow-capped Alps but still close enough to make day trips to the popular ski resorts if you want to. There's usually a lot of white fluffy snow in the village until mid-March but sadly, it melted 2 weeks before we got there.
Taninges is not a glamourous place. It’s quiet and a bit tired around the edges. In fact, it's so authentic you can even smell cow poo from neighbouring farm in strong winds! Despite this, I still think it’s the Alps' best kept secret and I predict it will grow in popularity as prices in Morzine and Les Gets continue to soar. For non-skiing families, it’s the ideal winter retreat.
We booked 3 nights at Gite Balneo through Airbnb or you can go directly through their website. A “gite” is a cross between a Bed & Breakfast and a self-catered holiday home and the owners usually live nearby. You will have your own private apartment or home but you usually share the leisure facilities, such as a poo, if there is more than one gite on the property.
So we had our own separate 2 bedroom apartment with a fully equipped kitchen. We shared the huge garden and kid's swing set with other guests but we had our own decking area and sun loungers. Within the building there is a small indoor swimming pool/jacuzzi, gym, sauna and steam room and a little games room too. It was built in 2012 but it still had all of the Alpine charm I was looking for (except a log fire but the under floor heating kept us toasty warm).
The view from the chalet was breath-taking: the beautiful Alps in the distance and a monastery from the 13th Century in front. Also (rather randomly) there was a giant bench at a park next door! This was an unexpected highlight.
My quest for snow continued but it was only 15 minutes’ drive up the mountain to the ski resort of Le Praz de Lys where there was plenty of snowin mid-March. I must admit, I felt physically sick with fear as we drove up the mountain with sharp hairpin bends and sheer drops down the edge of the road. My husband loved it but James Bond I am not! Turns out I'm a bit of a wimp actually.
At the top we were greeted by chocolate box houses covered in snow, a quiet resort with a children’s ski area and a hill for sledging (we borrowed our sledge from the gite). I tried sledging for the first time and got a taste for it. And while I enjoyed watching the other skiers, I still have no desire to do it!
It was raining heavily so after a good play in the snow we sheltered in a cafe where we ate burgers and chips. There was an outdoor heater and the café provided us with blankets too (the nice manager even put our soggy mittens on top of his pizza oven to keep them warm).
My daughter said it was the best day ever and my son said he never wanted to go home.
The next day we drove 20 minutes to the popular family ski resort of Les Gets. It’s busy and touristy with plenty to do for the children and many restaurants. There’s an ice rink, a little train, another free sledging slope and a cable car up to Mont-Chery.
I also overcame my greatest fear by getting in a cable car. I still can’t believe I did it. But I distracted myself by taking photos and thinking, I'm doing this for the kids! I will admit, I kind of liked it and it felt much safer than I imagined.
We had lunch way up high at La Grande Ourse. The sun was shining on our faces and the view across to Mont Blanc was spectacular.
I had fondue for lunch (ticked another wish off my list) and a crisp glass of Chardonnay. The kid's menu was great too. They each had a mini tartiflette (which is a local dish similar to potato gratin with bacon, local cheese and onion). It was a bit too rich for my 3-year-old daughter but my son ate every last bit and some of my fondue! The kid's menu included a drink and icecream.
The children didn't want to leave the snow but it was easy to convince them to come down from the mountain when they remembered the cable car and the promise of a swim back at the chalet.
As a special treat I booked myself a 1 hour Swedish massage in the treatment room downstairs while the kids played with Daddy in the lovely heated pool (34 degrees).
It was a perfect affordable family snow break and I give it our Five Little Stars.