Seeking Snow with a Toddler and a Pre-schooler - where to go in the French Pyrenees near Toulouse?
For the boy's 4th Birthday treat, we wanted to take him to the mountains to see snow for the first time and introduce him to the fun of sledging. It just so happened that his grandparents were coming to visit just before the big day so we could have a big family adventure and make some snowy memories.
Now that we live in Toulouse we are really close to the Pyrenees mountains. Amongst some of the closest ski resorts are Ax-les-Thermes and just above this is Ascou-Pailhères.
We booked a lovely B&B just outside the town of Ax-les-Thermes for the Saturday night, and headed over from Toulouse to the town early on Saturday morning. It took just over 1.5 hours to get there. Because we were making a special trip of it we decided to stay overnight on this occassion, but it is close enough to just go for the day.
When we arrived in Ax-les-Thermes we had a potter around and a coffee (hot chocolate for the kids). My mum even considered ordering a vin chaud much to our amusement (the french equivalent of a mulled wine - it is prevalent in the mountains and delicious) but it was before lunch so she decided to wait!! We had a nosey at the big thermal springs baths, located next to the main square in Ax-les-Thermes. They look great, but as we hadn’t brought our swimming costumes and this weekend was all about the snow, this was an activity to save for another trip.
We went into the Tourist Information Office in Ax-les-Thermes for some advice. It is worth noting that I have found in France that the Tourist Information Office in towns of interest to tourists are absolutely fantastic. French customer service sometimes gets a (often deserved) bad rap, but not so to be found in the Tourist Information Offices from my experience.
As there had been a large dump of snow the night before, we decided not to head up to Ascou-Pailhères. The roads were in the process of being cleared and it was overcast so the roads were likely to be icy. Instead we took the Cable Car from Ax-les-Thermes up to the Ski plateau. This was fairly inexpensive as a non skier, I believe it cost €8 per adult.
We all had a simple lunch up on the Ax-les-Thermes plateau. It was busy so al fresco eating it was - Spag Bol for everyone and plenty of Vin Chaud was enjoyed.
Then we had a fantastic afternoon introducing the children to sledging. There is a dedicated section for this, and for the beginners ski school, with a moving carpet to take you from the bottom of the gentle slope to the top. We all had a lot of fun. Also, I had bought my son some beginner wooden ski's as an early birthday present, so he had a little go with these as well. Not to be outdone by his younger sister (currently 2.5 years), she was desperate to have a go too!
When you get off the cable car at the bottom in Ax-les-Thermes, there is a hot springs food bath - perfect for tired feet and legs after a days skiing. And they are so warm it’s incredible! The children found it fascinating, and the warm water mists that come out of the ground just beyond the foot bath as well.
That evening we went out for dinner in Ax-les-Thermes and enjoyed some delicious traditional alpine food. There was Tartiflette ordered almost all round. I cook this often at home and it is one of our favourite winter dishes, but nothing compares to the real deal in an alpine restaurant. The children devoured an adult portion between them and my son continued to scavenge from anyone else who would give him more! It is testament to how delicious it was that they sat through a full 3 course meal which started at their usual bedtime, and ate everything. We were pleasantly surprised that we managed to pull off a proper adult dinner together. Mountain air and exercise is a wonderful combination. I’ve written previously about my tips and tricks on dining out with young children which you can read here if you like.
Well, we thought we had a good day on the Saturday... but Sunday really was a wonderful day when we ventured higher to the ski station Ascou-Pailhères.
There was some hilarity at breakfast when my husband was served his morning coffee into his breakfast bowl (as is traditionally french) but didn't realise to indicate when to stop and ended up with effectively a soup bowl full. I don't think my parents are going to let him forget that one in a hurry!
After breakfast we took the car along a very scenic drive up to Ascou-Pailhères where the sunshine was glorious and the views breathtaking. The sledging was significantly better than the day before - because it is prettier, and the slope was much bigger and steeper - so we had a wonderful morning in the most fluffy sparkly snow imaginable. It was also a lot less busy in Ascou-Pailhères than Ax-les-Thermes.
Don’t you just love how snow sparkles in the sunshine? It’s one of my favourite things.
Ascou-Pailhères isn't a resort like Ax Les Thermes, with many restaurant choices etc. The ski station is small, but I think it is more charming. We did have lunch at the one restaurant there, but it was a bit disappointing to be honest, and pricey. I could see why many people were taking their own picnics. But, that said, it was nice to have warm food in our bellies to fuel another couple of hours of snow fun before we headed back home to Toulouse.
Our verdict is that, if the access road is clear and safe, Ascou-Pailhères is the better sledging location than Ax-les-Thermes.
If you are looking for somewhere to explore the snow with children in the French Alps, don’t worry, Five Little Stars has several recommendations for you.
Here is an idea for seeking snow in the French Alps.
And Samoens is a stunning Alps location in the winter and the summer (i've been during both) - so you really should consider visiting here.
Also, wondering about how to look cool but be warm when the chill/ice factor is high? S'no Queen thermals are what you need. I've been wearing them on every trip we have done this winter to the mountains, and they are absolutely superb.