What better way to properly experience the snow for the first time than at the French Alps.
As you’ve seen by the countless photos and stories on my Instagram, Tim and I recently travelled to Serre Chevalier Vallée in the Hautes-Alpes region of southeastern France, for a week’s ski trip, and what a week it was.
Imagine this –
Fresh, crisp countryside air; snow-capped mountains, towering above the clouds; powdery snow, everywhere you look, and walk; dreamy windy roads which seem to go on forever; friendly locals always greeting you with a ‘bonjour’; insanely delicious and wholesome produce (and pastries…and wine); and peace, quiet and serenity.
As you can imagine, it was pure bliss. We never realised a snow holiday could be so idyllic.
I’ve never really been a nature-loving kind of girl, the city has always called my name, but my god, the Alps have transformed me.
I’d now recommend a ski trip to everyone and anyone, and if you can make it specifically to the French Alps, even better.
I’m going to be writing lots of ski trip tips over the next few weeks, to pass on everything we learnt about heading on this kind of holiday (believe me it’s not your regular kind of holiday!), but for now, let’s kick off the snow content with a travel diary.
Serre Chevalier is one of the largest ski resort valleys in Europe. Located in southeastern France, in the Hautes-Alpes region of the Alps, the area is another world, with mountains upon mountains, steep snowy slopes, and cute traditional villages. The valley is a snow and terrain playground, the prime destination for a ski trip, and an incredible spot to experience the beauty of the Alps.
The Serre Chevalier Vallée has three main villages including, Chantemerle (where we were based), Le Monêtier Les Bains, and Villeneuve. It also has nine smaller villages around the area, and includes France’s highest town Briançon, which is a UNESCO Heritage Site and a must-visit if you’re in the area.
We didn’t know what to expect before we arrived at Serre Chevalier. To be honest I thought it would be just one slope… I know, how naive, right?! With 3901 hectares in total and 410 hectares of marked runs, the sheer size of the valley is phenomenal. It can be a little overwhelming for beginner skiers, but you needn’t worry as there are tracks for every level of skier, from beginners to professional.
Taking the chairlift up to the Serre Chevalier peak (which stands at 2491m high), is one thing I really recommend you do while you’re in this area. If you’re brave, you can ski right down from here. We weren’t brave enough, let alone had the experience to do such a thing, however taking the chairlift up and down was fabulous enough! Although I cried because I was so damn cold, it was so worth it.
You’re taken away into a snow paradise, where you wonder how something so beautiful, could be so real. The snow is so white and covers nearly every crevice of the mountains; the breeze, although frosty, is fresh air at it’s finest; and the surroundings, well they just speak for themselves.
The atmosphere at Serre Chevalier is fun, relaxed and super friendly. Everyone is there to have a good time, and it really shows. It’s the friendliest destination we’ve been to in a long time, with both locals and fellow tourists always smiling and saying bonjour/hello to you as you pass them by.
A couple we talked to said they had been staying at Serre Chevalier for five weeks, and had been holidaying there for the past 20 years. At first we were like wow, but by the end of our trip we could totally see why. It’s a home-away-from-home kind of place, without the daily distractions, where you can just become one with nature and the slopes, eat amazing food, be in good company, and always have a smile on your face.
I told you, it’s seriously like another world.
How to get there
We flew from Manchester to Turin with Jet2. Serre Chevalier is on the border of Italy, so flying to Turin is the easiest and quickest way to get there. The drive from Turin is less than two hours (depending on traffic).
On the drive there you’ll have to go through three tollways, so make sure you have some cash and/or your card handy. You’ll also go through a number of tunnels and around many windy roads. We found that many of the European drivers tend to drive very quickly (and not follow the speed limit), so remember not to get distracted and keep your eyes on the speed limit signs.
Renting a car was a blessing
We rented a car from rentalcars.com and wow, what a difference it made to our holiday. We hadn’t rented a car for a holiday before, but now I’m not sure how we’re going to go about many more of our trips without one. Especially if we head to a destination similar to the French Alps, where there’s not much available in terms of public transport.
We had ordered our rental car from the rentalcars.com website a few weeks before our trip, so everything was ready and organised for us when we landed at Turin airport. We decided to choose a SUV as we thought it’s the type of car that would be perfect for tackling the icy roads (and lugging around our four suitcases).
We picked up the car, which ended up being a Renault Koleos, from the rental car area of Turin airport and effortlessly made our way to our destination, Serre Chevalier.
The Renault was a dream to drive. Both Tim and I would have never considered looking at buying a Renault before, but after driving the Koleos our opinions totally changed. It was super spacious and luxurious, and very modernistic, with keyless entry; an automatic boot; a touch screen tablet, which controlled such things as the vehicle functions, multimedia, navigation, etc; and incredible safety features, including hands free parking and blind spot warnings.
It was a wonderful car to navigate the great outdoors, and we were sad to say goodbye when it was time for us to leave.
As I mentioned above, renting a car from rentalcars.com was such a brilliant idea. It was like going an incredible road trip every day. We felt like we were in a James Bond movie, driving around the windy roads, taking in the perfect movie-like mountainous scenery. It was fantastic to be able to see another perspective of the Alps, rather than what you see while skiing. We believe, without a car, there’s no way you’re able to really grasp the enormity and grandeur and of the area. It is truly magnificent.
Where we stayed
We stayed at Nemea L’Adret in Chantemerle, which was a self-catering chalet just opposite the ski slopes. It was a fabulous location, as the shops, restaurants and ski lifts were just a short walk away. I have to say, the chalet itself wasn’t the most luxe type accommodation we’ve ever stayed in, and when they say self-catering, they really mean self-catering, as you have to buy everything, from washing up liquid to bin liners.
However, the locality, the ability to make your own meals, and the wonderful balcony, where we spent many afternoons having cheese and rosé, embracing the sunshine and staring out at the slopes, certainly made up for the lack of luxe. I’ve heard ski resort accommodation isn’t always the flashiest, unless you really spend an arm and a leg, so just keep this in mind when you’re looking for somewhere to stay!
Book a ski lesson, or a few
Before we went to France I asked you what tips you would give to first time skiers. The number one tip was to have lessons!
We took your advice, and I’m so glad we did as there is no way we would have had the guts to go on the slopes for the first time without an instructor.
We had a two hour private class on our first day on the slopes and it was amazing. Laurent, our instructor, went through all the basics, and by the end of the two hours we were confidently able to shred one of the beginner slopes (note: we like to think we were shredding it).
We chose to have another ski lesson with Laurent on the Wednesday, which again, was fantastic. He took us to a different beginner slope this time, which was higher up the mountain, and taught us how to get off and on the seat chairlifts. We were so happy he took us up there, as if he didn’t we wouldn’t have felt comfortable going up ourselves.
For the rest of the time we were in Serre Chevalier, Tim and I kept tackling the beginners slopes, practising everything Laurent had taught us. By the end of the week, we felt like we were fully fledge skiers… kind of (we certainly had the snow plow position down pat). I’m not going to lie, it’s a hard sport to learn, and I now totally understand why people choose to do six days of lessons, but it is so much fun, and we can’t wait to go back and enhance our skills one day soon.
When we have kids we’re going to get them to learn how to ski as soon as they’re old enough (Laurent said 3 years old is a prime age). You should have seen these tiny kids skiing down the slopes, they were insane, and totally put Tim and I to shame, we couldn’t believe it!
Food & drink
Surprisingly, Tim and I didn’t go out to eat much while we were away. I know, shock horror for foodies like us!
As we had our own kitchen in our chalet, we made our own meals most of the time, which mainly consisted of French cheese, pastries and wine (when in France!). I absolutely loved our village of Chantemerle, which consisted of a few restaurants, including the pizzeria, La Cabassa, which we ate at a few times (the pizza was DIVINE); an incredible patisserie, which was filled to the brim with exquisite cakes and beautiful bread; a deli with the best cheese and anti-pasti; and a supermarket filled will the freshest produce we’ve had in a long, long time (another, of the many, reasons I want to move to France).
Of course, they did have a few après-ski spots around the ski lifts and the bottom of the slopes, where we enjoyed a drink of two some afternoons. However, as they were quite expensive, we instead chose to buy a crisp bottle of rosé from the supermarket, which we took back to drink on our chalet’s balcony.
You know I love my red wine, but amazingly I didn’t want to drink any all week! Tim and I were just craving light, refreshing drinks, and we then could totally understand why everyone love to drink beer when they go skiing. Our drinks of choice for the week were Aperol Spritz, local pale ale, and of course, French rosé.
One thing Tim and I tried and loved while we were away was (a French favourite), fromage blanc. It’s almost like a natural yoghurt, and tastes amazing with freshly made framboise confiture (raspberry jam). We had this for breakfast on our baguettes and croissants, and it was divine. We highly recommend you try it next time you’re in France.
If you’re wanting to go out for dinner, there are a number of restaurants around in Chantemerle. Alternatively, Briançon, Villeneuve and Le Montier Les Bains are only a short drive away, where they too have a handful of fabulous restaurants to try.
The trip to Serre Chevalier was a once in a lifetime experience. Tim and I both had the most wonderful time, and think it’s a great place for any kind of skier and snowboarder, from beginner to professional. The ultra cool vibe, friendly and unpretentious atmosphere, delicious food and wine, and of course, the breathtaking scenery, slopes and snow, all make Serre Chevalier a must-visit destination.
We already can’t wait to visit again soon!
The trip to Serre Chevalier was made possible thanks to rentalcars.com
Heading on a snow trip soon? Read about how to prepare, here.