E just couldn't wait. He was anxious to join the ranks of French families and have our first (of many, I assume) family ski vacations. We started off relatively tame. We chose an off week in between the winter school holidays in February and the Easter holiday in April. Which isn't as easy as it sounds because in France, where everything is organized centrally, the holidays have been scheduled to stagger over the course of 5 weeks so that the roads and resorts are not overcrowded, and so that the whole country doesn't grind to a halt. Which leave only 3 weeks before the end of one set of holidays and the beginning of another.
We only went for a long weekend. And we stayed within 4 hours' drive of our home.
With the house construction eating up all of our savings and disposable income for the year our key requirement was affordable. So we chose to vacation in an all-inclusive club vacances. You might know Club Med, at the upper end of the market. I like to think of these resorts as a cruise on land. Small rooms, communal dining, every service provided by the resort from ski passes, equipment rental, day care for kids, etc. It was the first time we'd ever done anything like this at all. We are more independent travelers by nature. E's passion is for off-piste skiing in the winter and paragliding and mountain climbing in summer - definitely not something done with a crowd. I'm more of an urban traveller, but this too, I like to go on my own. I had no idea how we would adapt to being part of the herd. Here's what we ended up with.
The View From Our Room.
Obviously could not be beat. It was my first time in the "real" alps and it was stunning. I couldn't believe how massive (and close!) the mountains are. The ski village, Orcieres 1850, is at 6,000 feet. The top of the ski-able mountain is at 9,000 feet.
E and I took the ski lift to do some snow-shoeing - my only snow activity. I white-knuckled it to the top, wondering how people could be so casual, having a snack, talking on their phones, while dangling unprotected hundreds of feet above the ground. I don't get it.
Once at the top, I was convinced there was going to be an avalanche as E was trying to get me to go further away from the designated ski slopes into the area that had been closed earlier in the day due to "avalanche risk." Between that and the approaching fog that obliterated any view, I was not comfortable but I had to admit that when there was not fog the view was incredible. Here's me in one the more relaxed moments:
I don't have any photos, because I wasn't there!
This was truly the best part. There are clubs based on age groups with really great pre-school like facilities. Boo did intro skiing each morning for two hours with his age group, and played or listened to stories in the awake hours of the afternoon. Little Guy had a day care with 3 attendants and with plenty of little play spaces adapted to small ones.
We collected them at 5pm for play time and dinner.
There was a cafeteria that was just for them where we went twice a day to feed them - low tables & chairs, high chairs, kid friendly food (and not just burgers and fries), bottle warmers & other related baby materials. It was relaxing to be feed in a kid place and not to have to worry about how they coped in a restaurant or to interrupt our meal. After they were finished they went pack into their groups while the grown-ups ate. Even at night.
In a word, bleh. Think: 70s cafeteria food. I know that France has this awesome reputation as the greatest cuisine ever, but the socialist tendency for Everyman that you find also leads to this: Mediocrity on a grand scale. My aunt tells a story about going to the Dordogne and eating out at fancy places crowded with other foreigners and deciding to eat one meal where locals go and it being awful. It's not an either/or, but in this case it was no better and perhaps slightly worse than eating at our office cafeteria with just a slightly enhanced ambience.
The "family" aspect of the club was great and really unbeatable. There was no struggling to find a restaurant or worrying about how the would behave once there. There was no cooking. Those things made it a vacation for me - I actually had free time! I read a book & one issue of the New Yorker cover to cover. The day care & activities for Boo were really good. All the Assistants were trained and certified as well as the facility for the same kind of certification a preschool must go through.
The downside was that although this club was just recently remodeled it was still very basic in terms of comfort. The restaurant furnishings were decent but nothing special. The lobby wasn't very inviting yet it was the only place to sit in the entire resort since the rooms were too small for a chair . The food for me was really the downer.
As a non-skiier who will be seeing many ski vacations in the future, I'm definitely on board with something where a) my kids' activities are organized around them, and b) I don't have to cook every meal but still eat well and can avoid the stress of restaurant eating w/ little ones. So next time : something with slightly more upscale facilities and restaurant.