Where are the best ski apartments for families in France? We asked six ski-apartment specialists for their views. These are their nominations.
Each is a residence, rather than an single flat, and together they offer an interesting mix of Brit-friendly enclaves, self-contained cocoons, and budget-conscious bases for families who can already ski. If you’re looking to keep a lid on prices on your next trip, or simply want the privacy and flexibility a self-catering holiday can bring, they’re well worth adding to your short list.
Just remember to get cracking if you’re hunting for a place with more than two bedrooms for the school holidays (especially over February half-term). Whilst apartments generally book up more slowly than the best family-friendly chalets, there is a perennial shortage of larger apartments designed for two families to share.
Arc 1950, Les Arcs
Nominated by: Erna Low
With the apartments stacked up over five or six floors, it’s a high-density place. But it doesn’t feel that way. The pretty, higgledy-piggeldy buildings wrap around an extended car-free piazza, which is home to ski hire centres, shops, bars, bakeries and restaurants, so you’re never far from the essentials. Once you’ve parked your car (in one of the discrete underground car parks), you’re unlikely to use it again during the holiday.
All the residences are ski-in, ski-out: and to keep the atmosphere convivial, the village has its own outdoor fire pit, and a weekly programme of activities, including snowman-building contests, freestyle skiing displays and tobogganing.
Jane Bolton, MD of Erna Low, holidayed here at Easter 2015. “We stayed in a two-bedroom corner apartment overlooking the piste and on the same floor as our friends. That meant we could do shared kids’ meals whilst also having some time to ourselves. All the kids loved the (heated, outdoor) swimming pool, the sledging in the afternoon, and had hot chocolates galore in the restaurants and cafés.”
Ski schools: the bilingual Spirit ski school is popular with English-speaking guests, and is the only ski school to run its beginner lessons in the village. It also has its own crèche and kids’ club. You can also catch a lift up to Arc 2000, to hook up with highly-rated British ski school, New Generation.
Best for: almost everyone. Families with complete beginners in their midst will like the convenient, cocoon-like environment. Mileage-hungry intermediate skiers will love the quick access over to the broad, ego-boosting pistes above Arc 1600 and Arc 1800 – as well as the famous 2000m descent down to Villaroger. Meanwhile, experts can hire a guide and tackle the demanding off-piste terrain on the Aiguille Rouge.
The only skiers who won’t be so happy are those plan to ski regularly in La Plagne. It’s a long commute from Arc 1950. Also, there are a few cracking blacks off the Aiguille Rouge, but generally Les Arcs’ pistes are gentle. Steep-piste specialists will be better off in Val d’Isere.
Prices: a two-bedroom apartment for Christmas 2015 starts from £486pp for a week, based on a family of four sharing and not including travel, with Erna Low.
Fermes des Ste Foy, Ste-Foy Tarentaise
Nominated by: Peak Retreats
Ste-Foy Tarentaise is the minnow next to the monsters: a ski area with just 41km of pistes on the road between the Espace Killy (300km of piste) and Paradiski (425km). In the last 15 years, it’s become a firm favourite with British families, thanks to the low-key architecture, the lack of lift queues and the friendly, chatty atmosphere.
Slap-bang in the middle of all this cuteness sits Les Fermes de Sainte Foy – a low-rise, traditionally-styled residence, with its own indoor pool. It’s next door to the O des Cimes spa, and just across the piste from the key Grand Plan chair lift. For a laid-back week, where the emphasis is on spending time with the family, rather than skiing gazillions of pistes on your own, it’s a canny choice.
Ski schools: British ski school Apex opened in Ste Foy in 2014, and offers small-group lessons for children during the school holidays (maximum class size 6). Other ski schools include Evolution 2, which doesn’t offer children’s classes for groups of complete beginners. But for its other groups its maximum class size is also six.
Meanwhile, the local branch of the ESF does take beginners, and has a maximum class size of six for three year-olds and eight for those aged four and above. It also works closely with the resort’s P’tits Trappeurs nursery.
Best for: families with toddlers who aren’t yet skiing, as well as those with children who have already mastered the snowplough. For complete beginners, however, the nursery slope at the bottom slopes is rather small.
For grown ups, Ste Foy’s own ski area offers a good mix of pistes. There just aren’t many of them. It works well for early intermediates who need to build their confidence in a relaxed, uncrowded environment, and for more advanced skiers who will be spending most of their time with their family, and will only get out on the slopes now and again.
Its strongest suit is its off-piste and ski-touring terrain: but it’s very avalanche-prone, so be sure to hire guide if you want to explore it.
Prices: a two-bedroom apartment for Christmas 2015 starts from £507pp for a week, with Peak Retreats, including Eurotunnel crossing and based on four sharing.
Nominated by: Powder Beds
This ski-in, ski-out residence opened in Avoriaz in 2011 and comes brimming with amenities. A supermarket, three restaurants, a pool, a crèche and a kids’ play room are all on site. What’s more, the buildings are connected by underground walkways: so you won’t get snowed on when you walk to the pool.
Meanwhile, in the middle of the village sits the Aquariaz aqua-park. It can be crowded after 4pm, and on bad-weather days – but if you pick your moment, your kids will be buzzing, courtesy of the climbing walls above the water, the lazy river run, and the two-person Slidewinder water slide.
Avoriaz sits at the heart of the vast Portes du Soleil ski area, which straddles the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva. It has the highest snowfall average of any resort in the French Alps, and is home to some superb skiing, both on-piste and off. But there is one important caveat. A lot of the surrounding resorts are low: and in mild and snowless weeks, everyone migrates uphill to Avoriaz. The pistes can get uncomfortably crowded as a result. To get the best of it, aim for a mid-winter week.
Jude Dyson of Powder Beds writes: “our MD, who has skied in resorts all over the world, counts L’Amara as a firm favourite for his family ski holiday – he’s been two years in a row.”
Ski Schools: the Avoriaz Alpine Ski School is run by Brits and with a maximum class size of six for beginners and eight or nine for more advanced groups. Other options include Evolution 2, the ESF, and the Village des Enfants, a 25-acre sector in the middle of the resort with magic-carpet lifts, nursery slopes and mini-obstacle courses. There’s even a mini-snowpark designed to introduce children aged three and over to snowboarding.
Best for: mid-winter skiing. New Year and February half-term are the school-holiday weeks to target here.
Prices: one week in a two-bedroom apartment over February half-term, 2016, costs £790pp, not including travel and based on four people sharing, with Powder Beds.
Residence Sun Vallée, Puy St Vincent
Nominated by: Snowbizz
What makes the Sun Vallée Residence interesting for British parents is its connection with Snowbizz: a tour operator specializing in Puy St Vincent, which runs its own ski school and childcare in the resort. The Sun Vallée is the hub of its operation. This is where you’ll find the crèche, the kid’s club and doorstep access to the snow garden for beginner children. The residence is also ski-in, ski-out, and two minutes’ walk from the resort’s heated outdoor pool.
“There are newer, higher-standard apartments in the resort,” says Wendy Lyotier of Snowbizz, “such as the Parc aux Etoiles at 1800, but everyone with under-11s wants the convenience of the Sun Vallée. It gets booked up quickly as a result.” In fact, key school-holiday weeks can sell out 10 or 11 months in advance.
Ski school: the local branch of the ESI is owned and managed by Snowbizz, with company director Michel the mastermind behind daily operations, quickly moving children between groups if they’re bored or out of their depth. “All instructors carry radios and stay in touch with Michel throughout the lesson so we can make a swift changes where necessary,” says Wendy “This is what really makes the difference to progress and even nervous little ones like knowing that Michel is there for them if needed.”
Best for: anyone looking for the coordinated childcare offered by a British family-ski specialist, without paying chalet or chalet-hotel prices. Puy St Vincent may be small by modern standards – offering just 75km of piste – but it offers plenty of variety, from broad, easy pistes to tree-skiing.
Prices: a two-bedroom apartment over Christmas 2015 costs £363pp, based on four sharing, not including travel, with Snowbizz. Flight-inclusive packages are also available.
Hameau du Kashmir, Val Thorens
Nominated by: Ski Collection.
The accommodation is set at 2300m, many of the slopes face north, and at several points the lits rise to a lofty 3000m. As a result, only a handful of Alpine resorts (Tignes, Cervinia, Obergurgl) can match Val Thorens for the quality, and reliability, of its snow. Yes, it’s a canny choice for Easter, but it’s worth going at any time of the season if your taste is for easy-skiing, confidence-boosting pistes, and snow that’s consistently soft and squeaky all over the ski area. The only drawback is the fact that all the pistes are above the treeline. When it’s foggy, or blowing a blizzard, you can’t see a thing.
For families, the ski-in, ski-out Hameau du Kashmir is a good bet. Opened in 2012, it’s part-hotel, part-residence, so you can combine the privacy and space of a self-catering apartment with the facilities of a hotel. There’s a pool and spa, a kids’ games room and two on-site restaurants – handy for those days when you can’t be bothered to cook.
Ski school: Le Hameau du Kashmir is close to one of the ESF meeting points in Val Thorens, as well as the nursery slopes. But there are several other ski school options, including British ski school New Generation, which recently set up shop in the resort.
Best for: all kinds of skiers, especially at the beginning and end of the season – although families with babies and toddlers should bear in mind that the on-site crèche at le Hameau has now closed.
Prices: a two-bedroom apartment over Christmas 2015 costs £539pp for a week, including Eurotunnel crossing and based on four sharing, with Ski Collection.
Les Terrasses d’Helios, Flaine
Nominated by: Pierre & Vacances.
Opened in 2014, Les Terrasses d’Helios is part of a self-contained self-catering complex called Flaine Montsoleil, above the main resort of Flaine, and is linked to the ski area by a chair lift and piste. On-site you’ll find a mini-market, as well as restaurants, ski hire and an indoor pool, so it’s easy to see why many families never leave – except to go skiing, of course. For non-skiers, the centre of the resort is a 15-minute walk or a free shuttle-bus ride away.
Ski school: beginners will have to take the shuttle bus downhill to get their lessons from the ESF or the ESI, the two main ski schools in town. However, the ESF does run more advanced classes directly from the residence.
Best for: self-sufficient families, who already ski together, will enjoy Les Terrasses d’Helios the most. They should aim for a mid-winter trip. Flaine gets a lot of snow from storms that approach from the north-west, but the slopes top out at 2500m, which is a little low for an Easter trip.
Prices: a two-bedroom apartment over Christmas 2015 costs £583pp for a week, not including travel, with Pierre & Vacances.