Now Summer and Autumn have official announced their finales with one weekend of Indian sunshine, Winter will be taking its icy grip, which can only mean one thing…it’s time to book your winter holiday!
If, like me, you enjoy one summer holiday and one winter holiday per year, you will be shopping around for the best deal and the best places to go this winter. This can at times be a mammoth challenge, but here are a few suggestions for all you snow fanatics on choosing the right destination for you.
Europe has an amazingly diverse range of destinations; this is reflected in the wide variety available to you for winter holidays, from the peaks of Bulgaria to the sunny slopes of the Italian Alps, with resorts ranging in price, facilities, abilities, transport, access and night life.
Here are a few of my top European resorts.
If you’re a first timer to the slopes or looking for a bargain ski holiday the place to start is the tiny mountain principality of Andorra, situated in between southern France and Spain in the dramatic Pyrenees mountain range. The slopes in all the Andorran resorts vary and can be challenging however – aimed more towards beginners and intermediate skiers.
Andorra is best known for fantastic scenery, duty free shopping and après skiing, and is very popular with young skiers and boarders because of the lively nightlife. However if a quieter resort is more your thing Andorra caters for you as well.
My recommendation is Andorra’s Arinsal resort because of its lively nightlife, only minutes from the gondolas and relatively easy access if you fly to Toulouse (France), although an airport transfer is recommended as the roads can be narrow and hairy at times.
Tignes, French Alps
If you are looking for a more varied resort with an enormous selection of slopes and routes to choose from, you cannot go far wrong with the Tignes region in the French Alps, which claims to have access to over 300Km of terrain. The Tignes region is made up of 5 main areas: Tignes Le Lavachet, Tignes Le Lac and Val Claret being the 3 main areas on the slopes with Les Breviers and Les Boisses lower down the valley.
This is one of the Highest resorts in the Alps giving it an all year round cover of snow. Levels peaked at 140cm on the upper slopes last year/beginning of this year, making this an ideal resort for beginners and self-proclaimed pro’s.
Off the Slope facilities are more than ample for everyone including a vast array of busy bars and restaurants, along with fantastic sports facilities including leisure centres cinemas and bowling alleys. Transfers to the Tignes resorts are around 4 hours from Lyon or Geneva or 2.5 hours from Chambery, however if you fancy travelling through the French Alps rather than over them, you can catch the Euro Star Ski Train from Londons St Pancras direct to Bourg -St-Maurice with only a 25 minute transfer to Tignes. The train runs between 17 December and 14 April for more information about timetables and fares visit www.eurostar.com.
If you are looking for a more prestigious and challenging set of slopes look no further than the spectacular Verbier, which is famous for the amazing views of the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. Coupled with the adrenaline filled slopes this makes for an excellent choice of off piste terrain.
Aimed more towards intermediate and experienced skiers and Boarders Verbier has all you could need; great powder, snowboard park, over 400Km of piste, amazing off piste, numerous lift runs, scenery, ideal facilities catering for all the family, enough runs to challenge even the most confident enthusiasts, and excellent ski/board schools where you can learn from some of the best in the world.
Comprising of 4 main valleys, with Verbier being the main resort, this part of the Swiss Alps is a Mecca for snow lovers with a little more experience. With only a 2 hour transfer from Geneva, Verbier is perfect for any length of trip from a long weekend to a two week break. There will always be something to keep your blood pumping and challenging your abilities.
For those of you looking for something a little more obscure and out of the way, where the crowds don’t always tend to venture, Bulgaria’s Bansko resort is an excellent up and coming ski centre in Eastern Europe. With recently renovated centres and infrastructure, this cheery community is not the most challenging piste experience however with an ever expanding number of resorts and runs being constructed in Bulgaria it is certainly the new hidden secret for most connoisseurs of snow sports.
There is a more relaxed Apres Ski atmosphere around all of the three main resorts in Bulgaria, with small taverns and locally themed restaurants giving you a whole other experience, but none the less enjoyable.
Tours around the vast mountain ranges are available by helicopter opening up another world of piste’s to you. Unlike the larger resorts in Europe, Bankso is aimed at the intermediate and beginners with a large amount of blue runs available which can be frequently inhabited by the ski schools. But with a fantastic snow sure record and good facilities and infrastructure, Bulgaria is the ski holiday with a difference.
Wherever you are planning on going, just remember to make sure you get the right ski wear to ensure you stay warm. It can be seriously cold up there in the mountains so ensure that you have the essentials. Some retailers may sell them in bulk in a ski wear package, saving you money in the process.