News from the snow
Serre Chevalier France
"Serre Che", as it's known to its friends, is one of the most southerly of France, and one of the biggest in the Alps. Located close to the Italian border, Serre Chevalier also boasts more than 300 days of sunshine a year. Although that statistic may make some snow lovers nervous, it's north facing slopes, reaching high with a big proportion above the tree line, together with extensive snow making capabilities (more than 490 guns covering more than 145 hectares of trails on lower slopes, make the resort relatively snow sure.
Serre Chevalier is made up of no less than thirteen villages (three main ones); its base is spread out for 6km (4 miles) along the Guisane Valley floor from the old town of Briançon, Europe's highest and the location of France's first ski school in 1902, up to the Col du Lautaret. The resort has tried hard to avoid the 'concrete-monolith-mentality' of some of the other big French resorts, and there is a good proportion of traditional buildings and authentic architecture in the villages, despite Serre Chevalier's success and inevitable growth.
Its name comes from the old Provencal word 'cambell' which meant 'flock of sheep' and was given because flocks from nearby Provencal were brought up to Serre ("little mountain") in the summer. The area's historical association with the Borel nobility is also present today as their coat-of-arms, emblazoned with an eagle, is used by the resort, and the eagles can still be seen on occasion.
Over recent seasons the resort has received world wide publicity thanks to its famous son, world champion downhiller (from 1995 to '97) Luc Alphand, who wore his Serre Chevalier headband in competition all over the globe and his friendly face now smiles out at you from all of Serre Chevalier's promotional material. Mr Alphand is known locally as 'Lucho'.
The geography of the place is slightly complicated and probably not worth getting too involved with, however you can access the north facing larch-lined slopes above the resort's many villages first of all from Briançon itself, which was lift-linked in to Serre Che as recently as 1989 by a 6 seater gondola. At that time it was dubbed 'Serre Chevalier 1200' and was sort of absorbed into the overall marketing effort, but it now seems to have gone its own way a little in that department. The next 'community' as you move up the valley is that of Saint-Chaffrery, known as Serre Chevalier 1350, with two hamlets of which the best known is Chantemerle. Next up is La Salle les Alpes, dubbed Serre Chevalier 1400, which contains five villages, the best known being Villeneuve which has the most facilities and attractions of any of the villages in the valley. Finally Monêtier les Bains, or Serre Chevalier 1500, with the other six villages, the largest Monêtier itself.
"Serre Che" is made up of thirteen villages (three main ones) spread out for 6km along the Guisane Valley floor from Briancon. The north facing larch-lined slopes above (most over 2000m ) are lift linked all the way from the town.
Beginners have gentle trails by all the villages and separate beginner slopes up the mountain. Intermediates have the most to en-joy with a mixture of glorious long cruising trails up to 10km (6 miles) in length. At Bachas above 1500 there are lots of runs criss-crossing down through the larch forest . Favourite trails include Le Petit Alpe, Grand Gargouille and Bois des Coqs. The lift pass also takes in Montgenèvre on the Italian border, from where it is possible to ski, if conditions are right, all the way over to Sestrière and Sauze d'Oulx in Italy, although you need to purchase an 'add on pass' and start early to be able to do so.
Advanced skiers also have a lot to enjoy here, including very extensive off-piste and ski touring terrain for which a number of guiding services are available. Those looking for on-piste excitement will find the Olympic Luc Alphand run one of the fastest on the mountain. For moguls try Le Bez and for sheer fun the gullies, chutes and forest of the 'Porridge' trail.
There are five cross-country trails in the valley of varying length and difficulty.
After daycare age the French Ski School (ESF) accepts children from three years of age in to special classes with Jardin des Neiges or snow gardens for fun learning at all three bases. The International Ski School also run snow gardens in each village.
For children aged 7 to 17 Generation snow at Inchantemerle and Axesse in Villeneuve offer free riding courses and off piste discovery sessions.
At the top end of the scale the , the Auberge du Choucas in Nonetier les Bains and Le Bidule or Marotte in Villeneuve are all highly regarded. L'Amphore in 1350 has a reputation for Italian food and grills and the Kandahar is also popular for its pizza.
In Villeneuve, the Noctambule is good for alpine food like raclette and, in Monetier, the Alliey is a popular mid-range restaurant.
After 10 years spent to learn the ropes with marc Veyrant (the famous French chef who runs two three-star restaurants), Stephene Froidevaux is back to his area.
The Briancon's native, is now running, with the wife Léa, his first restaurant in the charming Alliey & Spa Hotel. The cellar already full of 160 vineyard and about 7000 bottles gives an excellent support to the creation of this young and talented chef.
he takes part of his inspiration in the natural flavours that we can find here all over the mountain, reading the menu invite you going for a walk for example through the fields : then you'll savour a foie gras with dandelion jam and wild redcurrent jelly...
The young man invents, brakes a lot of new ground and delights.
One star in the Michelin Guide since the beginning of last summer...
In Chantemerle at 1350 Le Pub Ullivan is a good choice and there's a rare French Karaoke bar, L'Escapade. The resort's two discos La Baita and Bam Bam are both located in Villeneuve.
The local Bière des Alpes is brewed in a small brewery run by Luc Alphand and his brother Lionel in Vallouise is served in the area.
Whilst the ESF and International Ski school both offer snowboarding courses, the resort does have one dedicated 'boarders-only school - Génération Snow based at Chantemerle. It runs three or six day courses with group size limited to 8, as well as 90 minute private lessons and children's courses.