Living in the South East and travelling with two young children, we opted for taking the train to the Alps. The Eurostar to Paris from Ashford was pain-free, and in all honesty, the two stops on the RER metro line to Gare du Lyon was easy enough, although even with leaving my snowboard at home we still had a lot of kit with us. Being three and five, the children can’t carry anything, and a free hand was imperative to steer them through the busy metro system - leaving me feeling a little like a packhorse with bags on both my front and back.
After lots of colouring in and sticker books, the odd Lego model and half the collection of Roald Dahl books later, we boarded a bus for the mere 17km drive up to resort from St Michel-Valloire. A quick slog through town and a free shuttle bus up a steep hill, and we were at our apartment, booked through Peak Retreats.
That evening we rented kit from Sport 2000, which is very close to the base station and ESF meeting point; luckily, they allow you to store your kit there too so we didn’t have to always take it on the bus up and down from our apartment. Feeling very relaxed after our long, yet chilled-out journey, we took the kids for pizza and strolled around the lovely, and mostly traditional, village centre.
It was the first time we’d taken a self-catering ski holiday, and the following morning became a little panicked as we rushed to get the kids to the ESF meeting point by 9am. After forcing their feet into their ski boots in Sport 2000 and refinding their goggles for the fifth time, I found myself once again being a pack horse: my daughter on my shoulders, my snowboard in one hand, my son holding onto the other (learning to walk again in his ski boots), and two sets of very small skis strapped to my backpack.
Holidaying in a small French resort which isn’t inundated with Brits does have many benefits, such as actually feeling like you’re in a foreign country and the children having to speak a little French, but one drawback was our children were the only non-French speakers in each of their classes, and while the ESF instructors very sympathetic and patient, it did make it a little difficult for them to make friends, leading to the odd tear or two over the next few mornings.
Not feeling too guilty, my wife and I took to the slopes for our free skiing time, and soon found that even though it was Easter and Valloire has state-of-the-art lift systems, there were no queues and the slopes were mainly clear. Amazing as the larger French resorts are packed during school holidays.
We’d had fresh snow the night before and after three hours of nipping in and out of the powder at the edges of the piste, we were ready for a rest. We picked up the kids, who showed no sign of tears anymore and were both saying they loved skiing and were now experts, and went for a lunch of waffles with locally grown myrtle berries.
As my wife skis and I snowboard, it somehow became my job - in my comfortable boots - to take the children to the local crèche post-lunch. The crèche is handily placed near the Setaz gondola, and is surprisingly reasonable, being only €110 for six afternoons - 1.30 till 5.00pm. I’d booked both children a place in the afternoons and leaving a very happy three-year-old and a slightly-sulky five-year-old, I headed back to the slopes for an afternoon in the powder.
Previously we have travelled with specialist child friendly package companies, with included childcare and food, which does make the holiday far easier, but it does come at a large premium. By travelling independently and going self-catering we’d saved a lot of money, and having learnt from that panicky first morning, the rest of the week was far easier - once we’d synchronised watches and implemented a military style action plan.
We soon discovered, after lunch on day two, that my daughter at three loved crèche, but my son at five wasn’t so keen, so a deal was struck. We’d have a picnic lunch up the mountain and we’d all ski down together on the easily accessed Myosotis green run.
It was a brilliant plan, as not only did we have an on-mountain picnic, but my daughter skied the whole thing down between my wife’s legs, singing all the way down, and my son showed me that he had good control of his speed and the strength to ski long pistes without needing to stop.
‘Do I have to go to the crèche too?’ he asked, once at the bottom.
‘No’ was the answer, and it brought the biggest smile of the week.
The rest of the week took the same pattern: free skiing for us whilst the kids were in ski school, a little post-lunch ski as a family of four, with the rest of the afternoon touring the resort’s easier slopes and, more scarily, the terrain park, where my son dropped a line of jumps without hesitation. The crèche were most accommodating, and only charged me for the sessions the children attended.
The free afternoon shows and games in the village square are just one of the reasons that make Valloire a truly great place for fledgling ski families to take the little ones. The pistes are quiet, the restaurants reasonable, the terrain on offer allows any child that can stop themselves to tour virtually the whole mountain without finding themselves stuck on a steep slope; off the slopes there is a road train, tenpin bowling, an ice rink, and the village is simply charming.
Taking the train is a great option too: we took an early departure which, after storing our bags in Gare du Nord, allowed us to climb the Eiffel Tower and visit the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris on the way home, a perfect end to a very French week.
Nearest airports: Chambery (one hour); Geneva (1hr 45)
Nearest station: Saint-Michel/ Valloire (17km). Eurostar (www.eurostar.com) to Paris, then TGV from Paris (4hrs) www.tgv.co.uk
Local bus www.mobisavoie.fr
Where to stay
Pete stayed with Peak Retreats at Vallee d'Or apartments located near slopes with indoor/outdoor heated pool, sauna and Jacuzzi. Prices from £80pp for 7 nights self-catering based on 5 sharing a 2 bedroom apartment (sleeps 6), including return Eurotunnel crossing with free FlexiPlus upgrade.
High from £259pp - eg.NY, Feb HT
Med from £122pp - eg. Jan ski
Easter from £118pp
Peak Retreats www.peakretreats.co.uk
Childcare; Nursery Les Aiglons www.valloire.net/uk
Ski Hire via Peak Retreats from Martin Sports (Sport 2000)
Lift passes via Peak Retreats from £115 child and £145 adult.
Ski school via Peak Retreats with ESF Valloire - from £99 child/adult for 6 half-days
If you want a taxi transfer from/to the train station book well in advance, as Valloire only has three taxis and they are booked up fast.
Hang out post ski in the town square.