Pick of the pistes

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iol travel nov 22 French ski resort

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Picture postcard perfect chalets in a typical traditional French ski resort.

France offers the biggest skiing area in the world, with top-class equipment and great après-ski choices.

Boasting fast, modern lifts, the picturesque French ski area offers up to 600km of slopes under one ski pass. Special zones are set up for children and beginners which guarantee stress-free skiing for all levels of skiers.

France is ranked first in the world in terms of lift equipment. Heavy investment has been made to increase speed, safety and comfort. Thanks to resorts situated at high altitude and the production of artificial snow, skiers are guaranteed to be able to ski in France throughout the season on good quality snow.

With 1.5 million skier days last year, France’s world ranking was second only to the US.

It also boasts 30 percent of the world’s major ski resorts. A skier day is an industry term counting every visit to a resort of a skier, snowboarder and other forms of the sport.

The French mountains cover five ranges and offer a stunning variety of winter sport resorts: quaint villages or modern resorts with more contemporary architecture. Whether located mid-mountain or at high altitude, all have kept their character and atmosphere.

If you’re into local cuisine, many of the resorts have top-class restaurants and chefs well versed in the best French culinary secrets. In the 2011 edition of the Michelin Guide, 40 restaurants in French ski resorts were noted for their excellence.

Families are also well catered for. Throughout the ski season, tourist offices organise special programmes, events and family packages.

Recreational workshops, theme weeks, farm visits and dogsled rides are just a few of the activities awaiting parents and children.

The “Family Plus” label – certifying the quality of welcome provided for families – is offered in 43 French ski resorts.

And if you fancy a break from skiing, most French resorts also offer dog sledding, snowshoeing, skijoring (horse-drawn skiing), speed riding, “ice diving” (diving under frozen lakes), bobsleigh, polo and much more.

Sledging has been revolutionised by a multitude of variants such as snake-gliss or airboard.

After a day full of activities, take time to stroll through the resort or to enjoy the last rays of sunshine on a cocktail bar terrace before plunging into the whirl of nightlife, discotheques, bars, casinos and festivals.

Although the mountains offer holidaymakers the option of “disconnecting” from routine for a welcome break, web-lovers have no cause for alarm: this winter the mountains go hi-tech. Resorts are now generation 2.0 thanks to ever-improvedsmartphone apps and “video zones” on the slopes, allowing skiers and boarders to film their exploits and receive them live bySMS to share on the web.

On the French slopes, freestyling is an integral part of winter sports. Nevertheless, French resorts have established parameters to guarantee freestylers maximum safety in their discipline. Some parts of the slopes are marked and secured but not groomed, giving users the full range of off-piste ski conditions.

And after all that activity and exercise, you can indulge in various spa treatments to revitalise tired muscles.

Aqua leisure centres await day and après-ski visitors for some relaxing “time-out”. Most hotels and tourist residences also have their own treatment centres.

If You Go...

l More information on the French mountains in winter : www.france-montagnes.com

l Your information centre right here in South Africa for your next holiday in France: [email protected] or www.rendezvousenfrance.com

Food

Aside from traditional mountain favourites such as tartiflette, raclette and fondue, here are a small selection of dishes to discover around the ski slopes:

In the Southern Alps: Ravioles, tourtons (traditional savoury pastries), and the regional liqueurs alcool de mélèzes (made from larch flowers) and Genepy.

In the Northern Alps: le gâteau de Savoie (Savoyard cake), le farcement (a traditional dish prepared with grated potatoes and bacon), la tarte au beaufort (traditional cheese tart prepared with beaufort cheese), le gratin dauphinois (Dauphinois potatoes), les farcis (stuffings), les crozets (traditional Savoyard pasta), and numerous cheeses, particularly the tommes de montagne.

In Auvergne: la Truffade (potato pancake), l’aligot (mashed potatoes with Tomme cheese).

In the Jura: les galettes de pomme de terre au comté (potato pancakes with comté cheese).

In the Vosges: les Toffoyes, la tarte aux brimbelles (berry tart).

In the Pyrénées: la Garbure (thick soup with ham and cabbage), l’Azinat. - The Mercury

TOP FIVE FRENCH SKI RESORTS

Chamonix

Courcheval

Meribel

Val-Thorens

Val d’Isere

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