It was definitely the depths of winter in Val Thorens as we were blown off the mountain by a blizzard at 2400m. Looking forward to warming up in the hot tub, we drove down the valley to start our short break at Chalet Pierra Menta (owned by Bura Travel) in the quiet, sheltered resort of Peisey.
Peisey is one of the group of small villages that make up Peisey-Vallandry – a resort that sits slap bang between the larger, more high profile Les Arcs and La Plagne and, together with them forms the massive Paradiski ski area. Although its ski pass is a joint one with Les Arcs, don’t try to suggest to locals that it’s part of its neighbour. This is a fiercely independent community with its own identity. I was fascinated to spend some time getting under the skin of this place with the character and feel of a cosy, small resort – but also access to one of the biggest ski areas in the world.
The frostbite from our earlier trip to Val Thorens was quickly forgotten once we arrived in Peisey because – less than an hour later and 1000m lower – it was spring. As we defrosted on the balcony the morning’s low cloud lifted to reveal a stunning view down the valley. The famous double-decker Vanoise Express runs right overhead, stretching impressively from one side of the valley to the other, connecting Les Arcs and La Plagne.
We couldn’t resist popping out for a walk around the charming village. More used to the high rises and 70s-inspired concrete constructions of larger resorts, it was lovely to be surrounded by slate, stone and wood cottages, pretty chocolate box chalets, little alleyways and traditional French statues and memorials. With its chicken pens, woods, allotments, school, church and beehives the area felt very rural, quiet and safe. It didn’t take long for us to feel like we were really on holiday.
Back at the chalet we met our hosts Brent and Nick. Brent told us there’s a real community feel in Peisey – he’d just popped out to borrow something he’d run out of for our evening meal from a neighbour. The only pub in the village, Greg’s, is the place everyone meets up and – like they say in Cheers – ‘everybody knows your name’. Fortunately, the only village restaurant has a really varied menu – from Thai to Savoyarde specialities.
Peisey is linked to the slightly higher Vallandry, and its livelier après scene and shops, by the affectionately-named ‘lobster pots’ – an ancient-looking free lift run from a wooden shed just a few hundred metres’ walk from the chalet. They run until 5.30pm and our hosts told us that if you miss your trip back down it’s usually easy to hitch a lift, or the walk back takes 30 mins. Local taxis do regular runs up and down with their 8-seater minibuses too. Vallandry is also the nearest place to hire your ski gear – we recommend Sport 2000, which has a full range of ski equipment as well as technical sportswear and a dedicated ski tuning workshop. Access to the Vanoise Express is an easy walk across the road from the top of the lobster pots, and from there the whole of Paradiski is your oyster (or lobster).
We spent our first night taking advantage of the lovely food and unlimited wine in the chalet, and getting to know our fellow guests and hosts. Brent, a professional and experienced chef, started dinner with a delightful lentil, coconut and basil soup, followed by chicken, sweet potato and blue cheese lasagne, and a banoffee cup. Our hosts were very friendly as evidenced by all the thank you cards from previous guests on show.
To give you an idea about the vastness of Paradiski, it was the end of the season and Brent told us he’d never even made it over to La Plagne, so busy has he been exploring the Les Arcs side! He was urged to rectify this situation by the other guests and the very next day our hosts took the Vanoise Express over to the other side. After some stunning tree runs, they found themselves in the middle of the annual spring Subli’cimes events. Every April the tops of each of the 6 peaks are into different themed areas – the Zen area, where the boys spent some time relaxing, has saunas, Jacuzzis and massage areas. More bizarrely, on another peak was a camel, which snatched a beer from their friend’s hand and gulped it down. You can never predict what you’re going to encounter in a ski resort.
The chalet is lovely and cosy – it’s not a luxury chalet but very comfortable, spacious and clean. The price for the week we were there was £749 for the full week, which includes airport transfers, 6-day lift pass and ski/snowboard gear hire – you can get discounts for beginners, kids or bringing your own gear too! Pretty good value for a large place with stunning balcony views, big hot tub, sauna, heated boot room, wood-burning fire and TV/DVD. The only problem was a lack of wifi, which we needed for our work – but if you were just on holiday to get away from it all is probably a good thing!
Over blueberry pancakes, the next morning we planned our day. The cloud was low again and visibility pretty poor on the lower slopes of Les Arcs. However once we got to the top of the Transarc we broke through into beautiful sunshine and from right at the top of the Grand Col at 2832m we had some stunning wide, cruisy motorway runs all the way down to Arcs 1800. The Les Arcs mountains are dotted with fun activity areas and party bars. At the top of the Transarc was the Rodeo Park with the luge run, which lots of kids were having fun on. We passed the igloo village – a real ice bar – then the Arpette with outdoor DJ on and, next to it, the waterslide attraction put up as part of the Spring Final celebrations. April is a great time to visit as throughout the month there are lots of events to celebrate the amazing Spring skiing to be had at the end of the season. The waterslide is a great spectator sport as the daring ski down a ramp and sometimes glide gracefully over the water, sometimes tumble in head first. Next week we’ll be back to watch Festislack, a slacklining festival where professionals with extremely good balance and a lot of nerve tightrope across lines strung hundreds of feet above ground.
The red and blue runs here are not too challenging and lots of families enjoy taking little tracks off through the trees between runs. Just above Arc 1800 is the new Mille8 family ski activity hub – a great area for families with something for everyone, from a luge run and ski track to a swimming pool and restaurant. There are lots of daily events on here like snowga and organised snowball battles, and the lifts run until late.
We carried on skiing through the trees into Vallandry and our stop-off at the popular Bar Mont Blanc. This is the après local for anyone staying in Peisey with regular band and themed nights, great food and company. We bumped into a local we’d got chatting to on the lift earlier in the day, and were invited to join their party with the offer of a lift home as we’d missed the last lobster pot. Back at the chalet we had another delicious dinner and after some digestion time we set off to check out Greg’s bar. You could easily miss the sign on the door that opens onto a concrete tunnel, at the end of which is the bar – an underground drinking oasis with pool table. It’s the sort of all-purpose place that could easily turn from chilled apero bar to crazy dancing-on-tables nightclub within seconds. The pole dancing pole in the middle of the floor hinted at some raucous nights. Greg is a very friendly chap and the couple of locals in there drinking were equally eager to chat.
The following day was a bluebird so it was a lazy ski, long lunch and sunbathe at one of the many excellent quality and great value mountain restaurants. The snow was a little heavy and slushy but a good workout and great coverage and depth for the time of season – plus some fresh powder is forecast for the end of the week. Back to the chalet late afternoon we rested our legs in the hot tub and enjoyed the view with a glass of wine – perfect. As it was our hosts’ day off, we all went up to Bar Mont Blanc for tea and to join the birthday party we’d been invited to the previous evening – already we felt like part of the community. One of the bar staff was on the mic, groups were dancing and everyone was a high spirits – a fabulous night to end our trip on. We were sad to say goodbye to this lovely town, but now that we’ve made so many friends we’ll definitely be back again soon.
To enquire about the chalet with Bura Travel go to their website.
By Katie Cooksey