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Corrie Heale heads to beautiful Val d’Isère, where skiing down an Olympic black run, eating tartiflette and dancing on tables are all part of an exhilarating day on the slopes...
How is this January?’ I utter, bemused, after removing my helmet and goggles to allow the sun access to my pasty London cheeks. The sky is a beautiful cerulean blue that stretches for miles without a cloud in sight. Now I understand why the French call this time of year ‘Janvril’ – April weather in January. With a deep icy breath, I push off and ski down the Tarentaise Valley towards the picturesque village of Val d’Isère. Eager to explore it, I leave my ski chums on the mountain to enjoy a spot of après-ski table dancing (literally) at the world-famous day club La Folie Douce – think Caberet in salopettes, pre-Covid of course.
Located on the slopes at the top of La Daille gondola, this must-see bar/cabaret hot spot also boasts a quality restaurant where I devour a mouth-watering ‘marshmallowy’ lemon meringue pie while overlooking panoramic views of Mont Blanc – diet starts next week! My shins heave a sigh of relief as I swap ski boots for trainers and head out to investigate the village and find a good spot for a well-deserved hot chocolate and pastry; this is my kind of après ski. I wind my way through the heart of Val d’Isère, surrounded by authentic old stone buildings, some dating back to the 17th century. I stare through windows of eateries, creperies and patisseries, salivating at row upon row of tiny mirrored cakes.
In the back streets, I dip in and out of charming shops and boutiques that sell everything from local cheeses, such as La Tomme (a traditional cheese from the Alpine pastures) to high-fashion skiwear, souvenirs and marmot-themed trinkets. Even the supermarkets are delightfully rustic, with a vast selection of wines – I was starting to regret not bringing my big suitcase. Empty handed (I forgot my purse), I took the, thankfully, free shuttle back to Hotel La Tovière, where I am greeted with a wedge of coffee cake and a cup of tea to wrap my cold hands around.
The cake and I slump into a comfy chair for some alone time in the wood-panelled library. I’m surrounded by the soothing natural textures – aged wood and local stone – and La Tovière has all the charm and character of a chalet but with the convenience and luxury of a hotel. The rooms are stylish and comfortable and mine is no exception. Finished to the highest standard and with a deep king-size bed that threatens to swallow me whole, I resist an afternoon nap and opt to submerge myself in a hot bath and enjoy the complimentary Temple Spa products. Nestled in the small hamlet of La Daille against d’Isère’s rocky backdrop, La Tovière is conveniently situated opposite the funicular and the La Daille gondola.
This is music to my ears – the less walking I need to do in my ski boots, the better! Being a Neilson hotel, La Tovière has been built to accommodate Alpine activities. Rental equipment is delivered and fitted on site (hallelujah!) and there’s also a well-equipped spa where you can soak aching muscles after a long day on the piste.
Speaking of which, Neilson offers a free ski guide and coaching service with local instructors to show you around the slopes and brush up on your technique. Who knew that by the end of the week I would confidently ski down La Face – Val d’Isère’s infamous Olympic black run! Being of an intermediate/advanced skiing level in Val d’Isère is certainly beneficial when it comes to the wide range of terrain, but beginners are encouraged and there’s been a lot of effort in recent years to make the resort beginner friendly. Whether you’re wobbling down greens or carving up reds, however, you’re going to work up an appetite.
Dining on the mountain is a must, and there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, although they can be pricey. If a mountain packed lunch is an option, head to the large heated cabin locals calls ‘Le Lodge’ that offers space for picnicking, as well as microwave facilities, bean bags and a loo with a view. However, for a more indulgent meal, ski down to the stunning eagle’s nest that is Refuge de Solaise. Open to outside customers for lunch, this hotel offers breathtaking views of the valley and has a tartiflette to die for; a melty reblochon potato bake, laced with salty bacon – drool. At €26 a pop, it isn’t cheap – but well worth it if you feel like treating yourself.
Down the mountain you are spoilt for choice, whether you’re looking for traditional Savoyard fare or affordable pizza parlours. Although after a long day of skiing, I prefer a more relaxed option so choose to dine at the hotel. With dishes such as pan-fried cod with bean and herbes de Provence, cassoulet, roast chicken breast, petit pois à la française, and pineapple carpaccio with coconut ice cream, La Tovière doesn’t disappoint. On leaving day I plonk my bag on the mini bus and take one last look at the beautiful snowy peaks bathed in the mid-morning sun and think, ‘Janvril’ indeed.
How to book
A seven night stay at Hotel La Tovière with Neilson Holidays, costs from £1,259 per person based on two adults sharing. Price includes transfers, breakfast, afternoon tea and seven evening meals, plus free ski coaching with a Neilson expert. Flights depart 3 January 2021 from Stansted, Birmingham, Gatwick and Manchester. Visit neilson.co.uk.