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Half term is just around the corner which only means one thing, busy mountains. The chalets, hotels, apartments, restaurants, slopes and lift queues will be busy in most resorts and packed in the most popular. This in no way means you can't have a fantastic holiday, though it does mean patience and careful planning are on the agenda.
There are only a limited few weeks of the season when familys, teachers and school can take get their yearly snow fix, and who can blame them. We all love the mountains, the snow, the skiing & snowboarding and most of us love the food (read meat & cheese) and wine. Rather than complain about the larger numbers of people in resort we should relish the opportunity of a fun filled holiday full of like minded people.
Top Tips for the Slopes
If you need ski school make sure you use local schools, when it is busy you'll find in France the ESF will be able to jump to the front of the queue, as will St. Anton's ski schools and many others. If you can't beat them join them. Ask your friends, reps or Google to who the main ski school in resort are. The better the rep the smaller the classes and the better their relationship with the liftie (hence the queue jumping).
Plan your route. If you're are heading out with one of the Tour Operators we work with then find out when their ski guiding days are. They will take you with skiers and snowboarders of similar levels to the best and quietest slopes. These guys are spending their mountain time with you so will often take you to the best spots, especially if bribed with lunch, that's only a couple of Euros each for a great day on the mountain involving a reasonable restaurant.
Take your skis and boards off in the lift queues. In Europe the lift queues can be mad, if you are using your own kit and don't want a few extra scratches, pop out of your bindings for as long as possible to save your kit, plus you can often get through the crowds quicker. Frenchies on hired skis won't worry about trampling all over your shiny new top sheet and pristine edges.
Top Tips in Resort
Again if you have a rep in resort use them, find out where the best restaurants are and book on the first day, I'd even book on the transfer coach if you dare! If you are travelling without young children go for a late table, around 9pm, the restaurant will be calmer (less kids) and they won't be desperate to get you out of the door to re-use your table, they are more likely to to look after you in the hope of selling you deserts, more wine and an after dinner drink or two — take full advantage of the hospitality, I do!
Après ski will more than likely be as busy as ever. After a day on the slopes with your own children, or other people's (school teachers and ski instructors) there is a good chance a post ski beer or vin chaud with some live music will go down well. Find out where the best bars and sun terraces are and get there first. The evenings will be quieter, but by 11pm the resort staff will be filling the bars and clubs after a hard day's work, so you'll just have to wait a little longer for the post dinner crowds and atmosphere to kick in.
Hire Shops and Lift Passes
Again let your rep sort out your lift pass, you should be paying the resort's standard rate, unless you pre-booked and enjoyed a decent exchange rate, and they will do the hard work for you, often delivering them to your accommodation. Same price less work, sounds good to me. As for ski hire, whether pre-booked or arranged in resort, get to the shop early — they will be busy and there is more kit to choose from the earlier you get there. So if you've been eyeing up some twin tips, or want comfortable feet be patient and join the queue.
Throughout the season there is always loads going on in resort, from après ski bands to dog sledding, but during school holidays the entertainment often steps up a notch. Most resorts will offer torch light descents for the children to watch, other resorts have ice-rink where an entertaining ice-hockey match could be on, and an afternoon ice skating could be fun, some even have heated outdoor pools or ice racing tracks. Without sounding like a bore ask early and book as soon as you can.
The outdoor Alpe d'Huez is included in your lift pass and is always popular with parents, especially those who prefer to watch with the warmth of a hot chocolate or vin chaud. Morzine, Megeve and Chamonix all have competitive ice hockey teams with the Morzine Penguins usually playing mid-week offering a fun evening after dinner.
Whether you are there for your first holiday or are a seasoned pro at this, half term can be fun for everyone, embrace the atmosphere, go with the flow and take it all in.
The Three Valleys is the world's largest and arguably best-linked ski area, famed for playing host to everyone from Courchevel's Russian Oligarchs and Meribel's rockstars to Val Thorens' vibrant, orange-infused, Dutch week.
The Three Valleys offers a huge variety of terrain, resort atmosphere, accommodation, bars and restaurants. Some go for the celebrity spotting and boutique shopping, others for varied skiing and great off-piste, and not forgetting the famous and raucous après ski.
Now finding the right restaurant for a mountain lunch can be challenging across the Three Valleys. With Courchevel's bank busters to those run by friendly French patrons, who feel the need to finish off your slightly boozy lunch with their homemade genepy, to choose from. Whether you are a hardcore skier, a park rat or a fan of leisurely lunch, at some point you will be enjoying the array of cuisine and venues on offer.
I've had a few mixed experiences including drinking too much toffee vodka with the manager of the Skilodge in La Tania and realising I only had 90 minutes until the last lift into Val Thorens, where I was staying, to romantic lunches on Meribel Village's quaint terrace.
Of course I don't recommend drinking and skiing because that would be dangerous and irresponsible, but if you do enjoy a cheese-filled lunch with a glass of wine and sampling the local digestives, I do have a few favourites. Some I know by name, others by location (does anyone actually know the name of the restaurant with the big knife and folk sign in VT?).
If Savoie mountain food is your thing there are some great places to fill up on cheese and meat. Darbelo's hidden in the labyrinth streets on La Praz and offers perfectly cooked steaks and the infamous, and sometime dangerous, Mutzig beer on draft. At the top of the Menuires chair in Les Menuires there is a wonderful little family run restaurant, the name escapes me but the cheese based food, bright blue genepy and welcoming service make it worth a visit. The Adray Telebar in Meribel, set just below the Ronde Point de Pistes, offers a superb Savoyard specialties set in a traditional, rustic, mountain atmosphere, and it has a terrace with superb views, and it's an easy ski back into Meribel post-lunch.
If you are looking for a lively atmopshere, planning to write off your afternoon and you are staying nearby there are some great venues to spend white-out days or sunny afternoons. If you are in Courchevel the Skilodge is a great venue for both occasions. On sunny days the terrace has great views, and the bus runs to the other Courchevel resorts well into après ski o'clock, great for toffee vodka, big portions and live music. If Meribel is your venue then the Ronnie (Ronde Point) has to be top of the list, with a variety of food from relaxed table service to a hot dog and burger stand, again the Ronnie has great views, a truly huge terrace, and the cream of après ski live bands.
If someone else is paying then take a trip to the Chalet de Pierres, where Courchevel's skiing meets Parisienne gastronomy. This über luxury restaurant has a wine menu that requires a small mortgage, lavish decor and of course praise in the Michelin Guide for it's fine cuisine. If your credit cards can stretch to the bill you will find yourself rubbing shoulders with sports stars, entrepreneurs and their trophy wives. The wine won't give you a headache, but your bank manager might!
If a romantic lunch, drinking Rose and eating crostinis, great salads or stone-baked pizza sounds up your street head the Lodge du Village in Meribel Village. If stunning panoramic views are more to your partner's desire a glass of Apremont at the top the La Saulire always goes down a treat. The food is pretty good in either restaurant and if needed you can get the lift back down to either Meribel or Courchevel, if you over-indulge.
Not that I'm suggesting that skiers like a drink, but there is something about vin chaud and genepy on a cold Winters day or a post skiing glass of Rose in spring on the many sun terraces around that you just can't replicate at home.
Don't drink and ski, you could be a danger to yourself or others, and you may spill some.
The three most important seasons for most men are on the horizon. The football has started, with much excitement and anticipation after a summer of new players and managers arriving throughout the premiership. Rugby clubs are back in training, with Martin Johnson announcing that he now has the strongest selection of England players he's ever had to choose from. And last but by no means least the winter season is finally approaching, holidays are being booked and new kit is starting to hit the shops.
So with all this in mind I set to thinking about how I'm going to combine my favourite sports for my holiday to Meribel. I'll be arriving in resort a couple of hours before the England v France match, a game not to be missed. Also with Champions League games on mid week throughout the season, Monday night football back on Sky and those Premiership games on Sundays, I decided to compile a list of my top bars to watch the match on holiday.
Despite what people may think when it comes to watching football and rugby size doesn't necessarily matter. The important factors are: atmosphere, screens, beer, bar staff and the locals.
Atmosphere is always a biggie, whether the bar fits 50 or 500 people you want somewhere full of passionate fans, singing and of course the commentary. The only thing worse than listening to Brian Moore during the six nations, is well... not listening to him. I hate it when bars play music, we want to hear the commentary and the noise in the stadiums.
Screens are obviously paramount to watching the game. Now size here is important, but isn't the be all and end all. I would rather be in a pub with plenty of LCDs throughout the venue that you can see compared to one with an old projector or low quality screens. Obviously in the perfect world there would be an HD projector and a a handful for 32" HD TVs.
Beer, bar staff and locals are again essential. When in the Three Valleys or Val if you pop into the wrong bar you can find yourself paying €9 a pint. Also you are looking for a venue with friendly and welcoming staff and locals. There's nothing worse than being in a bar and feeling like you're not wanted.
Pub Le Skilodge, La Tania. Now the Skilodge may not be the largest pub in the Alps but it has to be my favourite place to watch the England v France Six Nations matches. Tim the owner is English and Tristan his right hand man is a Frenchie (well sort of). Cue lots of banter, drinking and an over exuberant set of celebrations when England win, and pretty much the same if they lose!
Pacific Bar, Val d'Isere. Again not one of the largest bars in the Alps but probably one of the most renowned for the footie. The mantra here is as many screens as possible. You'll find this place packed full of seasonaires and holiday makers alike cheering on their teams every week.
The Doron (The Pub), Meribel. As well as being a great venue for watching live music five nights a week the Doron is Meribel's best football bar. One of the largest in the list, the combination of the huge projector, countless screens and post-football bands makes for a great Champions League venue.
The Frog, Val Thorens. The Frog is a real local's pub. The owners are real characters, Duncan may not know a huge amount about either sport, but since they play rugby in Cornwall he's a big fan. The Six Nations are always a raucous affair, full of great banter and drinking, and the locals make the frog a great football pub. The highest pub in Europe definitely has one of the top atmospheres you'll find.
Scotty's, St. Anton. Located beneath the Chalet Hotel Rosanna is St. Anton's main British pub. The bar is an ex-pat haven, so expect big crowds for all the British football and rugby teams. Great atmosphere and cheap(ish) beer.
So there's my top five alpine bars to watch the match but wherever you're heading this winter there is bound to be a great bar showing your favourite team. Here are a few great venues that didn't quite make the list but are worth a mention.
If you have any other favourite venues or hidden gems drop me a message in the comments below, or post a comment on our Facebook or Twitter pages
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