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One of our recent customers wrote to us and asked if he could post a review on our blog. We said yes, of course, so here is Dave Moisley's take on the Spanish resort of Formigal and our very own Boyd.
Fancy skiing away from the crowds with no lift queues and polite and cheerful piste staff? Then forget the Alps and America and head for the Pyrenees, and no it’s not Andorra, but Formigal in the Spanish Pyrenees!
We have skied here three times in last six years and every time it has been a great skiing experience. This little known resort has had huge amounts of investment over the last few years and boasts modern facilities and a good snow record, spread over four linked valleys. It has over 130km of pistes, mostly blue and red runs, with a good smattering of blacks, the latter being mainly off piste.
It’s not a pretty alpine resort but a functional ski village with a backdrop of the Pyrenees. You can walk around the entire village in less than an hour. There are plenty of bars and a couple of restaurants, but most of the bars do food as well. The nearest airport, Huesca, is about an hour away and Zaragoza is two hours away.
The main area, Sextas, is a sub five minute ride from the village and all hotels provide their own minibuses to and from this area, as well as the free resort buses from the village centre. Nearly all of the eight and four man chairlifts have magic carpet pick up systems, so are efficient and the staff are friendly. On one day when a member of our party decided that they didn’t like the very windy and cold conditions, the staff calmly and cheerfully stopped the chair and placed them on it for the return trip!
Skiing is generally on wide open pistes, which are well groomed every night. There are blue runs from the top of every chair along with reds, so all levels are catered for. Many of the pistes are marked as family areas, with warnings against speed.
Aramon is the local ski company who manage the resort including the lifts and mountain café’s, the latter all have the same price and menus so you don’t get surprised by higher prices higher up the mountain! Prices are generally around €5-6 for a tasty bacon or cheese baguettes and €2 for a Coke or bottle of water.
We also hired our ski gear from Aramon, who have an excellent purpose built ski hire facility at Sextas lift station. which is very efficient with good well maintained equipment. The shop is adjacent to the chairlift, meaning that you don’t need to return to the village in the unlikely event of an equipment problem. You can rent small lockers here for your shoes on the first day if required, we rented one for the entire week and used it to stash nibbles and drinks for the post ski school break.
The ski school staff are excellent, this year we had private lessons which are pricey but they work you hard. The young, tanned Spanish instructor with basic English was a particular hit with our daughter! We had a number of lessons at 9am and really enjoyed the peace and quiet of the pistes and lifts as the Spanish generally don’t start early!
We have only ever stayed in the Hotel Formigal, which is warm and comfortable. The hotel has a top notch buffet breakfast, including as many chocolate and normal doughnuts as you can eat... got that kids? The evening meal is a little late, at 8pm, but is always three courses of Spanish food — which means it is heavily biased towards protein rather than veg... you have been warned! The hotel also sorted out, with no fuss or charge, our return transport to the airport which had arrived a day early... serves us right for booking an extra day and confusing everyone!
We would also recommend the Soul Café which does tapas and a Guinness if that takes your fancy!
Other facilities on offer are tobogganing, husky sledging and flood lit night time skiing.
Formigal is a small, friendly resort with plenty of skiing and a good range of bars, but if you are looking for more lively nightlife then stick with the big alpine resorts. The holiday was made easier by the expert services of Iglu, especially Boyd who had the patience of a saint in dealing with us and the Spanish! Yes this last bit is a well deserved plug for Iglu!
Kirsteen, keen skier and mother of two, gives us her top tips on driving to the Alps with kids.
This was our third drive to the mountains — and one of many road trips around France — so we thought we had it all sussed but this time there were a few key differences and we learnt a few new tricks for next time.
Travelling on a peak travel date in the school holidays
This will make a significant difference to your journey, we of course realised this, but underestimated exactly how much of a difference.
Although our previous trips had been during the school holidays they were at Easter. This time we were heading down to the Alps for the week either side of New Year along with an army of 4x4s from the home-counties and half of Holland, Belgium and France.
This resulted in very slow moving traffic from just before Lyon, all the way to Moutiers. There were no accidents or road works just weight of traffic.
We were quite prepared that there would be more traffic and thought we had planned accordingly but had misjudged quite how many other people would be making this road trip too.
We usually incorporate an overnight stop, which makes the journey less stressful in the event of any hold ups.
All but one of our trips have included an overnight stop. On one occasion we were leaving on the Sunday and had to get back for school on the Monday, so had to do it in a ‘oner’ which was fine as there was no snow and we didn’t have any hold ups but could make for an unpleasant day if there were.
On our first two drives to the mountains we did the lion’s share of the driving on day one and stopped overnight near Lyon, leaving a short drive in the morning, a leisurely lunch and plenty of time to explore the resort on the day of arrival. This is what we will do in future — on the most recent trip we decided to leave late in the day and overnight in Reims and although we left Reims at 6.30 am with the aim of ‘beating the traffic’ I think the only way we would have beaten the traffic would have been to have stopped much further south, near Lyon for example.
Channel Crossing - Eurotunnel
I’m not good on ferries so it is the only option for us and I love it. Also if you are early you can usually get on an earlier crossing.
We have developed a habit of relying upon a viaMichelin print out of the route, which nicely details the exact signs that you need to follow and has successfully guided us to many a destination without a hitch, in the last few years we have also started using the sat nav (or not).
However, our latest experience taught us that you do really need to track your route on a proper map and be ready to deviate from these new fangled means of navigation in unforeseen circumstances — unless you are happy to put full faith in your sat nav (even when it appears to be telling you to go in completely the wrong direction). I would also suggest finding a reliable road traffic information site for the country you are travelling in so you can check the travel updates en-route.
Early in the journey the sat-nav kept warning us of phantom traffic works and delays that didn’t materialise, so when it added several hours onto our journey time and tried to send us on a completely different route we ignored it — probably to our peril. But you never get to find out. Whichever route we had taken it was going to be longer than it should have been.
Motorway service stops/aires
There are motorway stops at least every 20kms on French motorways. They vary from a toilet in field with a couple of picnic benches to a full choice of restaurants, shops, petrol station etc. You do have to pay attention to the signs so you know what to expect as they do vary a lot.
On peak dates it is worth having a few essentials with you as many of the motorway services become incredibly busy and there are long queues for everything.
It is also worth filling up on petrol as early as you can as the further south you go, and the later in the day it is, the worse the queues are.
On the southbound journey there is the most fabulous looking ‘aire’ that we are yet to stop at. I have finally noted down where it is so that we can plan accordingly next time.
It is called ‘Aire de Jugy’ and it is on the A6 after Chalon Sur Saone/Saint Remy. It has the most fantastic play park and looks great for a run around. You know you are getting close as there are giant toadstools at the side of the road as you approach it.
Everything you read about snowchains says practise putting them on before you go, we did and it was well worth it.
Our previous journeys were for end of season ski trips so we didn’t need to worry about snow chains — you obviously need to check the weather before setting out as there can be significant late season snowfalls. Even though the forecast was clear and we could see on the webcam before we left that there wasn’t much snow on the roads in the resort we still needed the chains for the last 20 metres of our journey! At the end of a very long day as the light was fading and in freezing temperatures we were very pleased that we had done a practice run at home.
Essential Items for driving in France
It is compulsory to have the following items in your car when driving in France:
For more information on items to take, routes and tips take a look at our ‘Driving to the Alps’ feature.
Snowboards with breaks, really? This is actually a great idea from an Australian company and the boards are set to be used by Thredbo in 2013.
The break helps beginners get over those anxious first few turns on the slopes and looks like a great confidence building tool. It will be interesting to see if any ski schools in Europe adopt these boards over the coming seasons.
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