Why Châtel?

What of Châtel? Why come here? For us, other than readily available accommodation, there are some pretty good reasons why you should chose Chatel over the plethora of other resorts.

First, Châtel links into the Portes du Soleil ski area which is either the biggest, or among the biggest, ski areas in Europe. Second, it is the closest main resort to Calais. Third it is much more chocolate-boxy than many of its concrete French cousins. img_20190115_155518382_hdr

Some detail. Châtel is a resort for intermediates. Built around four ski areas there are plenty of long blues and reds, the best of which is at the far end of the resort. The ‘Pre la Jour’ bowl has six superfast chairs – no bubbles necessary – and finds the sun nearly all day.  For me its the best skiing I have ever done. There is a small bowl for beginners above Châtel village, but most of the blues in the resort (there are only a couple of sensible greens) have sections that would be best tackled at the end of week 2 for an average learner. However, further down the valley (15 mins by car and also linked by paying bus) at Abondance, there is a separate and inexpensive area which would be perfect for beginners – although the snow is not guaranteed as the resort is lower. We’ve not skied into the Portes du Soleil, but I reckon an expert skier would find plenty to do in Les Gets, Avoriaz, Morzine and Les Crosets.

Châtel is serviced by a set of free ski buses that link all of the lifts to nearly all of the apartments. The buses run every 20 minutes from first thing until early evening. Ski passes are (Châtel/Portes du Soleil) Euro 43/53 a day; 205/265 for 6 days. Unlike previously there is no ‘low season’ and prices remain fixed throughout. Which is odd, and hardly encouragement to come outside of school holidays – except, of course, the ski area is less busy. In the last week we have never had to wait for a lift, although even now the slopes in the Pre de Jour bowl can seem a little congested. It’s worth noting that the small Abondance area is v inexpensive. On Saturdays they have full-day skiing for 10 Euros; and they manage to split the season. It’s v cheap there at the moment.

All though we don’t tend to eat out, there are a huge variety of restaurants and cafes in the town  – and a decent number on the slopes. We’ve never been down town late at night, but I reckon there is little apres-ski in terms of clubs and discos. Just lots of bars.

It’s a friendly place and its ethos matches its chocolate box appearance. Even though its just a ten-hour drive (520 miles – Euro 72 in French tolls) from Calais, its not a hugely Brit resort. The Swiss ski here (the border is just above the apartment we stay in) as do the Dutch. We’ve not come across too many Germans and Austrians (why would they – they have their own decent resorts?), but there are a smattering of Russians.

What would we change? If C were writing this I think she’d ask for a few more ‘sun-drenched long-blues’. Me? The village is built on a hillside to catch the sun – it’s at the end of a steep valley. The views are spectacular, but there is no central flat space around which the town is built and the valley walls give a sense of being closed in. But … as I have said, the views are spectacular.

We’ve finished our skiing. We’re off for a walk to a lake down the valley with a picnic. It’s sort of a ritual. And then we drive home tomorrow; back to work with Jen on Tuesday. Looking forward to that … I think.

You’ve gotta come …

If you’ve never been to the mountains in winter then I strongly suggest you put it on your bucket list. C and I stood outside the apartments yesterday morning, all togged up to go skiing. Mrs Sun was out in her dungarees, the sky was that mid-blue you can only get from an elevated position (or looking out of a plane’s window at 32,000 feet), the air molecules had been slowed by the freezing temperatures and felt as unpolluted as if they had been bottled in the Himalayas and shipped in for the occasion, and every colour had been through the ‘enhance’ icon on you mobile phone.

img_20190116_113942565

Mt Blanc in the distance

We have been so lucky. We have travelled a great deal and seen some fabulous sights: sunsets, valleys, beaches, cathedrals, rock formations, wine cheaper than petrol. But we are always beside ourselves when we ski … and when the accompanying weather is straight from a postcard. There is nothing like. Everything feels as clean and as crisp as an Andrex advert.

Of course, what you want to know is how did the waxing and edging of the skis go? Well, there’s a story.

Yesterday morning we got to out of the top of the La Linga bubble and dropped our skis on the snow, knelt down to sort out our boots and pull up our tights. I was ready first and put my skis on … and didn’t go anywhere. I pushed with my poles and promptly fell over. I wasn’t moving. At all. This, BTW, has never happened before.

Oh dear. C was all for taking off her skis, getting back in the bubble, down to the ski shop and getting them to rewax our planks. Hang-on, says I. I get up, put on the ski that has come off, and have another go. Mmm. Still quite a lot of friction. I try again, this time travelling about 25 metres (C is still standing by the bubble looking indignant). That was a bit better. Anyhow, the long and the short was that by the time we’d travelled 100 metres the skis were slipping along as those they’d been waxed by professionals. And now, two ski days later, they’re pretty perfect.  Job done, although I have no idea why they were buggers in the first place. Anyone?

The skiing has been fab. The conditions as good as they get. The weather unbeatable (did anyone know the January sun could be quite so warm?). It’s going to be overcast with some snow tomorrow, but clear on Friday and Saturday, when we will ski again. And that’s all fabulous.

Finally, two things. First … anyone got any idea what the shambles of our parliament is going to do about Brexit? Anyone who thinks we should dither about a people’s vote because it might enrage the extreme left has obviously forgotten that we, of all countries, do not negotiate with terrorists. Come on. Let’s get it done.

And Trump and his ‘hambergers’? Did you see that? Leaving aside the government partial shutdown which is his doing – HE SAID SO! – if any other president had served a mixture of burgers and pizzas to a football team because the White House staff are all waiting in line at food banks because they haven’t been paid, it might have been a touch endearing. But, no. Trump: makes a publicity event out of it; misspells hamburger in a tweet; and, and this is what gets my goat, boasts to the media that ‘he paid for the spread’. Why would you say that? Why? Yes, if it got leaked, then maybe you wouldn’t deny it. But his tweet made it clear … ‘which I paid for’. That’s v big of you Mr Billionaire.

Idiot.

img-20190112-wa0000

Looking for a second-hand car?

We made it. Although, not without incident. And all the thanks has got to go to our gritty car – a 2006 Ford Focus 1.4 litre. When I bought it from a guy three years ago (£2200 – and for exactly this purpose – to go skiing as we didn’t want to take Doris 1 down to E&A’s apartment in Chatel) he said … ‘Mmm, not sure the 1.4 is going to be much good on long motorway journeys’. Well, he was wrong. This is our third trip and over 40,000 miles later (now at 69,000), the old bird hasn’t let us down.

img_20190113_110201989

our gritty Ford Focus has never let us down

Mind you … We got to R&C’s on Thursday night and, just as we turned into their drive, the right-hand indicator stopped working. Thanks to Rich and his arc light, we fixed that (and a headlamp which had also gone). Then, half way down France we heard a strange flapping noise. On inspection we’d lost the radiator grill. This is a cosmetic issue, and had come about because, if you remember, the bonnet lock had previously failed and the only way I could get under the bonnet was by taking off the grill and fiddling about. Anyhow, we’ve lost that to the French autoroute system. It’s only a piece of plastic and the Focus now looks much meatier without a grill. I will replace it when we get home.

And then, the damn French closed the main valley route to Chatel. We discovered this at the end of a 10-hour drive. The only way in was over the mountain, which we headed for. It’s now dark and snowing. We have Michelin 4-season tyres, which we’ve not tested before, and I’m wondering if they’re as good as the winter tyres we normally run. And then, snaking around a concrete island, I catch the rear offside tyre. And, yes, you’ve guessed it, we have a flat. The Focus has a ‘get you home’, but that’s under a mountain of beautifully packed gear that C has put in identical Christmas-Tesco carriers. Did I say it was still snowing. And dark? And then, horrors, the wheelnut spanner is spilt. It does one nut and then fails on me. (It’s still dark … and still snowing).

Thankfully there’s a local farm. I’m met by a Frenchman in his underwear (it’s 9pm) and he fishes out an appropriate spanner. Twenty minutes later we’re fixed, spanner returned to the near-naked Frenchman, and we’re off. And it’s still snowing. But, do you know what? The Michelin 4-season tyres (of which I now only have three … on my wagon) behaved beautifully. And 30 minutes later we’re here.

Phew.

So, well done the Focus. We use the autoroutes (an eye-watering 72 euros each way) but we push out over 40 mpg. Fuel over here is exorbitant (£1.35 a litre for both fuels). If I were a resident I’d be out in my yellow vest, for sure. But, notwithstanding the odd hiccup, the old girl did us proud again. And I took the wheel and tyre – the tyre, whilst bent, looks in good nick; it’s the steel wheel that’s got a big dent in it) – to the local garage yesterday, and I’m assured it will be back in a couple of days.

Skiing? Not yet. It has been snowing a lot and we’re fair-weather types. We may not get on our planks (I must let you know how the waxing and edging went) until Mrs Sun joins us on Tuesday, but we’re both OK with that. The conditions look perfect, so when we do ski it should be great. Chatel has never let us down.

img_20190112_093647804_hdr

yesterday morning; it’s snowed a lot since then

Finally, over half way through the first edit of book 5. V excited by it all. And, other than that, we’re all good. I hope you are.

Oh, and if you’re looking out for a second-hand car, look no further than a Ford Focus.

 

This could be dull…

If you’re not interested in skiing, then I suggest you have a quick look at the photos and stick on Country File.

Skiing. Mmmmm. It’s a Marmite sport.  Unfortunately, answering the question is not as cheap as buying a pot of the black stuff and spreading it on your toast to see if you like it. We’ve skied every year since we can remember. And recently (the last 10 years) we have always tried to go out of season, and for longer than a week. It’s an age thing. Doing the usual Saturday-to-Saturday ski break is fine when you’re young and have more energy than an avalanche full of snow. You’re up early, you sky all day, you drink too much in the evening. And then repeat. It is exhausting; other than doing Everest base camp there is no holiday like it. The need to pack stuff in is mostly about cost. Skiing is expensive. The accommodation is not cheap, and hiring the equipment and the ski-passes would buy you a small car. Therefore, you really don’t want to waste a moment of it.

IMG_20180106_132322710

If you go for longer, own your equipment and drive to the resort, which is both cheaper and much more convenient for carrying all the gear, then squeezing every last ounce out of the holiday becomes less of an issue. Skis are skis and boots are boots. Our skis are 10 years old and my boots are 25 years old. I did say to C today that maybe now I’m working we should get ourselves some new skis (the newer ones are much fatter at the ends, but otherwise they’re the same) and then an old bloke got on the ski bus with 192 cm straight Blizzards from the early 80s. My skis are older carvers (slightly fatter at both ends) and 165 cm. Respect to the old bloke. By the way, I reckon that against hiring you’d pay for your own skis and boots within three years if you skied for 6 days a year. Then it’s all free.

So, we try and spend 12 days in resort and ski for 6 days. For the rest of the time we walk and potter. We come to Chatel because good friends of ours let us have their apartment (many thanks to E&A) and it is the closest decent resort to Calais. Truth be told, if Austria were closer we’d probably prefer to go there. It’s slightly cheaper, they do look after their slopes better and the resorts are much more chocolate boxy. But we’re v fortunate to be able to ski as we do.

IMG_20180106_154025544

And today? Well, we always have a pause when we arrive in resort and this time round was no exception. Friday and Saturday we walked (lovely weather yesterday); and today, even though it was overcast and a bit blustery, we skied. It was close to being a disaster. The wind gusted to 50 mph on the top and the conditions weren’t great. But, at £65 a day for both of us to ski for 5 hours, we thankfully didn’t give up. We skied across the mountain, had coffee at the top of Super Chatel and ate our packed lunch at La Linga. We then skied in the far bowl where the skiing is brill – now with Mrs Sun poking her head out. It was fabulous. We gave up at 3.00pm and were back at the apartment in time for tea and medals half an hour later.

Back onto the Marmite question. Skiing is expensive, getting to the resort is not without effort and you have to practice if you don’t want to end up in hospital. And you never seem to just hurt yourself – you break and twist things that shouldn’t be broken or twisted. It’s tiring, your joints ache and you always end up looking like a panda, often with worse sunburn than you’d get after a week at Sharm El Sheikh. It’s often bitterly cold and if you don’t like heights, you’d struggle on the lifts. You fall over and even if that doesn’t hospitalise you, you’re going to have more bruises on your bum than if you’d spent an hour with Miss Whiplash. All-in-all it’s a lot to stomach.

IMG_20180107_141345316

But, and it’s a big but, the views are to die for, the exhilaration of the white world zooming past you like you’re in a soft top sportscar is better than sex, and you finish the day with that all over glow that is only rivalled by having played a decent game of hockey,  beating your old university rivals to boot.

It’s a balance, for sure. But we know which side of the equation we sit on. And as long as all our bits work, we shall keep at it.

 

The Burrell Collection

“Those are skis on your roof then? Do you know something we don’t?”

Ha! This was the first person since we started this adventure to notice that we were fully loaded – an older man on the campsite just before we left yesterday morning. We explained that they were up on the roof for when we ski next Easter in the Alps. We didn’t go on to explain that we’d skied in Scotland before, but, had we done so we’d have told him it lacked, well, pretty much everything you’d expect from an Alpine resort. Like snow, ehh, mountains, a choice of runs and associated ski lifts, that Alpine ambience, you know all chic and ski babes. It did have plenty of wind and, if I’m honest, it kept us occupied for a day. But it was hardly skiing. However, the point here is someone noticed that we had skis on the roof! We were able to to regale the fact that we were living in Doris for a bit and he seemed genuinely interested. “Best of luck with that then.” Bless.

Gazza the Garmin (good enough for….oh be quiet) had us arriving at the Burrell Collection at about 12.30. But, whilst he’s all knowing he clearly hasn’t seen the state of the roads between Killin and Glasgow. As such I have some advice for the soon to be President Salmond: get you donkey jacket and hard hat on, come up here and shovel some tarmac. Doris is (I have to say this quietly in case she hears me) a truck. Under the glamorous frock she’s wearing lorry knickers. As a result not only does she feel every bump, she amplifiers it. C tried sleeping in the bedroom (just above the back wheels) some time back and she lost all her fillings. On the way to Glasgow the roads were awful; potholed and gravely. So, Chancellor Salmond, put that on top of your ‘to do’ list.

image

The Burrell Collection is worth a visit. William and his brother took over Dad’s Glasgow shipping agency in 1885 and intelligent investment saw the company grow so when they sold it in 1918 it was worth a packet. William was always a collector and used the proceeds to expand his buying and selling of antiquities and works of art. He was a very shrewd acquirer and a meticulous documenter (everything recorded in school exercise books), but above all he saw the need for his vast collection to be visible to all. In 1944 he gifted the imagewhole lot to the City of Glasgow specifying that it should be housed at least sixteen miles from the city centre to avoid pollution. Unfortunately no obvious building was available to show the 9,000 works until well after his death when Pollock House (whilst closer than the specified radius had large grounds and was deemed to be rural enough) was also gifted to the city.

It took until 1983 for the new building in the grounds of Pollock House to be opened to the public. Unfortunately for the builders (not mentioned in the blurb), it only took another thirty three years for the building to spring a number of leaks and, as a result, the mezzanine floor is now closed; we understand that the whole building will close in 2016 to sort the problem. Shame.

anyone know a good builder?

anyone know a good builder?

Nonetheless it is a pleasant enough building from the outside in a modernist, eighties way, and whilst the artwork is nearly all a bit too old for my liking (unless it’s architecture, mid-nineteenth century onwards for me please – there’s only so many fallen madonnas I can cope with; age is irrelevant to C, but she prefers bronzes), inside it’s all nicely put together with plenty of

brilliant stained glass

brilliant stained glass

space and light. Some of the architectural art work is actually integrated into the fabric of the building and whole rooms have been set aside as facsimiles of Hutton Castle, the Burrell family home. For me the room full of medieval stained glass and the gallery with more Degas’ pastels than you could shake a charcoal stick at, took top spot. Oh and there’s one of Rodin’s ‘thinkers’ – one of the smaller bronzes – if that’s what charges your Prius.

Our next date in the diary is with Nick and Chris on Wednesday night, old friends we’ve not seen for years. They live in Lincolnshire so we’ve decided to pop via Newcastle and see the Angel of the North and compare it to the very special Kelpies. So we headed south down the M74 (my fave) and pulled off just north of Moffat and parked up in a Forestry Commission slot for the night. I went for a run and we spent a couple of hours doing not a great deal, secured some dates for the next month and enjoyed the quiet. Fray Bentos for supper again: easy and quick. Even I can cook that.

all quiet

all quiet

Apparently it’s going to heat up again sometime soon? Fabulous.

Have a good Tueaday.