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.
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.