Spring skiing in the Maurienne Valley

by Carla Griscti
Ski holidays: Maurienne Valley, France

Hell bent on catching the last few stretches of snow before the end of the season? If you're a skilled snow bunny and can't face the fact the winter season is drawing to a close, there are still a few high-altitude resorts that guarantee some great skiing, in beautiful spring weather conditions.

With the Easter holidays beckoning, a long weekend is the perfect excuse to hit the sunny, snowy slopes. With the advantage of warmer weather and smaller crowds than you’d expect in the height of the season, a spring skiing session is the perfect way to wave goodbye to the winter weather and welcome in the spring with a smile.

When it comes to spring skiing, resort picking can be a bit of an art form - ideally you need to choose a destination that will promise snow in the warmer conditions, and that won’t cost an absolute fortune. Waiting until the end of the season gives the advantage of being able to grab some reasonably affordable deals, but, of course you need to bear in mind that throngs of school kids and families may have exactly the same the idea.

Many holidaymakers desperately searching that last blanket of snow tend to flock towards Tignes, Val D’Isère and Val Thorens in late March, early April. All ideal choices if you’re opting for a later season break, but off the beaten track there are a few lesser known, much more affordable options that could really catch your eye.

The Maurienne Valley

The Maurienne Valley is a beautifully scenic French ski area boasting 22 different resorts. Within close proximity to popular, neighbouring resorts including Meribel, Val Thorens, Tignes and Val D’Isere, this is a superb ski area not to be overlooked. With high altitudes and guaranteed snow until mid-end April, the Maurienne Valley offers some refreshingly affordable options for a late spring skiing break.

Val Cenis Vanoise

One of the Maurienne Valley’s better-known resorts, Val Cenis boasts 125km of powdery pistes with a good selection of cruisey blue runs and challenging black runs for the for more advanced skier. The slopes are wide enough for beginners to glide freely, as well offering some excellent off piste options, if you’re feeling daring enough to twist and turn down the dramatic, winding runs.

As a north-facing resort, temperatures can get remarkably chilly during the winter months as the sunshine is limited. Of course, this means the snow holds well over the winter season, but for if you’re after sunshine, the best time to visit is in March or April.

With a wide selection of runs to cater for all ski levels, Val Cenis is ideal for families and learner levels. The resort is still fairly under the radar so, for a French Alps resort, the slopes are noticeably quieter, allowing much more room for beginners to really stretch out. 
 Little ones and leaners will be ecstatic to master the 11km Escargots green run, as well as providing some stimulating red and black runs for the more avid skiers of the group.

Where to eat

Traditional Savoyarde cuisine is rife in the Maurienne Valley, which is great news for any dedicated cheese and wine lovers. And let’s face it; becoming a cheese and wine buff is a bit of a prerequisite for any skier venturing to the French Alps! Our group was more than partial to the odd mountain cheese and bold glass of red, which served us well on many of the chillier evenings.

Fondue and raclette makes a common appearance in many a restaurant in Val Cenis, but that’s not to say the dishes we tucked into were any less appealing. I could have dined quite happily night after night feasting on hearty cauldrons of gooey, bubbling cheese. Every dish was a delight to sample.

For a traditional taste of Savoyard gastronomy head to Le Peau de Vache in Val Cenis. Expect sumptuous meat platters with cuts of fillet steak, cured meats and hearty potatoes served up with creamy fondue and grilled raclette. Delicious!

And to tuck into a tasty lunchtime treat following a vigorous mid-morning ski, head to Tata’Tine. A cosy mountainside restaurant that’s close to the Vieux Moulin ski lift. The tartiflette comes highly recommended but the vast menu should cater to most tastes.  They also offer a thrifty meal and drinks deal that costs an impressive 52 Euros for two people, including meals and drinks.

Anything else?

There’s plenty to do in Val Cenis, so if you find yourself with a free afternoon, be sure to plan it properly. From husky rides to brisk mountain walks, there are plenty of alternative activities to plan your time around if you’re not a keen skier, or if the weather isn’t playing ball.

For the more intrepid traveller, a spot of ice diving might make the top of your holiday check list, but for those who are seeking a little more rest and relaxation, there's an outdoor cosmic sauna that will give a welcome, rejuvenating boost following a hard day’s skiing. The cosmic sauna costs 18€ for 60 mins and an ice diving session is priced at 80€ for the day, and 95€ at night. Visit plongee-vanoise.fr for more information.

For a full list of non ski-based activities visit val-cenis.haute-maurienne-vanoise.com

What’s nearby?

The neighbouring valley of Valloire (about an hour's drive from Val Cenis) is another dazzling hidden gem in the Maurienne Valley. Offering a vast terrain of pistes, it links together with Valmeinier, boasting an impressive 150km of challenging slopes. Another relatively undiscovered resort, so tourist congestion is minimal, especially outside of the weekends. We were spoilt for choice with fairly empty runs - an unexpected treat to find in the French Alps slap bang in the heart of the ski season!

There are some great snow parks for the more daring of folk, but also a good range of beginner slopes for those just starting out. A good all-rounder resort with a vast terrain to cater to all abilities.

Anything else?

The quaint village of Valloire is well worth a wander during your down time. With picturesque alpine views, old churches and charming local shops and restaurants, it’s the perfect place to lose an afternoon or two to. Be sure to also book in for a fun-filled evening of après at the bowling lanes!

Where to stay

Peak Retreats offer a range of great value self-catering options in both Val Cenis and Valloire. Basic yet comfortable, the Le Criterium in Val Cenis is spacious with great slope-side views. Ideal for a family getaway.

Les Chalets du Galibier is on the smaller side, so is perfect for couples or smaller grpups. There’s also access to both sauna and swimming facilities - a great perk following a vigorous day on the slopes!

For a full list of prices and to check availability visit peakretreats.co.uk

Getting there and how to book

You can travel to the Maurienne Valley via Eurostar. voyages-sncf.com offer fares from London-Modane (or St Michel), starting at £110 for a standard class return per person.

For bookings call 0844 848 5848, or drop in to the Voyages-SNCF Travel Centre, 193 Piccadily, London W1J9EU.

To book taxi transfers between Modane and Val Cenis Vanoise or St Michel and Valloire, visit taxi-marius.fr

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