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Winter Wonderland: A luxury travel guide to Portes du Soleil

Richard Jones enjoys winter activities in some of the Alps’ most spectacular resorts.

By LLM Reporters  |  February 18, 2022
Chatel village alps
Image Credit: L.MEYER

Words by Richard Jones

Cutting through the Alpine air and whizzing down the mountain, I picked up speed – 40, 50, 60mph. It was by far the quickest I had gone all week, and one by one, I passed my fellow skiers and snowboarders. Then, with the finish line in sight, I overtook the final pair before the breaks kicked in.

At this point, I should point out that I wasn’t on my skis, or indeed on terra firma. I had just ridden Fantasticable – an appropriately named zip line which sets off above the French hamlet of Plaine-Dranse and zooms harnessed daredevils down to the bottom.

The trip to France and Switzerland was my first winter sports holiday in three years, so, as far as my ski skills on the slopes went, let’s just say I was more than a little rusty. Nevertheless, I still managed to get around the pistes okay, and spent time doing a whole host of other winter activities in some of the Alps’ most spectacular resorts.

Portes du Soleil is one of the largest ski areas in Europe with a mind-boggling 300 slopes and 197 lifts. It is home to 12 linked resorts: Avoriaz, Morzine, Montriond, Les Gets, St Jean d’Aulps, Abondance, La Chapelle d’Abondance and Châtel in France, and Champéry, Torgon, Morgins, and Les Crosets-Val d’Illiez-Champoussin in Switzerland.

les gets town in france
The charming French town of Les Gets makes an ideal base from which to explore. Image credit: L.Bureau Les Gets Tourisme

After flying into Geneva, my first destination was the French town of Les Gets. I spent the night in boutique hotel Chamois d’Or, enjoying a tasty late supper in its stunning new Indian restaurant Baaji, and sharing a few drinks in the residents’ bar with some of the Brits who travel to this part of France year after year.

The next morning, I picked up my my skis, poles and boots from Berthet Sports, before hitting the slopes with Chrys from Les Gets’ tourist board. Once I’d rediscovered my ski legs, we escaped between the fir trees to enjoy the pristine pistes on the Mon Chéry side of the town and views of the legendary Mont Blanc range.

Lunch on the mountain was a delicious baked Camembert at Le Vaffieu, before Chrys handed over the reins to Laury from Avoriaz tourism.

avoriaz ski resort
Avoriaz is considered to be the home of snowboarding in the Alps. Image credit: Pascal Gombert

Considered by many to be the home of snowboarding in the Alps, Avoriaz has no roads running through it meaning it’s possible to ski in and ski out of whichever hotel or chalet you are staying in. 

My room for the night was at the spectacular Hotel Mil8, adjacent to the Aquariaz tropical-themed waterpark. After relaxing in the wellness area, I dined at Le Soir a la carte restaurant where MiL8’s creative chefs served up artisan cuisine making the most of locally-sourced produce. From there, I headed to a couple of the town’s bars – Le Tavaillon and The Place – the queues to get in Avoriaz’s clubs suggested the resort was back to pre-pandemic levels.

hotel mil8 avoriaz
The centrally located Hotel Mil8 has spectacular views over the mountains

The next day, I skied with Laury into Switzerland, stopping off at the Lil’Stash in the enchanted Proclou forest, home of the area’s mascot, a part beaver, part yeti, part gorilla called Shreddie. Eventually, we arrived in the Region Dents du Midi where I met up with Gabriel from the Champéry tourist office.

After a toasted cheese lunch (what else can you have in Switzerland?) at Café Le Nord, I checked into the Boutique Hotel Beau-Séjour and Spa, a charming century-old hotel, now run by the Kleinknecht Zurkirchen family, with breath-taking views of the Dents-du-Midi, the region’s emblematic mountain. Dinner that night was an incredibly succulent fillet steak, followed by Swiss chocolate pudding.

On my penultimate day in Portes du Soleil, I tried two winter activities for the first time. First up, Gabriel and I headed to the Sports Center Palladium De Champéry for a game of curling. Gaston, a 60-year veteran of the town’s curling club, showed us how to throw stones and sweep the ice, and we played a few ends.

ski touring
Ski touring is one of the popular activities on offer

The last Swiss stop on the road to France, and the gateway to the Val d’Abondance, is Morgins. Here, I joined Patrick, a ski instructor and former racer for a wander around the ski touring tracks of Rando Parc. I use the term ‘wander’ loosely – it was an arduous two-hour hike on special skis. Once we’d climbed 600m, we enjoyed a swift beer in a restaurant at the top, before locking our skis back into the normal position and heading back into Morgins.

After my exertions, I needed a place to rest my weary head, and Chez Jan La Pension was just the ticket. My room was incredibly comfortable with a king sized bed and views of the chocolate box Swiss town and the mountain I had I just conquered. For dinner, I enjoyed a scallops and a crusted pork loin at Restaurant Le Di.vins a couple of blocks away.

Before flying back to the UK, I still had time for another day of adventure on the slopes. I met local ski instructor Bernard at the top of the chairlifts and he took me for a tour of the Châtel region. Post-lunch, we found our way to Fantasticable, above the hamlet of Plaine-Dranse, and after a week of trying to find my ski legs again, it was good to finally reach some decent speeds, albeit above the slopes, rather than on them.

zip wire chatel
Fantasticable offers a thrilling zip wire ride for visitors

Whether it’s snaking down blue or red runs, pushing stones on the ice, hiking up a mountain or flying down a zip line, my week in Portes du Soileil was full of excitement, with a fair bit of relaxation thrown in. Skiing holidays have been off the agenda for many of us for a while, but the Alps are back open and welcoming tourists with open arms.

If the Olympics has made you crave for a winter holiday, or inspired you to try skiing or snowboarding for the first time, make this French-Swiss paradise your first Portes of call. 

Factbox

For more information about the Portes du Soleil area in France and Switzerland go to portesdusoleil.com or call +33(0)450 733831. A single Portes du Soleil Ski pass provides access to the whole region. Adult passes cost €55.50 per day and €42 a day for children aged 5-15 (under fives ski for free). Six-day passes cost €278 for adults, and €208 for children. 

Richard Jones stayed in four hotels during his trip – Chamois d’Or Hotel and Spa in Les Gets, Hotel Mil8 in Avoriaz, Boutique Hotel Beau-Séjour and Spa in Champéry, and Chez Jan La Pension de Morgins in Morgins.

Return flights to Geneva are available from many major UK airports with easyJet from £32pp. See easyjet.com