Ski France: is Samoëns the perfect resort?

The dizzy heights of Tignes, Val D’Isere and Courchevel attract Brits in their thousands every season, but are we missing a French secret?

The pretty village of Samoëns is a Savoyard gem; a monument historique revered for its precious links to the French stonemason trade. The ancient village, built at the foot of Mount Criou is only an hour from Geneva airport and served by a modern gondola swishing skiers to the Grand Massif in a mere 8 minutes.

View of the village from the express gondola

Narrow streets wind at an easy pace, taking in specialist shops showcasing the finest Haute-Savoie produce, towards a lovely square centred around an old lime tree. Locals queue out the door of the award-winning patisserie, the saucisson and cheese shop is a feast for the senses, après-skiers sip vin chaud in outdoor bars, bric-a-brac shops are a treasure-trove of chalet-worthy finds and gorgeous little cafes serve tartiflette smothered in gooey reblochon.

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The Grand Massif, watched over by the magnificent Mont Blanc, has 265km of piste and includes the snow-sure resort of Flaine. The gondola to Samoëns 1600 opens up the whole area with a wealth of runs suiting all abilities, including the 14km blue Cascade run.

On my recent trip, the Christmas celebrations were wonderfully French, French and French! Christmas Eve brought a stunning fireworks display, set off from the famous Jardin Botanique Alpina to waterfall in the sky above the village. Locals and visitors enjoyed gastronomique dinners late into the night before exchanging presents. Christmas Day was spent on the slopes enjoying the spectacular views and (luckily for us) warm sunshine.

Fireworks at Christmas

It’s worth noting that skiing back to Samoëns village isn’t possible, although you can ski to nearby villages and get the excellent ski bus back easily. Otherwise the gondola is the best way down and a pleasant end to the day. There are free nursery lifts for beginners and wonderful mountain restaurants dotted around the pistes. Prices are pleasantly affordable compared to the more high-octane French resorts.

Hotel Neige et Roc

We stayed as a family in two studio apartments at the Hotel Neige et Roc and ate at the wonderful Le Serac in Samoëns and Le Puzze in Morillion … both relatively cheap and serving fantastic Savoyard cuisine. Our ski hire was from Xtreme Glisses and we were very pleased with the service and quality.

For more information on Samoëns click here.

Great Train Journeys: The Qinghai-Tibet Railway

The ‘Sky Road’ runs 1956 kilometres across the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau connecting Chinese Xining with Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.  As the world’s highest railway, reaching a literally breathtaking 5231 metres at the Tanggula Pass, this incredible engineering success spans an area known for earthquakes, low atmospheric pressure and freezing temperatures.

Xining to Lhasa Railway
Xining to Lhasa Railway

The line opened in 2006, after engineers battled permafrost, low-oxygen levels and a very sensitive eco-system. At peak times, up to 1000 passengers board the train for this magnificent journey. Of course many tourists use this route; brimming with heightened anticipation for the fluttering prayer flags, golden temples, chanting monks and endlessly photogenic landscape of Tibet.

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