Sales and Marketing Account Director recently enjoyed a ski-break in the French Pyrenees….
“Pyrénez-vous” said the sign on the drive up from Toulouse airport to our New Year ski resort. “Pyrenee-yourself?” Whatever could this mean! Our destination was the little-known French Pyrenees town of Bagnères-de-Luchon or simply Luchon to the locals. Why had we gone there? Friends of mine had recently purchased an apartment in the town, right at the base of the ski lift.
Of my usual ski group – six adults plus now two under 5 year olds – we have all skied for years (except the little ones of course) – most of us had the time of our lives doing ski seasons for various ski tour operators in our twenties! Between us we have probably skied every big ski area across Europe and North America and a couple of Southern Hemisphere thrown in for good measure – Three Valleys, Portes du Soleil, Ski Welt, Dolomites, Graubünden, Colorado, Whistler Blackcomb, New Zealand and Australia – we’ve been very lucky. So could this Pyrenean town possibly live up to our expectations?
Luchon is a nineteenth century French town with a wide-boulevard and wrought iron balconies. It has certainly been there way before anyone thought to install a lift up into the mountains. The Romans first discovered the healing properties of its sulphuric waters and natural steam buried deep in its rock faces, you can go and luxuriate in these today at the town’s spa centre – Bagnères-de-Luchon means ‘Baths of Luchon’. It is a classic summer mountain resort too – popular with hikers and bikers – the Tour de France winds its way through the main boulevard on part of the course before heading up a mountain pass.
Although the ski area is small (only 32kms of runs), it has a variance of ski runs and several blacks for when you’re feeling energetic. The highest point is good at 2,260m, which also meant that our worries about whether there would be enough snow were not needed. There is also a neighbouring resort, Peyragudes (which is at the top of the Tour de France route mountain pass), it’s twenty minutes by road. Peyragudes ski area offers more than twice the kilometres of runs and has a great itinerary route, Vallée Blanche. Both ski areas have a good range of mountain restaurants with prices probably a third cheaper than in big resorts.
We had five days skiing and we found by alternating days in the two resorts that we had more than enough terraine to keep us happy. Who needs 600 kms of ski runs anyway! Brits are too obsessed with huge ski areas, passing by lovely runs in order to tick off all areas on their piste map with the masses. And that brings me to my last point about our New Year break in the Pyrenees – the lack of the “masses” was the best thing – on most lifts we were able to be on and up the mountain straight away.
We celebrated New Year’s Eve at Luchon’s wonderful firework display set to music, which admittedly takes place at 8.30pm in the evening to suit the family audience – but I have to say it was one of the best firework displays I’ve seen in any ski resort. We raised our champagne glasses to 2015 and definitely felt we had “Pyrenee-ed ourselves” – and that this was a good thing!