Euro Road Trip Part 1: Chasing the last of the spring snow – Chamonix, Courmayeur & Isola 2000

12 Apr

‘Rain and dense cloud’, the weather forecast wasn’t great but we hoped for the best. At Geneva Airport we collected a small eco-Renault and drove the 90 minutes to Chamonix in the French Alps. On a clear day Chamonix has magnificent views of Mt Blanc and the almost constant buzz of helicopters confirms its reputation as the alpine home of adrenaline sports. 

The forecast proved correct, mostly heavy cloud and rain with only a morning teaser of sun on the first of our three days there. Visibility on the pistes was poor, but since we had a gorgeous, new apartment in L’Heliopic in central Chamonix we just relaxed, shopped, went to the cinema and cooked some good meals. See how sensible Stuart has become?! I was also glad to use the time to visit a nearby hospital clinic to try to get some clarity on what my ongoing Indian ailment was. Awaiting test results. 


The centre of Chamonix is pedestrian precinct. It’s not particularly pretty but it’s clean and well maintained with a range of shops, supermarkets and restaurants to suit all budgets. Lots of smartly dressed, fit seniors stride about while beautiful young things hang out in bars.


Next stop through the Mt Blanc tunnel was Entreves village, just above Courmayeur, Italy. Mt Blanc became Monte Bianco and loomed large and awe inspiring above our balcony in La Grange, a family-owned three star hotel. Entreves is as close to the foothills and glaciers of Monte Bianco as you can get and only 200 metres uphill from two major ski lifts. On almost all sides steep mountains rise up into jagged ridges and “giants’ teeth” that cut the sky. 

  A stroll around confirmed that this was a sensitively developed mountain village. Modernisation and facilities have been added without detracting from the charm of the original stone farmhouses, barns and cobbled streets. La Grange Hotel is typical in that it was originally the current owner, Bruna’s, grandmother’s family home. It would make a delightful base for summer walking. 

   Italian tapas (gratis) with our favourite Italian aperitif, Campari and prosecco. 

 Locals like their wine super-sized. 

 We skiied a full day under blue skies on the last day of the official Courmayeur season and enjoyed wonderful Italian hospitality. Special mention for Chalet Joli who prepared a delicious, healthy vegan dinner for me. 

Still life at Pre de Pascal Restaurant, with yet another face of Monte Bianco in the background.
  Spotted from restaurant terrace – she is sunbathing beside the piste – when she wasn’t taking selfies…. 

 Chalet Joli – merci Chef!

Final stop was Isola 2000 back in France. This took a six-hour drive, first in an almost straight line to the coast with a lunch stop in picturesque Finalborgo, followed by a sharp right at Nice to head back up through rock tunnels and seemingly endless hairpin bends. Isola 2000 has to be the ugliest ski resort I’ve yet seen but it does the job for late season budget skiing. 


   Isola 2000


Our apartment in New Chastillon was disappointing. They first tried to put us in an apartment that reeked of cigarette smoke and seemed to think that by opening the windows and spraying some air freshener all would be well. Ummm, no. Here’s a tip, if you ever suffer this yourself, don’t just say you don’t like the smell, say you are allergic to cigarette smoke and you’ll get action. We were given an identical, non-odiferous apartment two floors above. To make matters worse their internet and telephone lines were down (they’ve just come back on over 24 hours later). We’re wondering how they got their four star rating such is the shoddiness of the finishes and fittings.


More to the point though, the sun came out for us and the Isola 2000 pistes were good quality and practically empty. Given how little snow they’ve had lately they’ve managed well to eke it out. Our full day of skiing was the cheapest we can remember in recent years, 22 euro for my ski rental and 35 euro for my lift pass (Stuart’s senior/over 62 pass was 28 euro!). 


 We searched the slopes for cosy mountain restaurants for our pit stops and lunch, but found only one atmospheric log cabin La Valette and a self-service restaurant with an OK view, La Schuss, for lunch. Seems most people come back down for lunch. 


 If you’re looking for a super cheap holiday with young kids and fun in the snow then an apartment late in the season in Isola 2000 would be a good choice.


And that’s a wrap for ski season 2015-16! 


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