A short break in Arêches-Beaufort
"Where was that again?" Skiing the next small thing…
Dropping “my last ski trip was a short break in Arêches-Beaufort” into any ski conversation is a bit of a polarising moment. The enlightened will talk about the charm of the village, the enviable quality – and quantity – of the snow and, inevitably, the wonderful cheese cooperative in the centre of the town. The others, however, will either assume they have misheard. Beaufort is a cheese, not a ski destination!
Ease of access
Arêches is a relatively short transfer (usually under two hours) from Geneva and, at the time of writing, the only UK tour operator featuring the resort, Ski Weekender, will pick you up from Arrivals and take you there, door to door. In line with their (unofficial) strapline “Just leave your brain in Geneva”, a full area lift pass will be waiting for you in the hotel, with dinner, bed and breakfast included and ski hire on site. It’s a well thought through package, designed to get you skiing as fast as possible, with the minimum of fuss.
A traditional welcome in Arêches-Beaufort
If your ideal ski holiday means racking up the miles and generally overt apres-ski, this quiet year round village community is categorically not for you. If you appreciate great skiing, a genuine welcome from the locals, good French food and wine, home-made Genepi and picturesque backdrops you should book your flights to Geneva without delay. The topography means Arêches has an excellent snowfall record and we were skiing in fresh powder in the last few days before the resort closed. On our last morning we saw less than 10 other skiers enjoying pristine conditions and it really felt like the mountain was ours.
An ESF guide is great value
Time on the slopes is all the more precious on a short break, so book an instructor/guide through the local ESF (Ecole Ski Francais) and, again, Ski Weekender can help organise this for you. The guide will show you the best runs on the mountain for your ability (and the conditions) and make sure you end up at the best restaurant, or lift, at the end of the session. It may also give you unofficial access to the warm ESF locker room at the top of the main lift, so you don’t have to carry your skis, poles and boots up every morning (and back).
Getting back to nature
Our ski guide, Michel, was Arêchois through and through – a farmer during the summer, a ski guide in winter and one of the original founders of the cooperative that now produces the wonderful AOC Beaufort cheese. He took my family and I, both on skis and snowshoes (raquettes), on a veritable tour of the mountain during our short stay, stopping to point out notable viewpoints and where his cattle grazed in the summer. We experienced crisp, clean air, amazing views, interesting flora and fauna and, at times, almost total silence. If mindfulness and being close to nature is your route to relaxation then Arêches-Beaufort should undoubtedly be on your list.
Where to stay
Ski Weekender have a couple of accommodation options for their short breaks in Arêches-Beaufort including the Hotel Christiania in the heart of the village. Our rooms had been recently modernised, in a traditional style and were spacious, very comfortable and offered views on to the wooded lower slopes. We enjoyed the included evening meals in the hotel’s restaurant, a traditional and very welcoming place that was usually well populated with locals (always a good sign). Breakfast was a hearty pre-ski array of meats, cheese, fruit salad, breads and pastries. Thereafter it’s a five-minute walk to the lifts through this traditional Alpine village, which has shops, restaurants, small bars and bakeries. As a result, prices for the basics are more realistic, but you don’t have the ski in/out convenience of purpose built resorts.
Arêches-Beaufort: a ski resort on the move
There’s a lot happening in Arêches-Beaufort at the moment. In addition to a planned new lift linking both sides of the ski area, opening for the 2019/20 season, there is a new self-catering accommodation complex and a spa. It will never claim to be the next big thing, but it definitely could be the next small thing – and a worthy destination for a relatively exclusive ski short break.
Views from a non-skier
I love the mountains in winter, but I’m not a skier. Personally, I can’t think of anything worse, but in Arêches-Beaufort there is plenty of scope to enjoy the beauty of unspoiled mountains at a much more leisurely pace.
Or so I thought. My family’s ski instructor took us snowshoeing – anyone who thinks snowshoeing is an easy option hasn’t tried it. It’s a real workout, quite literally breathtaking (maybe it was the altitude?) and gives a whole new perspective on the mountains. We used the surprisingly empty green runs, cross country routes and seemingly unmarked paths to explore our captivating surroundings. The whole experience took a magical turn when Michel pointed out an eagle circling overhead. He only sees them occasionally, so we felt incredibly privileged.
Enjoy the spa, taste the cheese
The following day, while the others returned to the slopes, I enjoyed the small, but very lovely spa in the village. Feeling relaxed and refreshed, after reuniting with the clan we all went for an afternoon tour of the cheese factory. It’s surprisingly fascinating, with a film show and displays explaining how farmers have adapted to change by joining together to keep their traditional way of life alive. Beaufort cheese is delicious, with a flavour that varies noticeably according to season and what the cows are eating.
Arêches-Beaufort is a year-round village community, without the international, sometimes transient feel of a large resort. As such there really is so much more than skiing available on a ski holiday there, even for the skiers.