Arrive in style on the ski train...
Enjoy extra days on the slopes and no surcharge for skis or boards with Eurostar Direct Ski Trains.
Self-drive ski holidays in France
Travel to France by ferry and some of the best self drive skiing in the world. Enjoy the freedom of taking unlimited baggage and up to 9 people per car via .
Book your journey with P&O Ferries
Find a hotel
Booking a hotel has never been easier with accorhotels.com, Europe's largest hotel group.
Why pay for your skis?
Book tickets to Grenoble and take Monarch Flights to this undiscovered destination from Leeds Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham and London Gatwick. There are plenty of cheap flights available to help you get the most out of any holiday to Grenoble, whatever season you travel in.
Experience complete comfort on SWISS flights to Geneva and enjoy the added bonus of taking your skis at no extra cost.
Pick up and ski this winter
Forget about queuing for a bus at the airport, low cost car hire - with a ski rack if necessary, will get you to where you want to go with a minimum of fuss. Click below to take advantage of special offers.
Family skiing in Hannibal’s tracks
High in the Haute-Maurienne, south of the Col de l’Isèran and Val d’Isère, Val Cenis is centred on the villages of Lanslebourg, Lanslevillard and (since 2008/9) Termignon. There’s further good downhill skiing further up the valley at Bonneval sur Arc, plus 80km of groomed cross-country terrain around Bessans. Terrain varies from Europe’s longest Green piste to some surprisingly demanding terrain around Bonneval. Any lingering doubts about this being a fully-fledged ski area were removed a few seasons ago by the addition of luxury ski apartments by prestige Savoyard developer MGM Constructeur.
It was already snowing steadily as we emerged from the Gare TGV at Modane, leaving the high-speed train to continue its onward journey to Turin without us. Minutes later we were on the road and climbing through snow-laden landscapes past the brooding mountain fortress of l’Esseillon.
By the time we passed through the villages of Bramans, Sardières, Sollières and Termignon the thickening snow was cutting visibility and slowing our progress dramatically — just the kind of welcome we like, in fact. After all, we’d come to ski. That evening we spent quite awhile gazing from the window of our hotel room, taking in the simple beauty of it all and reflecting on our good fortune.
Daylight revealed the mountains awakening in their accustomed style, with lifts hauling the pisteurs up for their tours of inspection, ahead of the first of the day’s earlybird skiers. Soon we were aboard the Vieux Moulin gondola ourselves and heading up to see what lay in store for us. As the valley, still half cloaked in chill shadow, slipped away below us we were soon basking in glorious sunlight, and decided to work our way over towards the Col du Mont Cenis for the big views. Two lift changes got us up to the 2880m Ouillon de la Tomba, from which we schussed eagerly over to a panoramic viewpoint above the half-frozen lake shimmering beyond the Col. The old cross-border route into Italy was hidden from view, but there can be few more impressive natural gateways than this.
Dropping down to the Col, via a couple more lift-rides, made for some entertaining skiing on bracing Red-graded pistes — our choice, since the Blue options deposit skiers some way short of the Col itself. The old frontier point is marked by a ‘France | Italia’ stone, plus a large monument to the Alpine troops who perished in various armed struggles in defence of their national borders. Happily, times have changed, and visitors are welcomed as new friends.
A Snail’s Pace
The old road (constructed in 1805 by order of Napoleon) by which the Col is accessible for much of the year lies buried under snow during the winter months, which transform it into Europe’s longest Green run, the aptly-named l’Escargot. It begins beside the Ramasse six-seater chairlift, and while the Red-graded alternative provides a much more direct route back to the valley floor, sooner or later, you know you’ll try the Snail trail — we are, after all (just) in France. When you do you’re going to have plenty of time (particularly on fresh snow) to ponder the fact that you might well be following in the footsteps of Hannibal and his army, who are believed to have passed this way in 218BC. Although probably not on skis...
By now it will have dawned on you that Val Cenis is not only beautiful, but a fun place, and becoming more so. From this season it’s possible to ski the terrain which has been opened up above Termignon by the six-seater Turra high-speed lift. Sadly, this wasn’t an option during our visit, but we did make our way some distance further up the valley to the rugged, stone-roofed village of Bonneval-sur-Arc, officially one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France and which looks extraordinary at any time of the year, and even more so when almost subsumed in winter snow.
Below the back of beyond
So it’s with some surprise that we discover on the opposite side of the valley a modern, high-speed ski-lift. The groomed ski terrain tops off at a highly-respectable 3000m and includes some surprisingly steep descents, along with enough gentle Green-graded runs to provide a reassuring (and cost-effective) debutant area for the local ESF ski-school. Skiing Bonneval’s higher terrain brings a real sense of drama, thanks in no small part to the scenery, effectively the ‘other’ side of the legendary 2770m Col de l’Isèran and the world-renowned pistes of Val d’Isère. The village of Bonneval itself sits at 1800m, certainly qualifies as a real find in any season, and for skiers a visit can feel more like a pilgrimage.
We enjoyed our days in Val Cenis, timed to coincide with the Grande Odyssée international dog-sledding event. Our evenings, too, were just as enjoyable, thanks to the warmest of welcomes we encountered in the cosy local restaurants. It’s quite true what they say: the smallest places often have the biggest hearts. Which is why we’ll be going back.
© Roger Moss