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 .
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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.
Accessible, linked-domain family skiing...
In the central French Pyrénées on the flanks of the 2872m Pic du Midi, which is accessible by two-stage cable-car from the village. Although it's a long drive from the cross-Channel ports, the journey became quicker and easier with the opening of the A65 autoroute from just south of Bordeaux down to Pau.
Transfers are relatively simple from Pau and Toulouse airports (or Tarbes TGV for rail travellers).
The Grand Tourmalet lift-pass covers the linked ski areas of La Mongie (1800m) and Barèges (1250m), which lie on opposite sides of the 2115m Col du Tourmalet (a celebrated climb in the Tour de France). The terrain on the La Mongie side is on either side of a relatively narrow valley, making things feel rather compact at first encounter. For novices it's a good thing, of course, with ski-school areas particularly accessible.
On the other hand, intermediates looking for Blue-graded cruising opportunities will find themselves taking the Espade chairlift to reach the northern sector further up the valley for another haul up to some reasonably long (and not too flat) runs down from 2500m.
Alternatively – and here's where it gets interesting – head over the Col into the next valley, where things really open up. Although the return runs into Barèges are quite low, there's plenty of terrain around the higher Super Barèges sector, and some charming descents through the forests above the town.
La Mongie's original purpose-built style is looking outmoded and won't appeal to everyone, but each season brings significant improvements, as existing accommodation is upgraded to meet the expectations of today's visitors. The modernisation effort is further boosted by the appearance of brand new self-catering apartments (see details in Where to Stay), and just about everywhere is conveniently situated for access to the lifts and ski-school assembly points.
Happily the real-world approach to everyday practicalities also extends to the pricing of lunchtime menus in the village bars and restaurants.
Family skiers looking for a solid-value linked-domain alternative to the Alps, without sacrificing a high-altitude location. In addition to readily accessible beginner and early-intermediate areas, there’s terrain for cruising fans and for those looking to raise their game on some steeps, too. The slightly homely feel is more than skin-deep; it's a friendly place, both on and off the mountain.
Travel-wise, the most obvious appeal is to anyone considering budget flights into Pau and Toulouse, but the Greener high-speed rail option into Tarbes also makes sense.
Initial impressions of La Mongie can come as something of a surprise. Not only is the village visibly purpose-built but the location, towards the upper end of a deep and largely treeless valley, creates quite an enclosed feel. The upside of this is that it's relatively sheltered – reassuring since a glance at the surrounding peaks tells you why in a typical season they can catch some serious snowfalls here. This was amply demonstrated during our own first visit some years ago, when heavy snowfalls buried the signage which would have warned us not to park our car overnight in the very spot where we'd left it in all innocence. Next morning we were quite surprised to discover that the Municipal Police removed it from the coach park and placed it somewhere more secure, and even more so that we hadn't been fined for the misdemeanour. Things here are clearly rather more relaxed than in the Alps.
Another ski day begins...
The compact layout of the village means that just minutes after leaving our hotel we're already heading up the valley on the Chapelle chairlift. The rapid, near-horizontal ride provides the perfect introduction to the layout of the lower pistes before dropping us neatly between two more lifts. One of them - Espade - would haul us straight up to the Col du Tourmalet (2115m), a pleasure we forgo while we head in the other direction to ski the northern sector. By the time you read these words the old Pourteilh gondola which since 1969 carried countless skiers up to 2248m will have been replaced by a brand new six-seater high-speed chairlift.
At the top it's possible to ski a couple of long, Blue-graded descents (technically one which divides before its mid-point) all the way down, or merely ski a few hundred metres, transfer to the Quatre Termes chairlift and take a final, rather leisurely haul up to 2500m, the highest of all the Grand Tourmalet's groomed terrain. Above lies the Pic des Quatres Termes (2724m) and below a long Blue-graded cruise on Bergers, one of the most memorable runs in the Pyrénées, not least since the wild, craggy upper section feels almost like skiing a wide couloir.
Some of the steeper turns can also develop moguls, putting this run on the upper limits of its Blue rating. Either way, it's great fun, and we're genuinely sorry when we reach the end of the descent.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the mountain...
Having got it out of our system, we're now free to take the six-seater Espade chairlift up to the Col du Tourmalet. At the top there's a stiff breeze (not unusual here) so we don't spend too long taking in the spectacular onward views. In calmer conditions we might have turned right and taken a Green-graded run down to the Coume Lounque I and II draglifts, to reach a Red piste running through a high valley in the south-east sector below La Taoulet (2341m). Or a long, Black-graded plunge via Coume l'Ayse over towards Barèges, where we'll actually be heading anyway, although on a rather less demanding Blue.
Below the Col the wind drops and the attention focuses on the views ahead. Things look and feel different on this side; the valley is much wider, and there are large tracts of forest on the mountainsides above the village, softening the landscape.
Our run down Isards is made more entertaining than usual by the presence of icy, compacted snow beneath our skis, but lower down things begin to soften just a little, and we can finally relax and enjoy the scenery. Beyond the loading area of the Tourmalet chairlift (which provides the return link to La Mongie via the Col) our run - on Bastan, a lone Blue piste - begins to make us feel we're now covering some distance, with more to come.
A spot of cruising, anyone?
Around the half-way point we pass the Caoubert draglift, which provides a steep haul up to two Red-graded descents (plus a Blue) from around 1950m, to satisfy hardcore skiers who can't wait for the Piquette chairlift to come into sight where our own run ends at Tournaboup (1450m). From here the possibilities are far from exhausted, though. Snow-cover permitting, it's possible to ski from here all the way into Barèges, on a gentle, Green-graded cruise visible from time to time from the route serving the Col (if not, you simply take a shuttle-bus). Sadly we're unlucky this time; next time, maybe.
For now, though, our thoughts are more focused on the runs which lie among the forests on the mountainside to our left, so we take the Tournaboup 4-seater chairlift. As the debutant area slips away slowly beneath us we head up through the trees and alight in a large clearing at around 1800m. It's a fine spot for a mountain restaurant (La Laquette) and brings access to a choice of very different terrain. Head left and ski down to the Castillon four-seater chairlift and you'll reach some fine Red and Blue descents in the Laquette sector or an onward plunge into the valley of Le Lienze.
High among the trees...
Alternatively, turn right and take a gentle Green-graded amble through the forest, which is exactly what we do, discovering an unspoilt, away-from-it-all world normally only accessible to snowshoers. We don't want this to end, so when we reach Le Lienz we take one of the two Etoile draglifts up to 2000m for another wooded run. High above us is the Pic d'Ayre (2416m) whose flanks look to offer some interesting off-piste potential, but as time is now tight we take the Red-graded descent (there's also a Black, which is narrow and usually moguled) back down to Le Lienze.
Working our way back to the Col du Tourmalet brings not only a new perspective on the landscape, but also the skiing itself. In contrast to the quite gentle cruising which brought us through this sector, we find more of the kind of up/down progress we've come to expect elsewhere, underlining the kind of variety on offer above Barèges. Once over the Col it's simply a matter of a gentle, uninterrupted cruise to get us right back where we started.
© Roger Moss