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The best kept skiing secret of the French Alps | Skiing in Arêches-Beaufort

Dropping “my last ski trip was a short break in Arêches-Beaufort” into any ski based conversation is a bit of a polarising moment. The enlightened will beam from ear to ear, 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. Others, however, will either assume they have misheard, or that you are making it all up and you’ve never skied in your life. Beaufort is a cheese. Or possibly a wind scale. But – a ski resort?

So why bother? If you want pumping techno, Jaeger bombs and general carnage each evening, just don’t. This quiet, year round village community is categorically not for you. If you appreciate a genuine welcome from the locals, good French food (followed by home-made Genepi, of course) and picturesque skiing, then book your trip without delay.  The topography means Arêches has an excellent snow fall record. 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.

Skiing – the next small thing…

Arêches is a relatively short transfer (usually under two hours) from Geneva. 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.

Time on the slopes is all the more precious on a short break. To get the most from your limited stay in an unfamiliar area I would strongly suggest booking an instructor/guide through the local ESF (Ecole Ski Francais). Again, Ski Weekender can help organise this for you. They will show you the best runs on the mountain for your ability (and the conditions). And they will 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. This means you don’t have to carry your skis, poles and boots up every morning (and back).

Ski, snowshoe and mindfulness in the mountains

Our ski guide, Michel, was Arechois 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 Beaufort cheese. He took my family and I, both on skis and snowshoes (Raquette), on a veritable tour of the mountain during our short stay. He stopped 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 in Arêches-Beaufort

Ski Weekender offer a couple of accommodation options for their short breaks in Arêches Beaufort including the Hotel Christiania in the heart of the village. Our rooms were spacious, very comfortable and offered views on to the wooded lower slopes. Inclusive evening meals were taken in the hotel’s restaurant. It’s a traditional and very welcoming place, well populated with locals eating out (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. Arêches is an Alpine village, not a purpose built ski resort. There are shops, restaurants, small bars and bakeries, with prices for the basics more realistic as a result. But you don’t have ski in/out convenience.

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 19/20 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. A really worthy destination for a relatively exclusive ski short break.

View 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. Anyone who thinks snowshoeing is an easy option hasn’t tried it. It’s a real workout, quite literally breath-taking (maybe it was the altitude?) and gives a whole new perspective on the mountains. We used the surprisingly empty green runs, as well as cross country routes. The whole experience took a magical turn when Michel pointed out an eagle circling overhead. Even he doesn’t see them that often so we felt incredibly lucky.

Cheese and lots to do

The following day, while the others returned to the slopes, I enjoyed the small, but very lovely spa in the village. Feeling relaxed, refreshed and reunited with the clan, we went for an afternoon in the cheese factory. It’s fascinating, with a film show and displays explaining how farmers, like Michel, adapted to change by joining together to keep their traditional way of life alive.  Beaufort cheese is delicious, with a flavour that varies slightly according to the time of year and what the cows are eating. Despite its delicate flavour, the room in which the cheeses are matured is overpoweringly, eye wateringly, pungent.

Arêches Beaufort village is a year round French 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 themselves.

Fact Box

Tour operator Ski Weekender (www.skiweekender.com) offer long weekend and mid-week short breaks, as well as week-long holidays and double domain specials, to a range of French resorts, mostly within one hour transfer of Geneva. Transfers, accommodation, lift pass and meals are included in the price, with equipment hire available in house. Other resorts available include Le Grand Bornand, La Clusaz, Samoens, St Gervais and Les Contamines.

By keen skier Paddy Daly and non-skiing wife Sarah Daly who blogs at mychtilife.wordpress.com

Find more inspiration to visit this lovely area of France at: areches-beaufort.com

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