Generally I am a fan of independent travel, but there are times when a package holiday is just far far easier, and often, if you get your timing spot on far cheaper. I am just back from an amazing week at Mark Warner’s new chalet hotel in Tignes.
I have been on a few ski trips over the years – and have tried every single combination for arranging my holiday, completely independently – booking my flights, transfers and accommodation (both chalet and self catering), separately or as part of a package. I reckon that unless you snag a very good last minute deal you cannot get a week’s skiing, and be comfortable, for less than £1000, it is after all, both a popular and expensive sport.
I’ve done a self catering ski trip and it is hard work, when you have skied all day the last thing you want to do is make supper, clear up and make sure there is food for breakfast, you end up eating out all the time, thus offsetting the savings you make. I’ve driven with friends all the way to the Alps – it is a long way and you need the ability to bite your tongue and not hold grudges if you want to be as good friends at the end of the holiday as you were at the start.
If you get cheap last minute accommodation then the flights will be expensive, if you book flights in advance then you run the risk of not finding accommodation. If the transfer is long then it can be expensive and you run the risk of missing flights.
This year I went down the complete package route for my skiing, and booked a week with Mark Warner at their new chalet hotel, L’Ecrin, situated in Val Claret, Tignes in the Val d’Isere area of France. Fights, transfers, half board with everything organised for me. Simplicity personified. The only thing I had to do was get myself to Gatwick for a rather brutally early 6.50am flight – I could have caught a later flight from Heathrow, but with the early flight I gained an extra afternoon of skiing and for that I am happy to
leap crawl out of bed at 3.50am to catch the 4.30am Easy Bus from West Brompton to Gatwick.
The flight to Grenoble takes about an hour and 20 minutes, as it is with all small airports your bags emerge almost immediately. We were greeted by remarkably cheery (considering both how early they had started and how late in the season it was) Mark Warner reps before boarding our coach to the hotel. Just over three hours later we arrived, 10 minutes later our luggage was delivered to the room, 5 minutes later we had collected pre booked lift passes (we could have also paid for our ski and boot hire in advance too) and were heading to the ski hire shop and were on the slopes at just after 1. Seamless and so easy. That evening a rep from the ski school came and I was able to book my lessons whilst sipping my G&T – very civilized.
There are many advantages of a chalet hotel as everything is done for you and you get the feeling of being at a large house party. Full cooked breakfast, tea and cakes in the afternoon and a three course meal for 6 evenings out of the 7. There is a comfortable bar, pool and jacuzzi (essential for those aching limbs) and a spa with beauty therapist and sports masseur (who worked magic on my very sore back) on site. The staff are knowledgeable about the resort and can suggest ski routes and point you to the best mountain restaurants and night spots. Our room was comfortable and the hotel was impeccably clean.
Food was good and plentiful, breakfast consisted of full English, Continental and specials each day with everything cooked to order in the second half of service. For afternoon tea there was a choice of biscuits, two cakes and sandwiches or cheese and meats every day. Dinners were good, but slightly formulaic with a choice of soup and veggie or meat based first course, meat, fish of veggie main followed by pudding, a choice of ice creams / sorbets or cheese, all washed down with table wine. Inexplicably never any local dishes – but we made up for this up the mountain and when we went out for dinner on the staff night off.
L’Ecrin, a traditional styled alpine chalet, has about 56 rooms – so around 112 guests with just under 50 staff, an excellent ratio, and everyone was delightfully amenable and genuinely seems to love their jobs and actually like the guests. We loved the social dining and sat with different people most evenings. The hotel also organises social skiing, sign up to ski with people the same level as you, perfect for mixed ability groups – you ski with people of the same standard then meet on the mountain for lunch.
The hotel was very family friendly, with childcare, ferrying to and from ski school, baby sitting on offer, with a children’s supper served in the early evening. It was obvious that all the child care reps genuinely liked children and engaged really well with them.
I’d certainly go back, and definitely would go down the full package route for my next ski trip and let someone else take the strain of organising.
Chalet Hotel L’Ecrin is operated by Mark Warner, a weeks holiday per adult varies between £600 – £1950 depending on dates, out of school holiday and towards the end of the season expect to pay around £800 – bargains are to be had if you hold your nerve and book at the last minute.
Disclosure: We received a discount on the price of the holiday from Mark Warner.