POSTCARD FROM THE PYRENEES
6th February 2017 | Catherine Cooper, French Pyrenees
PlanetSKI is a big fan of the resorts in the French Pyrenees and wonder why more people don’t experience their charms. In our latest visit we saw things other than the skiing.
The Vallée du Louron isn’t just about skiing – as well as its two ski resorts, Peyragudes and Val Louron, another major attraction is its thermal bath complex, Balnéa.
Which is lucky, as the recent weekend we visited, on our first day in Peyragudes high winds had closed all but the beginner slopes.
At PlanetSKI we normally prefer to ski but when you can’t then you need to find a few alternatives.
So we didn’t get to experience much of the 60 km of pistes, or the new 2.8 km “007” run which opened this year to celebrate the resort’s appearance in “Tomorrow Never Dies” 20 years ago.
The kids pottered about on the nursery slope, skied a few short runs and built a little snow wall at the top.
But there is only so much you can do when the lifts are closed.
So we bought some spectacular meringues and had a long lunch in La Flamme restaurant, we headed down the hill to Balnéa.
Balnéa is one of several “ludique” spas in the Pyrenees which use natural thermal water to offer an experience which is both relaxing and fun.
In many ways it’s great that children are allowed into the spas but it can sometimes mean that it’s not exactly a relaxing experience, especially on bad-weather days.
However, Balnéa is split into two – one side allows children of all ages above nine months (they even include the swim-nappy and arm bands in the price), while the other side is only for teenagers and adults, so is much calmer.
Both sections have indoor and outdoor pools and jacuzzis; the “grown up” area also features saunas, steam rooms and a flotation pool where you can listen to music underwater.
Outside there are three large pools of increasing temperature and after you’ve relaxed in the hottest 40 degree pool for a while, if you’re feeling brave you can jump out and throw yourself into a bank of snow.
New this year is “Le Pavillon Cryotonic” which involves lying on heated stone beds followed by the chance to cool yourself down at the ice wall.
All of the areas offer spectacular views of the mountains, both inside and out.
The wind had died off a little by the next day when we headed up to Val Louron. Sadly, the clouds had descended and it was a complete white out.
Val Louron, which is celebrating its 40th birthday this year, is a small resort with just 22 km of pistes which caters mainly for families.
My 14-year-old son Toby was determined to ski in spite of the conditions so headed up anyway while the rest of us played cards and drank coffee in a café, knowing that he’d easily be able to find us again once he’d finished.
The resort is traffic free (there’s a massive free car park), compact and all of the slopes face the same way, so it’s an ideal place to give kids who want to ski on their own a little more freedom than you might be comfortable doing at a larger resort.
Both Peyragudes and Val Louron also have secure “jardins de neige” which are away from the main pistes where parents can watch their little ones learn to ski or be confident that they are well looked after while they do something else.
We stayed at Gite Grange at Au Rêve des Cimes in the traditional village of Bordères Louron, around 20 minutes’ drive from the two resorts.
Set in a converted barn, it had an enormous living room with vaulted ceiling and a wood-burning stove, a properly-equipped kitchen, three bedrooms (including a room for up to four children, complete with teddy bears on each bed), three bathrooms and a terrace.
We’d ordered (via the owners) dinner from a local restaurant for our first night which was waiting in the fridge to be heated when we arrived.
We also went for the breakfast option which, as well as avoiding going to the supermarket, meant home-made bread, brioche and even doughnuts being delivered each evening by owner Fabienne, ready for the next day, as well as artisanal fruit juice and homemade jams.
So even though we didn’t get to ski, we had a good weekend.
We hope to go back when the weather’s changed to find out what the slopes have to offer too.
A stay at Gite Grange, Au Rêve de Cimes costs from €400 per weekend or €780 euros per week. For more information visit the websites:
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